Birdwatching in the South Okanagan

Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve
Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve

As often as we can Jocie and I love getting out to the Okanagan and spending our time birdwatching and botanizing. For Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island birders, the Okanagan offers an opportunity to pick up a whole host of birds that are associated with the dry grasslands of the South Okanagan. With the two kids under three on board, our ability to bird all the major hot spots was limited to areas that we could either use a stroller or a backpack or that were viewable from the car. The weather was fairly changeable and we weren’t able to spend as much time as we liked in each location meaning that we missed some easy South Okanagan specialties. However, the birding overall was quite good and we ended with a list of 65 species.

From Hope we made our way via Highway 3 to Manning Park, stopping briefly at the Manning Park Lodge for a break, snack and some playground time. We picked up a few species here including Clark’s Nutcracker, Brown-headed Cowbird and a single female Yellow-headed Blackbird. After Manning Park, Lodgepole Pine and Ponderosa Pine become the dominant trees and with them a whole range of different bird species.

We overnighted in Princeton and the next morning birded Darcy Mountain Road, making our way up to a large pond that is always excellent for swallows. The area around the pond is great for birds and wildflowers but it looks like the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) has taken a toll here and the forest around the lake and the area is much more open than it was even five years ago. We picked up most of the swallows at the lake (except for the Bank Swallow), Vesper Sparrow, and White-breasted Nuthatch. In town, large flocks of Evening Grosbeaks worked the trees along the streets. We missed the Pygmy Nuthatch and Williamson’s Sapsucker that we’ve seen here in the past.

The next leg of our trip took us to the area around Vaseaux Lake between Oliver and Okanangan Falls. Descending into Osoyoos the terrain changes to open expanses of Sagebrush and Antelope-brush. A large portion of this valley has been or is in the process of being developed into vineyards with a corresponding loss of natural habitat. Road 22 and Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve (Haynes Ranch) is an excellent place to bird having a range of different ecosystems in close proximity. We actually birded this area twice and picked up new species on both visits including Bobolink, Long-billed Curlew, and Swainson’s Hawk. I was hoping to see a Rock Wren on the rocky bluffs in the eco reserve but both the birds and our almost three year old weren’t cooperating!

Vaseaux Lake
The wet boardwalk at Vaseaux Lake winds out to a viewing platform overlooking the lake.

We spent a rainy morning birding Vaseaux Lake and then driving the loop up to Green Lake, Mahoney Lake and White Lake. Vaseaux Lake was pretty quiet in the rain but we did see a Gray Catbird and while loop is normally excellent, with the rain there wasn’t much activity. We got out for a short walk at White Lake and had good views of both Mountain and Western Bluebirds but the sparrows that are usually very interesting there were absent. On previous visits BK (Before Kids) we’ve actually packed a lunch and walked through from Mahoney Lake to White Lake but with the weather decided that it wasn’t worth doing this trip.

White Lake
Good birding along the gravel road that leads down toward White Lake.

On our final morning at Vaseaux Lake we stopped to bird the bluffs and had excellent views of both Canyon Wren and White-throated Swifts. With a little more time we would have revisited this area more thoroughly as it is always good birding along the gravel road as it winds its way up beside the bluffs and we’ve seen both Rock Wrens and Lewis’ Woodpecker along the road. As it was, the weather was deteriorating and the children were letting us know that it was time to move on.

Overall, we had an excellent five day trip despite the mixed weather. The botanizing and birding was excellent and it was fun to revisit favourite places that we’d been to in the past.

Our complete species list (in the order that we saw the birds) is as follows:

  • Northwestern Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Bald Eagle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Killdeer
  • Mallard
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • Tree Swallow
  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Northern Roughwinged Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Northern Flicker
  • Western Tanager
  • Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  • Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • Song Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • American Kestrel
  • American Robin
  • Pine Siskin
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • European Starling
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Band-tailed Pigeon
  • Spotted Towhee
  • California Quail
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • White-throated Swift
  • Western Bluebird
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Redhead
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • House Sparrow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Western Kingbird
  • American Goldfinch
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Canada Goose
  • Gray Catbird
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Bobolink
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Osprey
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Savannah Sparrow

View the Google map of our South Okanagan Birding Roadtrip.