British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a paradise for birds and birdwatchers alike. With Canada’s nicest climate, the Okanagan typically enjoys milder and drier conditions due to the fact it is in a rain shadow. The valley is a beautiful place lined up and down with rolling mountains covered in bunchgrass and stately Ponderosa Pines. The valley bottom is dotted with exquisite lakes, the largest of which, Okanagan Lake, stretches nearly 100 kilometers from one end to the other.
During late May and early June there will be a lot of birds residing in the valley. Nearly 350 species have been recorded here, with well over 200 remaining to breed. Many of these species cannot be found anywhere else in Canada, including Black-chinned Hummingbird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Flammulated Owl, Canyon Wren and White-throated Swift.
Our travels will take us from Kelowna, the largest city in the valley, with nearly 200,000 residents, where local lakes and ponds are home to American Avocets and Wilson’s Phalaropes to Vernon where grasslands are home to Swainson’s Hawks and Clay-colored Sparrows. We’ll visit Salmon Arm, a wetland area with hundreds of breeding Western Grebes and a few breeding Clark’s Grebes. We’ll visit Kamloops where dry grasslands are where we may find Long-billed Curlews and Sharp-tailed Grouse. In the South Okanagan, amongst the sweet smelling sage brush we’ll hunt down Brewer’s and Lark Sparrows, Gray Flycatchers, N. Saw-whet Owls, Black-backed Woodpeckers and the lovely Williamson’s Sapsucker.
Not only birds are expected on this trip but a variety of mammals too including Black Bear, White-tailed and Mule deer, Moose, Beaver, Coyote and maybe even a Bobcat. With nice weather we’ll enjoy flights of butterflies and a bounty of wildflowers.
The Okanagan Valley is Avocet Tours home base so nobody knows it better then us!
Day 1 Group to assemble in Kelowna where we will have dinner and get acquainted with one another. Night in Kelowna.
Day 2 Our first full day of birding in the Okanagan begins N. of Kelowna along the road to Beaver Lake. As we leave the valley bottom the road ascends through rolling grasslands, good for stunning Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlarks and the endearing Lazuli Bunting. As we leave the grasslands we enter an open Ponderosa Pine forest, dotted with aspen groves. Here, bird diversity is high and just a few of the species we will see include noisy Red-naped Sapsuckers, glittery gorgeted Calliope Hummingbirds and inquisitive Cassin’s Vireos. Climbing higher yet, the cool mountainous spruce forests are the realm of uncommon birds such as Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, American Three-toed Woodpecker and attractive Townsend’s Warblers.
In the afternoon, we’ll visit Robert Lake, a tiny alkaline lake that Wilson’s Phalaropes, Wilson’s Snipe and a variety of waterfowl call home. A brief visit to the Kelowna Landfill will give us the opportunity to see American Avocets, rare breeders in British Columbia. What would a birding trip be without a visit to a landfill? After dinner we’ll head out in search of Western Screech-Owls in an old-growth cedar forest. Night in Kelowna.
Day 3 Be prepared for another bird-filled morning as we drive from Kelowna to Salmon Arm, stopping first south of Vernon where grasslands are dotted with small ponds home to Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye and many other ducks. We’ll explore the Vernon area for Clay-colored Sparrows and Swainson’s Hawks before continuing on to Salmon Arm, just outside of the Okanagan Valley.
Salmon Arm, situated on the shores of Shuswap Lake, has vast marshes and mudflats which are home to thousands of birds. We’ll first walk out to Christmas Island, where a bustling colony of Ring-billed Gulls has taken up residence. In the cattails, Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens sing loudly from prominent perches while Soras and Virginia Rails skulk in the shadows. The marshes of Salmon Arm hold one of British Columbia’s largest Western Grebe colonies and each year a few Clark’s Grebes join them. If the grebes are ‘in the mood’ we may be lucky enough to witness their bizarre courtship dance. The skies overhead are often buzzing with six species of swallows as well as Vaux’s and Black swifts. Night in Salmon Arm.
Day 4 This morning we’ll return to the shores of Salmon Arm for one last look before following the Trans-Canada Highway west to the city of Kamloops. Enroute, we’ll stop and search for American Redstarts and Red-eyed Vireos in an old-growth forest of cottonwoods. As we follow the Thompson River into Kamloops you will be impressed by the number of Osprey nests precariously perched atop the power poles.
After lunch we’ll stop briefly at a marsh where Black-necked Stilts have bred in recent years. Even if we don’t see stilts there will be plenty of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cinnamon Teal and other ducks to see. Once the site of a sanatorium and a mental-health institution, Tranquille is a place filled with history and birds. Situated on the shores of Kamloops Lake, Tranquille’s cottonwood groves are excellent for the brilliant Lewis’s Woodpecker. Lakeside deciduous trees hold flashy Bullock’s Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds and Cedar Waxwings as well as secretive Gray Catbirds. Night in Kamloops.
