January 6 – This morning our group of 5 intrepid birders, plus guide Chris Charlesworth, gathered in Kelowna. It was cloudy and cold (-11 degrees Celsius) when we started, but after all this is a ‘Winter Tour’, so what else would one expect? Dressed up like a group of ‘snowmen’ covered in layers of clothing, we waddled down the path at our first stop of the trip along Mission Creek in Kelowna. We searched for a roosting Western Screech-Owl, but
the bird had unfortunately chosen an alternate roost site on this day. All was not lost however and we did see some nice birds, the best of which were a male Pileated Woodpecker whacking away on a large cottonwood tree and an American Dipper plunging into the frigid waters of the creek. Several Common Goldeneye also foraged in the creek, and near the parking area a group of 300 or so Bohemian Waxwings made quite a racket.
We then began the journey up Highway 33, pausing along old Joe Rich Road where highlights included the first of many Rough-legged Hawks for the tour, as well as an obliging Townsend’s Solitaire. A group of 22 Mourning Doves were tallied as they snoozed in trees at the edge of an old gravel pit. Next stop was at Pyman Road, where open grasslands provided quite a nice assortment of raptors. Several more Rough-legged Hawks were found here including an adult dark-morph individual. Two adult Golden Eagles, and several Bald Eagles sat on a hillside
as we watched them through the scope. Our best find here at Pyman Road however was a flock of a dozen Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, including 11 coastal ‘Hepburn’s’ race birds and a single interior race bird.
We traded the grasslands in for the coniferous forests in the Goudie Road / Sun Valley Road areas, east of Kelowna. Here, we found a flock of mixed Mountain and Black-capped chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, Steller’s Jays and a single Gray Jay.
Along nearby Philpott Road we had good views of a Brown Creeper, our only one for the tour, and along Three Forks Road we enjoyed watching a male Varied Thrush as he foraged
on a patch of open ground beneath the trees. Our final stop in the Joe Rich area was at Foolhen Road where Michelle found a group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, with about 5 birds present.
With high hopes of finding our 4th species of chickadee for the day we headed for Big White Ski Village where Boreal Chickadees can sometimes be found. We spent most of our time watching a feeder at Big White where 10 or so Mountain Chickadees were coming in, but no Boreals could be found. All was not lost, as we had looks at a lovely pair of Pine Grosbeaks here, our only for the tour. On our way up another highlight, a Marten dashed across the road in front of us. We returned to Kelowna and made a final stop at Scenic Canyon where we were serenaded by a pair of hooting Great Horned Owls, a fine ending to the day. We enjoyed dinner at White Spot and after running through the species list we had seen about 35 species this day.
January 7 – Our first stop this frigid morning was at the Kelowna Yacht Club on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Quite an assortment of species greeted us here, including a variety of waterfowl; Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Mallard, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Gadwall and Bufflehead to be exact. Pied-billed and Horned grebes were seen, but best of all a single Western grebe was noted here. Gulls were numerous, and amongst the usual Ring-billed, Herring and Glaucous-winged gulls we had a second year Thayer’s Gull.
We crossed Okanagan Lake, via the Bennett Bridge, and stopped next at Gellatly Bay in West Kelowna where we beefed up the waterfowl list even more. A flock of diving ducks added a hundred of more Redheads and 3 Canvasbacks to our list, and through the scope we spotted a Common Loon in the distance. Hundreds of Canada Geese appeared frozen solid as they huddled together against the shore with frost on their backs this morning.
American Coots paddled by in numbers as well, while Bald Eagles patrolled the skies above. Bald Eagles, in fact, were seen in great numbers throughout our tour. A highlight for the mammal list here was a River Otter frolicking in the waters at the mouth of the creek. A short stop along Power’s Creek produced our only views of Pygmy Nuthatches, as a group of 8 or so foraged in the cottonwoods along the creek.
Next on the agenda was a visit to my house, along Trepanier Creek in Peachland, and along the way up we found the number one target species I had hoped for in my neighborhood, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The ferocious little predator was spotted sitting along a telephone wire near Paradise Valley
and we had great views, while the photographers on board snapped photos. We were
greeted at the door by my better half Cindy and my 7 month old son Carsen, and we had some coffee, tea and goodies while warming up inside. We watched feeders outside, where Red-breasted Nuthatches gobbled suet, but the resident White-breasted Nuthatch failed to appear.
On our way south we stopped in at Trout Creek in Summerland. We watched a feeder where a Harris’s Sparrow had been frequenting and it didn’t take long for the bird, an immature, to appear on the ground beneath the feeder. Other feeder attendants included Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, House Finch and American Goldfinch. A flock of over 500 Bohemian Waxwings flew overhead in a frenzy before descending on a cottonwood down the street. At Pyramid
Provincial Park we had a group of 4 Western Bluebirds that unfortunately flew off before we could get a good view. A Varied Thrush was a nice consolation prize here, as was an adult Golden Eagle soaring over the bluffs nearby. On the lake we had our only Red-necked Grebe of the tour here as well.
