South Okanagan Day Tour – July 28, 2018

On Saturday, July 28, I had the opportunity to guide Neil Davidson from Scotland around the South Okanagan. Neil has visited many places around the world, but this trip was his first real taste of North American birding. We met at the south campground at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park near Summerland at 6 AM. We headed south, making our first stop along White Lake Road where we saw a couple of Burrowing Owls, birds from the reintroduction program underway in southern BC’s interior. Sparrows and other small passerines were everywhere in the sagebrush with good numbers of Vesper Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, a Lark Sparrow, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, a male Lazuli Bunting and a male Bullock’s Oriole. Our first of several Red-tailed Hawks was noted here, and close to White Lk itself we saw two Sage Thrashers. The lake, which is full of water this summer, had quite a nice assortment of waterfowl with Ruddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard and female type Hooded Merganser present. Shorebirds included Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper and Killdeer. Our only Western Meadowlarks of the day were spotted at White Lake as well.

We made a short stop in the pine forest near Mahoney Lake. Here we saw Pygmy Nuthatch, heard White-breasted Nuthatch, and saw other pine forest birds too like Cassin’s Finch, Western Wood-Pewee, Spotted Towhee and the like. As we drove along today we saw dozens and dozens of California Quail about, including many little ones toting along behind the adults. A roadside stop produced two Black-headed Grosbeaks, including a gorgeous male. We had a quick look for American Dippers at Okanagan Falls, but none were to be seen.

 Next up, we headed up into the mountains east of Okanagan Falls, via Shuttleworth Creek Road. Our first stop was at a prominent viewpoint where we had excellent views of two Lewis’s Woodpeckers, an adult and a juvenile. The adult was still feeding young in a nest cavity in an old dead Ponderosa Pine. Also here were some nice Western Bluebirds, a juvenile Red-naped Sapsucker, and soaring Turkey Vultures in the distance. In the tall spruce woods along Dutton Creek we encountered one of our highlights for the day, a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The owl called incessantly as we watched, and a number of birds came in to mob it including Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Warbling Vireo and more. Up to 10 Common Nighthawks passed overhead, and we caught a glimpse of Hammond’s Flycatcher as well.

From Dutton Creek we headed up to the Venner Larches. It was pretty quiet here, with no sign of Williamson’s Sapsuckers unfortunately. Of note were several Gray Jays and a Brown Creeper. A stop at Venner Meadows was also productive. We had a nice Townsend’s Solitaire here, as well as views of a scruffy Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a White-crowned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Solitary Sandpiper foraging in a pond. We descended back into the valley bottom and checked out the towering cliffs at Vaseux Lake. The temperatures were well over 30 degrees Celsius at this point, which didn’t particularly help with respect to finding birds, however we managed to get a nice view of a Rock Wren and we heard several Canyon Wrens up higher on the rocks.

After a quick pit-stop in Osoyoos to pick up some refreshments we headed up into the lower Richter Pass in search of a Canadian rarity, Lesser Goldfinch. We staked out our location on Kruger Mountain Road and we waited, watched and listened. No Lesser Goldfinch was to be found here, but we did get some other nice birds including Black-chinned, Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds at a feeder. Also about were both Western and Mountain bluebirds, as well as American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing and House Wren. As we began driving away I had my window down and I heard the plaintive calls of a Lesser Goldfinch so we hopped out and quickly got a male in the scope as he sat on the telephone wires above. Score! Then, while driving along Old Richter Pass Road, close to Hwy 3, I heard another Lesser Goldfinch calling. Perhaps there is a little population of this species ‘invading’ the hills around the border town of Osoyoos.

We drove through the bustling resort town of Osoyoos, and then climbed up into the mountains on the east side of town. Along the way we saw an adult Swainson’s Hawk soaring over a bit of grassland. The views would have been spectacular if it wasn’t for the rather thick smoke from local wildfires. Our target bird was Great Gray Owl and after a little searching in a patch of larch, spruce and fir, we were rewarded with the sighting of a majestic adult Great Gray roosting quite low to the ground. This made Neil’s day, as it was his 37th owl species and it was also a very nice birthday bird for him.

We traveled back down to Osoyoos and had a short stop at Road 22. There is a nice muddy patch on the south side of Road 22 where there were Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, several unidentified peeps, a Wilson’s Snipe and best of all an alternate plumage Black-bellied Plover. A Wood Duck was a nice catch in one of the oxbows close to Road 22. Neil spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant in a field, a species I don’t see too often these days. We returned to Okanagan Lake Park and had one last look for one more bird, a Western Screech-Owl. We didn’t find it, however we saw Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler and a lovely Common Loon, a nice ending to a fantastic day trip in the South Okanagan. Today we saw 103 species and counting heard birds we had 120 species. Mammals noted today included White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Mountain Goat, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Yellow Pine Chipmunk, American Red Squirrel and Columbian Ground-Squirrel. It was really a very enjoyable day to be out in the field, despite the sizzling heat.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours

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