Sunday, 25 March 2012

A visit to "Wine Country"

Phil, Brian, Ray & Mike about to enter BC

Our eagerly-awaited trip to BC began on March 21. We piled into our rented mini-van and headed west from Calgary at 8:00 AM. Recent heavy snowfall and avalanches in the Rockies had been cleared away, and only a few slippery stretches on the highway slowed our progress to Penticton, where we were to spend three nights. Along the way we picked up Steller’s Jay, Turkey Vulture and Great Blue Heron, and Yellow-bellied Marmot in Kelowna, where a short detour to Munson Pond was very enjoyable.
Yellow-bellied Marmot

Before the trip Ray had made contact with Dick Cannings and his son Russell, described in the latest issue of British Columbia magazine as “superstar birders”.  On our first evening in Penticton we enjoyed dinner by the lakeshore with Dick, Marg and Russell, and they helped us lay out plans for our time both in the Okanagan and on the coast.  After dinner, Dick took us owling, an opportunity to explore some logging roads in the dark, and a close encounter with a pair of Western Screech-Owls.

Thursday morning dawned cool and snowy, but the snow soon let up and the following days were to be mostly sunny and pleasant, with little wind. Dick was our guide for the day, and we felt privileged to have such a knowledgeable naturalist take us to some of the birding hotspots of his home region. Among the highlights of the day were sightings of three Long-eared Owls, a Northern Pygmy-Owl, a pair of Williamson’s Sapsuckers, and a small flock of redpolls containing a Hoary Redpoll that was a treat for all, including Dick, for whom this was his first sighting in B.C. in a lifetime of birding.
Hoary Redpoll
After dinner, Dick took us to another location for Western Screech-Owl and this time we were fortunate enough to have excellent looks at the male calling to a nearby female. Mammals of the day included Beaver and Eastern Fox Squirrel. Wild Horses inhabit pasture land close to Dick and Marg’s home, and provided an easier way to see this species compared with our recent long jaunt to the Sundre area.
Vaseux Lake - between Okanagan Falls and Oliver

On Friday we again explored the beautiful countryside south of Penticton, at a bit more leisurely pace. Soon after breakfast we picked up Canyon Wren on the cliffs above Vaseux Lake, but Chukar, not seen well by all yesterday, continued to be elusive. Vineyards and fruit orchards stretch across the valley, and a mid-morning break at the Burrowing Owl winery made a pleasant break. It also re-energised us for a walk below the cliffs where a Peregrine Falcon put on a spectacular aerial display, driving off two Red-tailed Hawks atop a pine, and then joining his mate for further aerial gymnastics. They appeared to be enjoying the spring-like weather as much as we were. Later on we found our first Cassin’s Finch and Spotted Towhee.
Cassin's Finch

Dick and Marg had kindly invited us to dinner, and we enjoyed a delicious meal and a most relaxing evening at their home. We were very grateful for their hospitality, and for Dick’s time guiding us in the field.

Saturday was a travel day from Penticton to Vancouver. On the cliffs east of Princeton we came across  13 Mountain Goats, and finally caught up with Red Crossbills in Manning Provincial Park. 
Mountain Goat
 A walk in Campbell Valley Regional Park yielded our first Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pacific Wren and a Barred Owl, which we heard clearly and close-by but which we were unable to locate.
Pacific Wren

All in all, we had a very enjoyable and successful visit to western Canada's wine country - good birds, good mammals, good company and good wine!  -- Phil --

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