Once in Penticton we were quite amazed by the extent of the ice at the south end of Okanagan Lake. A few gulls rested on the ice including an adult Mew Gull, and a couple of adult Thayer’s Gulls. At the Esplanade and Yacht Club we had our lunch in the warmth of our vehicles before exploring the trails here. Quite a nice variety of species were added to our list here including several Cedar Waxwings amongst the Bohemian Waxwings, and at least two hardy ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warblers. Eight or more Western Bluebirds landed on top of a clay bank above the trails, and we saw at least two more Varied
Thrushes here among the many American Robins. Heard but not seen was a Spotted Towhee and a Pine Siskin. A Ring-necked Pheasant skulked in the brush, its call alerting us to its presence, and a Belted Kingfisher, our only for the tour, flew by. All the bird life had attracted several predators to the area including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk and our first Cooper’s Hawk of the tour, an adult. We left the Esplanade and carried on south towards Ok Falls, pausing along the way for a coffee stop at Tim Horton’s. What Canadian winter birding tour would be complete without a visit to Tim Horton’s after all.
In Okanagan Falls we paused to scan the rapids along the river where at least 8 American Dippers were tallied. Also here were about 20 Barrow’s Goldeneyes busily feeding in the frigid waters. As we made our way towards Vaseux Lake we briefly saw our only Northern
Shrike of the tour atop a tree next to Hwy 97. Vaseux Lake was completely frozen over, other than a tiny patch of open water at the north end where 3 Trumpeter Swans swam back and forth nervously before flying south, hopefully to somewhere warmer. Two Coyotes trotted out on the ice here, and near the cliffs we enjoyed watching a large herd of Bighorn Sheep. Despite our best efforts no Canyon Wrens could be heard here, though we were rewarded with the sighting of a dozen Chukar.
We headed for our accommodations in Oliver, had a rest and then went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. After dinner we made our way to Road 22 where 2 Great Horned Owls were found. One was heard hooting in the distance and we saw another on the telephone wires along the
January 8 – The frigid temperatures were supposed to warm up a little today, and perhaps they did a little bit, but we all agreed it was still quite cold. We started off with a walk along the Okanagan River at Road 18 near Oliver. There were a lot of birds about with flocks of American Robins, European Starlings, Bohemian Waxwings and the likes dominating the scene. This section of the river remained ice free and there were a few ducks about including Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Bufflehead and a Pied-billed Grebe. Michelle spotted an American Dipper down the river, but it disappeared before most of us could see it. New for our trip list were Sharp-shinned Hawk and two or three Downy Woodpeckers.
We took a drive along Black Sage Road, turning around at the north end of Osoyoos Lake. One small patch of open water at the mouth of the river provided a resting spot for dozens of Canada Geese as well as several Trumpeter Swans. On a tiny patch of open water out on the lake we saw a heartbreaking scene as 2-3 Common Loons were trapped and did not have enough open water to take off. Let’s hope the warmer weather forecast the next couple of days helped to
open enough water for them to get out of there. Two to three American Tree Sparrows were picked out of a group of 75 or so Dark-eyed Juncos. California Quail scurried about alongside the road, and a bunch of 7 female Ring-necked Pheasants were noted. Fred found one of the best birds of the trip here, a Western Meadowlark that was foraging among the sage and antelope brush. We enjoyed great views of both Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks along Black Sage Road as well. What a trip this was for raptors.
At Road 22 the raptor theme continued with several Bald Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, a Northern Harrier and a ‘Harlan’s’ Red-tailed Hawk being highlights. A single Western Bluebird sat out in an icy field atop an irrigation wheel, looking most unhappy. Most of the river channel was frozen, but a bit of open water provided habitat for some waterfowl. Some more American Tree Sparrows were noted along the channel, but it was fairly quiet here. We did see a couple of Muskrats however.
After a ‘pit-stop’ in Osoyoos we headed up into the Richter Pass, stopping to look a Northern Pygmy-Owl atop a fir tree along the way. We found a group of 20 or so Chukar near a ranch, where dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos were also picking up grit at a gravel pile. At the Chopaka / Nighthawk border crossing we had our lunch while we watched another group of Chukar feeding near some hay bales while 8 or so Gray Partridge slept together in a tight group in the snow. Nice way to finish off our tour indeed!
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Hairy Woodpecker (h)
Merlin (leader only)
Spotted Towhee (h)
American Tree Sparrow
Pine Siskin (h)
Mountain Goat (leader)