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Another good ride

November 14, 2010

The pair of Great Horned Owls woke me up again this morning, hooting from our trees.  I glanced out the window–the branches were bouncing around in the wind quite a bit.  Maybe it wasn’t a good day for a long bike ride.  I’d been hoping for one last long bicycle trip this season before the weather really shut down–to see the Northern Parula in Oliver.  I decided to get up and take a closer look at the situation.  It was 7 a.m. and still pretty gloomy outside.  I looked at the weather forecast–30 kph winds from the south, good chance of rain.  Well that settled it–probably a good day to clean the office.  I made a pot of coffee and had some toast.

When I looked up again the sun was streaming over the mountains to the east.  Patches of blue had appeared and the clouds had that innocuous we-won’t-rain-on-you look.  Suddenly the world looked like a better place to ride a bike.  The wind was still blowing, but I figured I could buck it going south to Oliver and if it got too much I could just turn around and sail home.

I was out the door by 8 a.m. and pedalling down the Okanagan River channel in Penticton.  The flocks of gulls–mostly Californias–were still in a frenzy over the kokanee spawn and a few ducks had moved in to take advantage as well–Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers and a lone Hooded Merganser.  Several skeins of Canada Geese flew in from the north overhead.  I saw them land at the airport and stopped for a scan.  No Cackling, but in their midst was a single Snow Goose; a nice bird for the Okanagan.  A Northern Shrike flew out of the field and onto a power line.  The river oxbows had a few dabblers–Mallards, Gadwalls and American Wigeon–as well as a quartet of Great Blue Herons.

I got to Skaha Lake at 8:40; about 10 minutes longer than I usually take, a combination of cycling into the wind and the good birding I guess.  I decided to take the slow but peaceful route down the west side of the lake, on the old railway trail.  It was odd to be on that trail in November–the campsites deserted, the trail surface a carpet of yellow cottonwood leaves.  A far cry from the busy summer days filled with tourists and power-boats.  The wind really picked up–blowing at least 30 kph by now as forecasted–but then it always seems to be windy along Skaha.  It let up a bit as I approached Okanagan Falls and remained light (but still in my face) for the rest of the southward leg.  I was a bit chilled by the breeze, so I stopped in at the IGA for a fresh coffee and chocolate croissant before heading south on Hwy. 97 to Vaseux Lake.  The lake was covered in waterfowl; I’d have to check that out on my return trip.

Just as I passed the south end of the lake a black car did a U-turn and pulled up next to me.  Police?  I was wearing a helmet.  The window rolled down and John Vooys, a birding friend from the Fraser Valley, called out “Do you want a ride?”  Knowing where I was headed (and I knew where he’d been–why else would a coastal birder be in the south Okanagan in November but to see the recently-discovered parula?), he simply said, “I just saw the bird, in with the flock of chickadees at campsite 3”.  “Thanks!” I replied, and the window went up and John was on his way north, perhaps to have another look at the Little Blue Heron in West Kelowna.  It was good to know the parula was still around today–my only fear in this adventure was cycling all that way only to find that the bird had taken off.

The trusty bike at Inkaneep Provincial Park–just to prove I cycled there!

Another 15 minutes of pedaling and I was there–Inkaneep Provincial Park, a lovely little patch of cottonwood and birch riparian woodland along a wildish (well, undyked) section of the Okanagan River.  It was 11 a.m., and there was a car in the parking lot–probably another birder.  I locked the bike up to a tree and began searching.  I quickly found a chickadee, but it seemed to be alone, an unusual situation for one of its kind.  I walked along the trail to the river, on the look out for a real mixed flock.  A flock of goldfinches fed noisily in the trees and a Pacific Wren chattered in the underbrush–the latter a new species for this year’s nonmotorized list at least.  I turned a corner and there was Donna Heard, a local birder from Oliver.  She was staring intently at something with her binoculars.  She heard me coming, turned and said those words that twitchers love to hear: “The bird is right here!”.  And indeed it was–a good look, too, up in the mid-canopy of a small birch.  I was hoping to get a photograph, but the parula moved on with the Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Dark-eyed Juncos that made up its flock.  Several of them crossed the river; I could still hear the warbler call occasionally but never saw it again after that first look.

Satisfied with that brief encounter and anxious to leave enough time to get home before dark, I got on the bike again and turned north.  Stopping at Vaseux Lake, I sorted through the flock of diving ducks at the south end (almost 200 Ring-neckeds as well as redheads, scaup and canvasbacks) while a couple of Canyon Wrensjinked above me on the cliff, then walked out on the boardwalk to the blind to scope the swans at the north end.  They were all Trumpeters–11 adults and 2 immatures.  A little flock of 5 Ruddy Ducks tucked into the northeast corner was a surprise.

Late afternoon sun on the vineyards and bluffs above Skaha Lake

Back in Okanagan Falls, I cycled down to the provincial park to check the river.  The dippers were back; two of them dipping in the mid-river rocks.  Then it was back on to the railway trail along Skaha Lake.  Predictably, the wind kicked up to over 30 kph again, but thankfully still from the south, so I breezed north with relative ease.  I felt so rested at Penticton that I decided to add a couple of kilometres to the trip and check the head of Okanagan River.  Just the usuals there–hundreds of California Gulls, a big flock of coots and a smattering of ducks.  I headed up the West Bench hill–the only serious hill of the trip–knowing that the hot tub was only 2 km away.  I felt surprisingly good after 80 km on the bike, the quail scattering as I came up the driveway.  Now, should I go for the Little Blue Heron tomorrow?  Mmm, no– I think I’ll wait for it to move south a few kilometres.

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