Day 5 Today we’ll explore Hwy 5A between Kamloops and Merritt. First stopping in along Rose Hill Road we’ll look for Swainson’s Hawks, Horned Larks and a variety of grassland sparrows. We’ll then stop in at Separation Lake where ducks and a few breeding shorebirds such as Killdeer and Wilson’s Phalarope will be found. Continuing west along the highway the scenery will take your breath away. Golden grasslands peppered with towering Ponderosa Pines dominate the scenery along this route, and there are also many small ponds and some larger lakes. The largest lake we will visit, Stump Lake, is home to a healthy breeding population of Red-necked Grebes. Striking Common Loons breed here as well and Common Nighthawks and Black Swifts are regularly seen feeding low over the water. At Guichon Flats we’ll watch Black Terns coursing over the reeds while Eared Grebes and Yellow-headed Blackbirds in great numbers, tend to their young. We’ll pass through the town of Merritt, home to one of Canada’s largest Country Music Festivals, before heading to the tiny mining town of Logan Lake. After checking into our motel we’ll have dinner and head out at dusk to search for North America’s largest owl, the Great Gray Owl. Night in Logan Lake.
Day 6 Before returning to the Okanagan Valley we’ll do a little birding around Logan Lake. Along Tunkwa Lake Road we’ll search through forests under attack from the Mountain Pine Beetle where woodpeckers such as American Three-toed, Black-backed, Hairy and Downy can be seen. Small wetlands near Tunkwa Lake are home to impressive gatherings of Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Canvasback and Black Terns.
The remainder of the morning will be spent in transit to the Okanagan Valley. We’ll pause at Hardy Falls near Peachland where a lovely stream surrounded by large cottonwoods and pines is home to American Dippers. Riparian forest inhabitants such as Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Veery and Nashville Warbler should also be seen here. As we continue south through the valley we will be treated to some of Canada’s most pleasing scenery. Night in Oliver.
Day 7 The South Okanagan is viewed by many as Canada’s best birding region. The day will begin on McKinney Road where sagebrush flats fill the air with a sweet smell. Amongst the sage we’ll look for Lark Sparrows, Mountain Bluebirds and American Kestrels. McKinney Road is the best location in Canada for Gray Flycatcher, a species which we will search for today. Many other pine forest birds are common here such as the tiny Pygmy Nuthatch, noisy Clark’s Nutcrackers and brightly colored Western Tanagers.
Along Road 22, where the afternoon will be spent, hay-fields are home to a colony of Bobolinks. The woods along the Okanagan River will be alive with birds including the locally rare Yellow-breasted Chat, tiny Least Flycatchers, babbling House Wrens and attractive Black-headed Grosbeaks.
This evening we’ll head into the thick coniferous forest east of Okanagan Falls in search of owls. Possibilities include Barred Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and perhaps even Boreal Owl with luck. Night in Oliver.
Day 8 This morning we’ll head for White Lake, an area of extensive sage brush near Okanagan Falls. White Lake is the site of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory so you’ll see the monstrous satellite dishes standing in rows at the edge of the sage. White Lake is also great for birds including some hard to find species like Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s Sparrow. We’ll pop into Three Gates Farm where hummingbird feeders strung on the balcony of the attractive log home attract good numbers of Rufous, Calliope and Black-chinned hummingbirds. Other feeder patrons include Cassin’s Finch, Evening Grosbeak, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches and Black-headed Grosbeaks.
Later on in the morning we’ll return to the site of last night’s owling in the forests east of Okanagan Falls. As we climb through the Ponderosa Pines we’ll pause to search for Clark’s Nutcracker and Steller’s Jays. Higher up in park-like stands of Western Larch we’ll search for handsome Williamson’s Sapsuckers. Higher yet in the spruce forests Boreal Chickadees, Fox Sparrows, Brown Creepers and Spruce Grouse dwell. We’ll return to Oliver for dinner and then head out once again in search of owls. Our attention will focus on finding Flammulated Owl in the pine forest west of Osoyoos and Barn Owl in open fields along Road 22. Night in Oliver.
Day 9 Our final day of birding in the region, we begin at Vaseux Lake where towering cliffs are home to some of Canada’s most sought-after birds such as Canyon Wren, Chukar, Lewis’s Woodpecker, White-throated Swift and Peregrine Falcon.
We’ll follow the Similkameen Valley back to Penticton, pausing to see Eurasian Collared-Doves in the tiny town of Cawston. Once back in Kelowna, we’ll head east of the city where the Okanagan’s only population of Chestnut-backed Chicakdees resides. We’ll return to Kelowna in the afternoon and the tour will conclude.
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