Tuesday 10 June 2014

The Okanagan Road Trip June 4-5

         June 3-4 2014 The Deep Creek, Otter Lake and vicinity

Returning from Salmon Arm I turned off at Kamloops and headed south to Vernon. Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the most conspicuous while in many of the ponds and lakes healthy numbers of Spotted Sandpipers and Kildeer were apparent.  
My first stop in the North Okanagan was at O'Keefe Pond where only an avid birder could tolerate the raucous call of the numerous nesting Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
I had meant to go to Otter Lake but ended up on St Anne's Rd by mistake. St Anne's Rd reminded me of the Saskatchewan prairies. The first birds high above me were a pair of Brewer's Blackbirds fending off a Red-tailed Hawk. A few moments later another pair of Red tails glided on thermals just out of range for decent photos.
I drove slowly down the road, the Tamron 150mm-600mm balancing on a beanbag ready for any action that might occur. Moments later I noticed something move in the distance, I cut the engine and rolled slowly up to a Western Meadowlark preening on a fencepost.

For those following the non-scientific Tamron 150mm-600mm road test an* appears by photos taken with the aforementioned lens. Shots were taken out of the car window on a bean bag or handheld.

*Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
A few more metres on a Vesper Sparrow alighted on a fence pole. For the relatively beginner birder like myself sparrows can be problematic to identify in the field.
*Vesper Sparrow (Pooectes gramineus) Note the rufous lesser coverts and complete eye-ring, tell-tale signs in identifying the species.

*A Vesper Sparrow with raised crown had me thinking me it was a Lincoln's but again I had it wrong. I'm learning on the job!

I continued down St Anne's Rd where a recent downpour had created a puddle beside the road. I waited and watched as a parade of birds including a Western Meadowlark, a pair of California Quail and then a Savannah Sparrow came to drink and bathe.
Returning along St Anne's to Otter Lake Rd I came across a pair of California Quail on the bough of an evergreen.

*California Quail (Callipepla californica)

Next up was Otter Lake. A pull-out offers a great view of the lake and a nice picnic site. Eastern Kingbirds were hawking insects while American Goldfinch were feeding on seeding plants while a Chipping Sparrow put in a brief appearance. The Tamron 150mm-600mm was working well so far.
I still think these web images look a lot better on Flickr which i'll post when I have time.

*Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

After leaving the northern part of the Okanagan I left for Okanagan Falls but all the driving was taking its toll,  I just couldn't make it after a long day that began at 4 a.m in Salmon Arm. After checking a few expensive overpriced and noisy provincial campgrounds I eventually turned off into the Banbury RV Park a few kilometres south of Penticton.
What a find it turned out to be. I had the choice of numerous sites (low season for birders, perfect for birding in May and early June) so I chose a waterfront site which also had access to a lakeside trail.
I decided to stretch my legs and use the 500mm F4 instead of the 150mm-600mm. I had barely walked a few metres when a Great Horned Owl flew onto a fence pole behind my campsite. I missed the flight shot as it was so quick and unexpected. The owl was to be one of the several surprises I was to experience on the trip. Eventually it dove into the long grass and never re-appeared. Maybe it had caught something so I backed off and let it be.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Belter Kingfisher and Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in these Skaha Lake sand cliffs.

A beautiful sunset over Skaha Lake left me with the feeling that things were going my way.
Next morning before sunrise I was again on the trail behind my campsite. The sandy pathway leads to the small town of Kaleden. 
The first birds up were the Northern Rough-winged Swallows which were nesting in a sandbank. As I watched a Belted Kingfisher flew into one of the nest holes, never to be re-emerge. A mixture of Bank, Tree and Barn Swallows were catching insects over the water. 
As I continued along the trail's more shaded areas I found Wilson's Warblers and various Empidonax flycatchers. I had stopped to photograph the Rough-winged Swallows when a Calliope Hummingbird perched about five metres in front of me.
Calliope Hummingbird (Stellula calliope)
Female Bullock's Oriole (Icterus galbula) I am wondering if this a fledgling or juvenile? Any offers as the plumage looks  a little different to the adult females I have photographed in the past.

By now the sun had risen over Skaha Lake and the sun was burning the back of my neck and so it was time for a hearty breakfast. As I ate, Cassin's Finch, various flycatchers, Bank Swallows, Northern Flicker, House Finch, California Quail, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds, Downy Woodpecker all worked their way in and around my treed waterfront campsite. I finally left the camera alone and enjoyed the moment. Zen and the 'Art of Birding' would be an apt description for the what I was experiencing, the cessation of thoughts and just the natural sights and sounds flooding in. Who could ask more!

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannous)
A member of the flycatcher family, these birds use a favoured perched to fly out and catch insects in midair.

By 8.30 a.m. the sun was so bright and the light was too harsh for decent photography but the show had to go on so I made my way to White Lake. I looked for Sage Thrasher  but they were nowhere to be seen. A howling wind made it difficult to keep the camera and tripod steady so I made my way slowly down the hill to the intersection of Green Lake Rd and Willowbrook Rd where I spotted one of my 'target' birds for the trip, a Say's Phoebe. As I mentioned the light was so harsh that it took a number of attempts to get a half decent shot. A pair are nesting in the pump house and periodically come out to catch insects from the roadside. I am thinking they have learnt to pick up insects struck by passing vehicles. In a similar fashion to the Pied Wagtail in the UK which pecks smushed insects off front grills of parked cars. It's just a thought i'm throwing out there. 

*Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
Note the black tail and pale rufous belly.

* This Say's Phoebe waited for passing cars and then picked insects up off the road, a potentially risky occupation but unlike crows it didn't seem to take any undue risks. Rather than hawking insects from the air these birds also dove into the long grass to snags insects.

*Same bird different pose with crest raised.

Only in the Okanagan!

Leaving the area was a hard, there where birds everywhere darting to and fro but it was time to leave for my next destination Beaver Lake Rd which I'll feature in the next blog.

It's never too late to start birding
John Gordon


  1. Fantastic photos John! I have to say your calliope is superb also love the kingbird.


    1. Your comments are so kind. What an amazing province we live in. I have birder friends in the UK who are amazed by our amazing variety of flora and fauna.

  2. Wow, looks like you had a great time and saw some great birds! The Great Horned Owl shot is experiential, but the Calliope Hummingbird photo is even better, probably the best I have ever seen of that species. Great work!

    1. Thanks Liron,
      That campsite is awesome and I will be back as it beat the provincial campsites. I just love birding in the Okanagan, it's a paradise for birding and I haven't even scratched the surface yet. The owl was a special treat and one I didn't expect.