Monday, January 4, 2010

Jan 2: Osoyoos Birding Bonanza

'Twas 1:10AM Jan 2 when I awoke for the Osoyoos Christmas Bird Count. "I'm doing a Big Year after-all" I said to myself the night before, "so why not get up ridiculously early to do some owling?" Got down into the Osoyoos counting area and first bird was a GREAT HORNED OWL on a post along the highway near Willow Beach. My first official stop though was the Nk'Mip Desert and Heritage Centre in east Osoyoos where screech-owls are sometimes detected. After 20 minutes of calling however I was out of luck so I pushed back north to Rd. 22 where I brought out an 800,000 candle-power pit-lamp and started scanning for hunting Barn Owls and any other bird that might be out and about in the middle of the night. Unfortunately it seems that the Osoyoos Barn Owls disappeared after last winter's cold-snap and today's experience provided little evidence to refute my suspicions. I did however spot 4 more GREAT HORNED OWLS perched in trees, a power-pole, and 1 on the old Barn, and a single NORTHER SAW-WHET OWL responded to my calls near the old MAPS banding station. From there I headed north of Black Sage Road and the GREAT HORNED OWLS continued to appear! On that road alone I counted 7 different birds plus another at the bottom of the McKinney Road. Up McKinney Road (which heads east up to Mt. Baldy from Oliver) I had hoped to rack up a good number of saw-whets but I guess it's not a great year for them either since I could not find a one! A fabulous consolation prize however was hearing a barking LONG-EARED OWL circling overhead near the KM 10 cattle-guard, and then later (after trying for an hour) getting a BARRED OWL to respond at KM 17.

I made it down the hill by about 7:20am so was able to catch up on a few minutes of sleep before my team-mate for the day Michael Force showed up to meet me. Once he arrived we headed back down Black Sage Road to start our count (basically our area was everything east of the Okanagan River south to the Indian Reserve... so mostly along and around Black Sage Road itself. It turned out to be a great day including many highlights least of which being the raptors. All in all we tallied 4 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 3 MERLINS, 2 SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS, 3 COOPER'S HAWKS, 1 adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK, 5 RED-TAILED HAWKS, 4 NORTHER HARRIERS, 2 GOLDEN EAGLES, 4 BALD EAGLES, and 3 NORTHER SHRIKES (not technically a hawk but a raptor of sorts!). In terms of rarities I was glad to pick out a RUSTY BLACKBIRD at the Oliver feedlot, in amongst the thousands of starlings, pigeons, and other blackbirds. A single BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD was another rare find although they'll be common enough in a few months! Mike found a SWAMP SPARROW along the river which was certainly a nice bonus, and we both heard a few CANYON WRENS calling from the cliffs but alas no chukar calling today. The highlight of the day though, at least for me, came at dusk. We had just picked up may parents who had been walking around the Rd 22 oxbows all day when my Dad said, "hey what's happening up ahead?" Before I could even focus my binoculars on the distant shapes he shouted, "SHORT-EARED OWL!!!" We all piled out of the vehicle beside the old barn and got great looks at the bird as it dove repeatedly on a NORTHERN HARRIER. "But wait, there are two owls!" someone said, and sure enough another short-ear flew into view and again the first bird attacked the newcomer. I called up Chris Charlesworth who had been covering the reserve south of us with Chris Siddle, Ann Gibson, and Tanya Seebacher. They showed up within minutes (photo included) and Chris spotted a third bird further back!!! This isn't Boundary Bay folks, Short-ears have been regular but rare in the Okanagan as long as I have been birding and to see 3 at once is truly special (unless you birded here in the 60's!). So a great way to cap off the day and as usual Osoyoos dominated the other interior counts this year by posting an unofficial tally of 110 species.

Princeton tomorrow! Good way to fill up with forest birds!

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