Get Outdoors! and learn about rattlesnakes

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

We live in rattlesnake country, so we might as well appreciate it.

Our Western Rattlesnakes Crotalus viridis are the only venomous snakes of our six North Okanagan snake species. Their venom is strong enough to stun and kill a mouse and they’re great rodent population controllers.

These shy, evasive reptiles would rather retreat than attack anything bigger than they can swallow. That’s why they rattle — they’re so scared that they curl up and shake. Thankfully, evolution has given them a handy warning device to keep predators away — their rattle.

Rattlesnakes are born rattleless, but like other snakes, they outgrow their scaly skin which gets very irritating until they finally rub against a rock and slide out of their old dried cover from head to tail.

Unlike other snakes though, a little piece of skin gets left on the “button” the rattler is born with. Each shedding adds another piece, until, viola! They have a rattle of dried fingernail-like material that buzzes with a chchchchch! when they’re shaking from fear.

Baby rattlers can deceivingly be mistaken for their look-a-likes — the Bull (or Gopher) snake, except the rattlers have more pronounced jaws giving their head a triangular shape.

But people are mostly fascinated and fearful of the fangs and venom.

Here’s good news: rattlesnakes would rather save their venom for hunting than for defence. That’s why they warn us. It takes about four days to rebuild the venom concentration after a meal. So they don’t want to waste it on people or other large animals.

Rattlesnakes are short-sighted. How can any animal that doesn’t see well, has no ears, nose, nor arms and legs find and capture its prey?

Snakes can “taste” scents in the air with their tongue. Nerves along its belly sense movement and rattlesnakes have pits near their eyes which are lined with cells that detect body heat. They hunt mice by following their heat trails, usually at night when the trails are most conspicuous.

When the rattler locates its prey — it strikes with a pair of hollow fangs that injects the poisonous venom (super-concentrated saliva with enzymes that help to digest tissues and proteins and act as neuromuscular paralyzers) into the prey and waits a few minutes til it’s dead.

A snake’s lower jaw comes apart in front so they can stretch their mouths wide to swallow their prey whole. Their ribs aren’t attached to any breast bone below and their muscles compress the prey into a swallowable “sausage.” Amazing!

Chances are you’ve been close to a rattler if you’ve hiked through Kalamalka Lake Park in summer.

They’re camouflage masters and can silently slip away through the grass without notice. Stay on the trails and watch where you’re going when travelling through rattlesnake habitat.

They love to bask on rocks, so watch out! On hot days, look under picnic benches, vehicles, large rocks or other shady places before getting close. Stay away from possible den sites, for your safety and theirs.

Rattlesnake Safety:

Human bites are extremely rare and often dry (no venom). If bitten, get to a hospital for an anti-venom shot quickly and calmly without increasing blood flow. DO NOT run! DO NOT use tourniquets, make cuts and suck, or anything else that could restrict blood flow or cause more damage. The toxins are destructive enough to cause pain, swelling, tissue and nerve damage at the bite site.

Pets can be taken to the closest veterinary clinic.

Get Outdoors! Our lake of many colours

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

Kalamalka Lake is very special; it’s one of the few large marl lakes in the world. Marl lakes have high concentrations of dissolved minerals like calcium carbonate with little plankton and vegetation creating aesthetically attractive clear water with sandy or rocky bottoms.

Magic crystals (wink, wink), the calcium carbonate crystals from limestone, float up to the summer’s warm surface water acting like prisms refracting sunlight, thus giving “the lake of many colours” its vivid aquamarine, turquoise, azure, cyan, sapphire and jade tropical colours in summer that change daily. It’s a lovely indigo and emerald In winter.

Kalamalka Lake Is 16 kilometres by three km with a surface elevation of 392 metres. The average depth of the lake is 58.5m (192’) and the maximum depth is 142m (466’). Kalamalka Lake has two overland inflows; Coldstream Creek carries 80 per cent of the overland flow and from Wood Lake via Oyama canal. However, underground springs are likely a large but unknown component. Coldstream Creek strongly impacts the entire north arm during runoff and storms and has significant agricultural activity and streamside development along it. One outflow —Vernon Creek — flows from Kalamalka Lake through Polson Park and into Okanagan Lake. The flushing rate (turnover of water) for Kalamalka Lake is 55-65 years.

