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Back in the saddle

September 7, 2010

The season has certainly changed in the last week, with summer disappearing into a series of cool nights and rain showers.  The peaches are all in jars and harvest thoughts are shifting to apples, which get redder by the day.  The daily bird list for the back yard changes constantly now as flocks of sparrows, warblers and occasional flycatchers flit through the bushes.  With mid-day temperatures down to only 20°C (68°F) I don’t have any excuses to stay off the bike for longer rides, so I decided to cycle down to the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory on Saturday morning to help out with the daily census.

Rock Wren (not the one singing in the dark!)

The census has to start an hour after sunrise, and I figured it would take me about two hours to cycle down to Vaseux.  So I got up at 0445 and was off into the dark at 0512, breezing down the hill to Penticton and along the dyke of the river channel.  At Skaha Lake I decided to go down the east side, since the route is a little shorter and the paved road would be safer in the dark than the sandy, gravelly trail along the west side.  The dawn chorus is pretty feeble these days, even with the minor resurgence in song that the equinox brings.  A Rock Wren trilled from one of the outcrops along the road, then a Killdeer flushed off the lakeshore next to the road.  I realized something else was with the Killdeer, a small shorebird giving a dry kit call.  Sanderling!  A good bird here in the valley, and new for my non-motorized transport (NMT) year list.

The sky brightened as I neared Okanagan Falls, and I pulled into the banding station at 0650, a full twenty minutes ahead of my 2-hour estimate.  I’ll sleep in longer next time!  I chatted with banders Doug Brown and Barry Lancaster as I waited for the census start time.  They had seen two good birds already—a Long-eared Owl that flushed out of a woodlot at dawn, and a Sandhill Crane that appeared to land at the north end of the lake.  Both would be new for my NMT list, but were long shots now as their destinations were out of sight.

The census started off well, with a Northern Waterthrush chipping sharply from the marsh.  A Black-headed Grosbeak gave some uncharacteristic chattering notes and a Clark’s Nutcracker flew high overhead.  The resident Bald Eagle launched from its traditional perch on a big ponderosa pine and glided toward the local coot flock, looking for breakfast.  Hundreds of swallows swirled overhead, mostly Violet-greens with a few Barns mixed in.  The swallow chatter rose abruptly in volume as a Sharp-shinned Hawk sailed through the flock.

Okanagan River channel at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory

I finished the census at about 0840 (39 species total—about average), then cycled south for a kilometre to the north end of Vaseux Lake to see if I could see the Sandhill Crane from the observation blind.  A few Wood Ducks, Northern Pintail, Northern Shovelers, Mallards and Ring-necked Ducks were scattered over the lake, and the eagle still had over 200 coots to choose from by the looks of things, but no cranes in sight.  Across the highway a meadowlark sang, then the glorious cascading song of a Canyon Wren.  I turned north towards home at about 0930, hoping to get there before the forecasted north wind kicked up.  The clouds had cleared and the temperature was rising fast as well.

Skaha Lake (from a helicopter, not a bicycle!)

At Okanagan Falls I took the west side railbed trail along Skaha Lake, the trail busy with walkers and bikers on this holiday weekend.  I bumped into Debbie Clark, a friend who is working for Parks Canada in their attempt to establish a national park in the south Okanagan.  I was happy to hear that Debbie’s outlook on this project was increasingly optimistic, so hopefully we’ll hear some good news on official levels before the end of the year.  At Penticton I turned onto the river channel dyke again.  A stop at a mucky oxbow, a remnant of the old river course before it was channelized in the 1950s, produced a Pectoral Sandpiper, another new NMT bird!  The north wind kicked up strongly so I got a good workout cycling the length of the river before turning to climb the long hill to my home.  I got there a little dehydrated, despite drinking my two litres of water, but quite happy with how my legs felt.  It was good to be back in the saddle.

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