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Silver Anniversary birding

February 7, 2011

When my wife Margaret suggested that we get away somewhere to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, I naturally agreed, and then had a wonderful idea (or a cunning plan, as Baldrick would say).  Why not spend Sunday night at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos?  That way I could cycle down to Osoyoos the first day, have a wonderful meal and relax in a hot tub, then cycle back on Monday.  This would be great for my 2011 non-motorized (NMT) list, which has been languishing lately.  I’ve been stuck at 70 species since January 22nd.  Margaret thought this was a fine idea–one reason our marriage has been so wonderful for a quarter century is that she is very understanding of my quirky birding plans.  We could meet up at Road 22 and do some birding together, then meet up again at the resort.  Not only would it add at least a half-dozen high-quality species to my list, it would add 160 kilometres to my biking distance—I could take the rest of February off!

All went well until I looked at the weather forecast on Saturday—they were calling for 10 cm of snow throughout the day.  Hmm, I’d have to start early to make sure I got there before things got too mucky.  As long as I got to Osoyoos, I could always do the serious birding on Monday—the forecast for Monday was fine.  Besides, the weathermen were often wrong, and the snow might come down as rain.  It turns out they were wrong—both days were worse than they predicted or than I could have guessed.

I got up at 06:45 and was out the door by 07:15 just as it was getting light.  I had planned a little side trip at the start to pick up the Glaucous Gull that had been hanging around the Okanagan Lake beach in Penticton for the last month, the gull that everyone but me had seen.  But as I headed down the hill I realized it had already started snowing, and fairly seriously at that.  I better just stick to the original plan and get south fast.  I got to Skaha Lake and decided to go down the east side.  Luckily it was calm and the snow was melting on the roads.  I heard a Canyon Wren calling at the first bluff, then a flock of Western Bluebirds farther on.  As I climbed up the little hill past McLean Creek the snow began covering the road and I had to come down the other side slowly to avert a nasty fall—usually that run is a glorious full-speed romp around rocky corners high above the lake.

The Vaseux Lake cliffs

By the time I got to Vaseux Lake things were looking more serious.  The road surface was a slushy mess and the paved shoulders were more or less pure snow.  I phoned Marg and suggested she stop on her way south to meet me at Inkaneep Park–I needed Russell’s bike with the fat tires.  I got to Inkaneep—40 km into the trip—at about 09:40 and spent a short while birding the bush there, fantasizing that I’d relocate the Northern Parula seen there in November, but only heard a couple of chickadees and a Song Sparrow.  The wet snow was coming down so fast that I took shelter under the park kiosk to keep as dry as possible.  Marg soon arrived, I took Russell’s bike off the car and put mine back on, dried my gloves a bit, told Marg I’d see her at Road 22 then pedalled off into the whiteness, going down the Okanagan River trail.

It was a good thing I had fat tires for that section—the snow was about 8 cm deep by now and the skinny tires on the bike I started with would have been useless.  I was still hoping to see some decent birds despite the weather, and finally picked up a flock of White-crowned Sparrows just south of Oliver.  This is a common species, but I’d somehow missed it while biking this year.  At Road 9 I stopped to look at Skip King’s feeders and there were the Eurasian Collared-Doves, huddled in a tree—another new species for my NMT list.

Inkaneep Park–time to switch to fat tires

Up until that time my spirits had been high—I was still thinking of doing some birding at Road 22 with Marg, maybe finding American Tree Sparrows in their favourite rose thicket, maybe a Rough-legged Hawk in the fields, surely the Barred Owl will still be roosting in the woods behind the barns, and chances for one of the two Bewick’s Wrens were pretty good, too.  But the track along the river south of Road 9 got very rutted and my pace slowed to a crawl.  The snow was so heavy now I could hardly make out the ducks on the river beside me—I’d been hoping to see the Eurasian Wigeon that Marg had spotted there on the Christmas count.

It took me forever to get to Road 18.  I stopped at the north end of the South Okanagan Wildlife Management Area to dash into the woods to check The Juniper, a good spot for roosting saw-whet owls.  I hopped over the barbed-wire fence, always tricky because it has extra wires and is on the slope of the dike.  I slogged through the deep snow—close to 12 cm by now—through the wet brush and found the juniper.  Nobody home.  I checked the tree cavity nearby—no screech-owl.  Disappointed, I hiked back, by now thoroughly wet from the snow and getting cold.  I climbed up over the fence, but as I went over the other side the bottom wires slid out and I found myself hanging upside down, my left leg impaled on the stop strand.  I tried to pull myself up, but the fence boomeranged again, and I fell to the ground with a loud ripping sound.  I got up and realized that the whole crotch had been torn out of my ski pants.  Luckily the leather in my biking shorts underneath had saved me from any nasty scratches or worse and meant I wasn’t totally exposed to the world.  I got back on the bike and dejectedly pedalled south the last 2 km to Road 22.  There was the car, with Marg wondering where the heck I was, ready to send out a search party.  I put the bike on the car and we drove directly to the resort.

After a wonderful hot bath and a fabulous meal at Passa Tempo the world seemed a much finer place.  And the suite had a dryer as well, so I could deal with all my wet clothes.  The snow turned to rain in the evening, so I started to plan the return trip for tomorrow—surely the roads would be clear at least.  But alas, the forecast changed again, and next morning brought heavy rain mixed with snow, so we had a relaxing breakfast and drove all the way home.  The weather finally cleared in the afternoon, so Russ and I cycled down through the slush to Okanagan Lake and—finally—I saw the elusive Glaucous Gull.  So my species total climbs to 71 (I couldn’t count the White-crowns and Collared-Doves for the NMT list, since I’d motored home) and my distance goes up a bit to 374 km for the year.  Next time it will be better.

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