Historically, the Okanagan Indians called the lake “Chelootsoos” meaning “long lake cut in the middle”. This refers to the Oyama isthmus between Wood and Kalamalka Lakes. Legend had it that the narrow isthmus was created from an ancient overgrown beaver dam. In 1965, workers digging a six foot deep trench for a water pipe came across great masses of beaver-cut sticks which proved the “legend” was true. New settlers called the lake “Long Lake”. More recently it became known as Kalamalka Lake, possibly after an old Indian chief or some Hawaiian ancestry.

The lake has Kokanee, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Yellow Perch, Northern Pikeminnow, Pumpkinseed, Redside Shiner, Lake Whitefish, Peamouth Chub, Largescale Sucker and Cutthroat Trout. Historically, the lake was stocked with Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Steelhead and Kokanee, but lake stocking was stopped in 1978. Some pebbly beaches are used by shore spawning Kokanee in October wherever the gravel provides protection for eggs and newly hatched fry.

I always thought it was cool to find Western Crayfish hiding under rocks in shallow bays. They look like miniature lobsters. And Freshwater Shrimp give trout pink-coloured flesh. There used to be lots of native freshwater mussels that gulls would drop on rocks to crack open. Osprey and Bald Eagles catch fish. And Kalamalka Lake provides habitat for a variety of ducks, grebes, loons, mergansers and Canada Geese.

The lake has two provincial parks, Kalamalka Lake and Kekuli Bay Provincial Parks and several beaches along its shores. Rattlesnake Point (a.k.a. Turtle’s Head) projects scenically into Kalamalka Lake. People enjoy the lake for swimming, paddling, boating, fishing and water skiing. Surrounding land uses include residential, agricultural, a major highway, beaches, campgrounds and parklands, and until recently a railway — now a world-class hiking and cycling trail. And it’s a primary source of drinking water for Greater Vernon and Lake Country.

Our uses and activities within the watershed can have a severe impact on the lake.

Please respect and enjoy this lake carefully!

Check out – The Society for the Protection of Kalamalka Lake (SPrKL) www.spkl.ca

KEEP KAL LAKE BLUE!

Nature centre hires Spallumcheen woman as manager

Article from Vernon Morning Star –

A native western Canadian, Cheryl Hood has always been fascinated by the Canadian biosphere.

The Spallumcheen resident brings that fascination to her new role as the Allan Brooks Nature Centre’s manager.

“Growing up, I’d sit beside a flowing river or walk along the trails absorbing everything along the way and making frequent stops to inspect a unique mushroom or insect going about its day,” said Hood, originally from northern Alberta, and has lived in all four western provinces. She arrived in the north Okanagan in 2015 and loves the region’s beauty and diversity.

“It’s safe to say, not much has changed.”

Hood joined the centre team in February and brings diverse experiences to the position.

She has worked in the not-for-profit industry, human resources and has been a business owner for 10 years.

Hood sits on two boards, the Eagle Rock Water District and is vice-president of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce. Throughout her career, she said, she has focused on education and is passionate about all aspects that enhance the joy of learning.

“I believe education is paramount to understanding our partners in nature so we can all have a healthy community,” Hood said.

In a release announcing Hood’s hiring, the board said, “We are excited to have the opportunity to have Cheryl join the Allan Brooks Nature Centre staff and are eager to see more from this new position in action — as we have over the past two months.”

Vernon nature centre offers resources for parents, teachers

Vernon Morning Star Article – It’s around this time every year Vernon’s Allan Brooks Nature Centre reopens its doors to the public.

Staff are eager to provide visitors with a first-hand glance and opportunity to learn about the Okanagan’s unique and diverse natural areas through views, information, programs and displays.

But, of course, due to COVID-19, the doors to the popular attraction remain closed.

However, thanks to the guidance of its board of directors, the Allan Brooks Nature Centre, in Vernon’s Commonage region, has taken immediate steps to join the global effort to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have asked our staff to work from home and we have postponed our opening,” new centre manager Cheryl Hood said. “However, we are committed to being a continued presence in our community, and to be there for you and your family.”

The centre wants to support parents and teachers by providing nature-based activities and resources that can be done at home and in the year.

The resources include hands-on learning activities for parent-guided education, nature-based crafts, colouring pages and backyard activities that can be connected to the local curriculum.

“We hope that you can use these resources to “Bring Allan Brooks Nature Centre home with you” and help us continue to connect children with nature,” said the centre’s education program co-ordinator, Chantelle Adams.

“For teachers, we are working to digitize our ‘Field Trip Experiences’ so that students can still experience the centre at home. Some of the activities offered at the centre will be available in video format, such as Guided Grassland Trail walks, centre tours and animal teachings. Others will be adapted into online learning modules, all with local knowledge and information and hands-on activities that can be done at home.”

Current resources can be found on the centre’s website at abnc.ca/programs/online-nature-education/ and more will be added as they become available.

You can also find information and connect with the centre on social media.

“We are posting regularly to provide more ways for you to interact and engage with us,” Adams said. “We will be posting educational nature videos, nature tips and facts, as well as fun activities to keep you and your family entertained at home. Follow and like us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.”

Get Outdoors!: Rewilding can attract desirable wildlife to yards

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

We can help prevent the increasing rate of wildlife extinction caused by habitat destruction. And we can stop poisoning the environment with insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and pollution-belching mowers simply by planting and landscaping with appropriate native plants in our yards.

There is an unbreakable evolutionary link between native plant species and native wildlife.

Insects are especially linked to foraging on native plants. Our bats and most birds are insectivores. Most butterfly species are dependent on our native plants for nectar and as hosts for their eggs and caterpillars. And caterpillars just happen to be the first and best food for most baby birds.

Gardeners enjoy spending time outdoors with plants and nature to creatively beautify their homes and community while enjoying the healthful benefits of exercise and fresh air. That’s great!

But until recently, almost all gardeners planted exotic plants from other places.

These are “alien” plants; alien to our local ecosystems. Historically, when new countries were being colonized, plants from these exotic places showed off one’s wealth. And grassy lawns became trendy.

There was still lots of wilderness to support wildlife. But our wilderness has been developed into cities and suburbs and for agriculture, industry and roads.

Where can wildlife get their food and shelter?

Sure we have parks, but even these tend to get developed for people’s convenience with roads, facilities, lawns, etc.

With the accelerating pace of development and habitat destruction, the pressures on wildlife are greater than they have ever been. Fortunately, there is still time to reverse this alarming trend, and gardeners have the power to make a significant contribution. By rewilding or naturescaping our landscapes, gardeners can substantially help the environment and provide a welcoming home for wildlife.

This doesn’t mean drastically overhauling your property; it can be a gradual, easy, preferential and enjoyable gardening process. Intact local ecosystems are beautiful and fascinating and are essential to our human health and well-being.

Start by choosing native plants attractive to local native birds, butterflies, bees, etc.

You’ll really be helping the pollinators, and you’ll learn a lot about them and our environment. Imagine — most of Vernon looked like Kalamalka Lake Park until new settlers started changing the landscape more than a century ago.

Native plants often grow easily because they’re already adapted to the local climate and ecology. Using plants that “belong” prevents alien plants from taking over by out competing native plants.

Never remove native plants from the wild. That only allows invasive aliens to set in.

But, if you know of a wild area to be developed, that’s an excellent opportunity to dig up native plants, if you can. You might even be rescuing endangered native plants. Always dig up with lots of native soil around the roots. Also help our nurseries sell native plants by asking for them.

Pollinatorpartnership.ca is an excellent guide to help you choose plants for pollinators by ecoregion. For this area choose the Thompson-Okanagan Plateau. The guides are extremely detailed yet easy to read and visually beautiful. Note: Most provinces have one-to-four ecoregions; B.C. has 13!

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy is a delightfully interesting, insightful and inspiring book about easily protecting and restoring our environment that everyone should read. Discover the basics and importance of ecology to restore habitats with food and shelter for pollinators. Lots of great photos and practical information. Our library has it.

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre can help, too.

Roseanne Van Ee shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook for more.

Get Outdoors! Who’s who in the Okanagan Owl world

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star. Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

 

Since owls prey is eaten whole or in big chunks, indigestible body parts (ie. bones, teeth, claws, fur, etc.) are regurgitated as a pellet. They’re usually black, dry masses about thumb size and shape. If you’re lucky, you might find owl pellets below a roosting spot.

Owls, like all wildlife, depend on wilderness to survive. But a few species can adapt to our urban landscape. Barred and Great Horned Owls are adapting well to natural urban areas.

Who’s who locally:

Great Horned Owl: Most common North American owl. Mostly nocturnal. Resident (stays year-round). In trees, including in residential areas, golf courses, parks and vineyards. Most adaptable, widespread, heaviest (3-4 lbs), largest eyed (human size), and longest lived (generally 15-20 years) of all our owls. Has a distinctive call of deep hoots.

Barred Owl: Frequently seen resident. Nocturnal. Bar-like patterns down its chest and dark eyes. Very intelligent, adaptive, varied diet. A series of quick hoots that resemble the melodic rhythm: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks all your food?” Possibly invasive from the east.

Short-eared Owl: Quiet and crepuscular (active in twilight). Swoops over fields and marshes especially around vole population “explosions .” Nests in shallow bowl scratched out in tall grass.

Long-eared Owl: Uncommon resident. Nocturnal, highly camouflaged and shy. Very long wings and long ear tufts. Nests and roosts in thickets near open field hunting grounds. Glides scanning for small mammals.

Snowy Owl: (Ookpik) Very rare fall migrant and winter visitor. Diurnal hunter. Heaviest North American owl with a thick down coat, fat and thickly feathered feet. Nests in Arctic.

Great Gray Owl: Crepuscular rare resident. Ghostly-shaped tallest North American Owl. Grey-feathered head with concentric-ringed bulls-eye face. Notoriously elusive blending into the forest.

Northern Saw-whet Owl: Nocturnal. Common woodland resident. In spring male “sings” monotonous regular single whistles. Cavity nester.

Western Screech Owl: Nocturnal, uncommon, secretive resident in riparian lowlands.

Boreal Owl: Nocturnal, secretive resident in higher altitude coniferous/mixed forests rarely shifting to lowlands in winter. Uses flicker cavities for breeding.

Northern Pygmy Owl: Small, uncommon, diurnal, fierce, visual bird and mammal hunters. Has two dark “eye spots” on back of head. Clear, measured “hook” whistles. Seen in Silver Star Mountain area. Breeds in higher elevation forests and some shift down to valley for the winter.

Barn Owl: Nocturnal, rare resident. Found in rafters of barns and abandoned buildings. Dark eyes on heart-shaped facial disk. Long legs. Short-lived (1-2 years to a maximum of eight years)

Northern Hawk Owl: Diurnal. Rare winter visitor. Long tail, pointed wings, swift direct flight, visual hunter (like accipiter hawks) to catch fast flying songbirds. Often perches conspicuously in open areas.

Flammulated Owl: North America’s smallest owl. Nocturnal. Large, black eyes. Mythically rare, elusive summer visitor. Quiet. Insectivorous. Migrates to Mexico and Central America.

Burrowing Owl: Small with long legs and Groucho Marx eyebrows. Was a former summer resident to grasslands of North Okanagan is extirpated (now locally extinct) since the early 1900s. They nest in underground burrows, but no longer breed naturally in the Okanagan due to habitat loss from cattle grazing, agriculture and from pesticide poisoning. Ongoing re-introduction programs tried for past 30 years.

Be cautious and quiet near owls; they need their sleep.

Don’t use rodent poison or insecticides. They can inadvertently kill owls and other wildlife.

Many thanks to local ornithologist, Chris Siddle, for his help with this article.

Birding on the Commonage

Birding at Allan Brooks Nature Centre

Perched atop a rocky knoll in a remnant native grassland, Allan Brooks Nature Centre is a great place to spot grassland birds like Western Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and Say’s Phoebe. Our nest boxes host Western and Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, and the vegetation around our small pond usually attracts a single pair each of Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, and Bullocks’s Oriole. On sunny fall days, our location is ideal for viewing migrating raptors and turkey vultures. Though the centre is closed in winter, the surrounding fields are a hotspot for wintering raptors. It’s common to spot Red-tailed Hawks (including the occasional Harlan’s subspecies), Northern Harriers, and Rough-legged Hawks all in a single visit.

Check out our eBird checklist for a more complete list of the birds you’ll find here! 

https://ebird.org/canada/barchart?r=L650438&yr=all&m=


Birding the Commonage 

Make Allan Brooks Nature Centre your first stop on a birding tour of the Commonage (a ridge of land between Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes), one of the Okanagan Valley’s best birding routes!

A guide to birding the Commonage, written by local bird expert Chris Siddle, can be found here: https://birding.bc.ca/regions/okanagan_valley/guide-vernon.php

Additional stops not mentioned in the above guide include:

Bench Row Road Forest Research Site: 2-3 km of easy walking trails through a mature planted forest can be productive for warblers, owls, and woodpeckers. Parking is available along the shoulder of Bench Row Road.

Predator Ridge: Predator Ridge features a number of short and long walking and hiking trails through dry forest and grassland habitats. The short trail around Birdie Pond includes a viewing platform and can be productive for waterfowl and deciduous forest species. Ask for a trail map at the Recreation Centre.

James Grant Island (Gull Island) Bird Sanctuary: This small rock island visible from Kopje Regional Park is home to a colony of nesting California, Herring, and Glaucous-winged Gulls. A spotting scope is recommended at this stop.

Get Outdoors!: What’s going on under the ice in the Okanagan?

As valley dwellers, we are aware of our lakes and how they dramatically change from summer’s warm recreational reservoirs to cold, and sometimes frozen, winter expanses.

But how often do we stop to ponder the lakes’ seasons?

I can remember a winter where the temperature dropped so low in November and stayed cold long enough for bays in the south end of Kalamalka Lake to freeze. Bitter winds swept off the snow leaving it as clear as glass. Skating on the ice was eerie; weeds, bubbles and even some fish were suspended in the glassy lake surface. It was fascinating! I wondered what was happening below that winter?

Water temperatures don’t fluctuate as rapidly as air temperatures. It’s the water’s chemistry that’s interesting and creates change. Water molecules contract and become denser (tightly packed) as temperatures lower. But at 4 C something unusual happens; water molecules start binding together, expand and become lighter, solid ice by 0 C. They can expand up to nine per cent. That’s why ice floats on the denser liquid water molecules.

Our smaller to mid-size valley and mountain lakes, such as Swan Lake, Otter Lake, Wood Lake and Duck Lake have interesting seasonal water cycles causing temperature layering and “turn overs” of oxygen and nutrients. Once the ice thaws from these lakes, the water temperature is an even 4 C. Winds push the surface water, pushing and stirring oxygen rich surface water to the lake’s bottom. This circulating current then rises plankton and other nutrients up to the top.

In summer, the upper water layer is warmed by the sun. It becomes less dense, floats and doesn’t mix with the lower, colder water. The temperature differences increase causing less mixing of the water. The warm, well-oxygenated surface is a paradise rich in life. This is where the summer action is—the algae blooms, the zooplankton (microscopic animals that feed on phytoplankton) graze and the insects and fish feed.

The lakes colder bottom gets depleted of oxygen from decomposition of lake life waste and by oxygen consumption from its deep water organisms—mostly bottom feeding scavengers. Autumn’s colder nights cool the surface again bringing the water to a uniform 4 C and the breezes result in re-circulation or turn-over, redistributing oxygen throughout.

This is critical as winter’s ice surface cuts off the air-oxygen exchange and reduces oxygen-producing photosynthesis by aquatic plants. Animals such as fish and hibernating frogs, toads and turtles wintering beneath the ice have to survive on the depleted oxygen.

Our larger valley lakes, however, such as Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes, have massive, well-oxygenated deep water zones and enough water mass to maintain warm rising water through our moderate winters to prevent total freeze over. In past years, though, during long cold spells, certain shallow bays froze up. Stories are recounted of Kelowna and Vernon bays freezing paddlewheelers in solid.

It takes many years for our large lakes to turn over its nutrients.

Loons and grebes leave their smaller lake summer homes to winter on our larger lakes as they need open water to feed and take flight. Watch for them this month as they start to pair up.

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star. Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.