Get Outdoors!: Revel in the beauty of autumn leaf 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.Summer’s winding down. Our kids go back to school while we prepare our yards and freezers for winter. Meanwhile, Okanagan wildlife tend to migrate, estivate or spawn.

During the spring and summer, chlorophyll in tree leaves absorbs sunlight to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as sugars and starch for tree energy and growth.

Carbon is digested into the tree and oxygen is released from the leaves. Isn’t it amazing that plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, and animals do the opposite? We should be incredibly grateful for this balance on Earth.

Water and nutrients flow up from the roots into the leaf veins. This food-making process, called photosynthesis, takes place in the numerous leaf cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green colour.

Along with the green leaves’ pigment are yellow, orange and red pigments; the same pigments that colour our foods; yellow xanthophyll (as in corn and golden aspen leaves), orange carotenes (as in carrots and mountain ash leaves) and red anthocyanin (as in cherries and red sumac leaves). Most of the year these colours are masked in the leaves by the great amounts of chlorophyll’s green pigment.

But in the fall, after a dry summer, when daylight hours shorten, tree leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll (green colour) stops being produced and fades away allowing the other colour pigments (mainly yellow, orange, and red) in the leaves to show off their brilliant autumn splendour.

Deciduous trees and shrubs shed their solar panels to hibernate through winter and take a break from photosynthesizing. The stems of the leaves weaken (without food) and the leaves fall from the trees blown by the wind or pelted by rain.

But what about the needle-like leaves of pines, fir, spruce and hemlock, or scale-like leaves of cedar and juniper – our evergreens? These hardy trees leaves have less surface area and have a waxy coating, plus they produce a type of antifreeze that stops the chlorophyll from drying up. Their needles or scales stay on the trees during winter and keep their green colour. An exception is our Western Larches. Their soft, unwaxed needles turn golden and fall – they’re deciduous (and coniferous).

The best time to enjoy autumn’s sun-kissed, brilliant colours is on a clear, dry, cool day. One of my favourite autumn colour-viewing spots in Vernon is on Rocky Ridge at Turtle Mountain on a sunny, late afternoon. Lumby’s Salmon Trail, just below the highway, is wonderful to hike in shimmering fall colour. So is Mission Creek in Kelowna’s Springfield Park.

I like to collect a small basket of autumn leaves to decorate my home‘s entry. My kids and I played a fall game when we went hiking; each of us tried to be the first person to shout “fall” when a leaf fell from a tree.

Enjoy the colour; it only occurs for a brief period each fall.

And remember — when you see those yellow, orange and red pigments — they’ve been there all along, and autumn is their time to shine.

Get Outdoors!: Behold! Migration season is upon us in North Okanagan

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.Summer’s winding down. Our kids go back to school while we prepare our yards and freezers for winter. Meanwhile, Okanagan wildlife tend to migrate, estivate or spawn.

 

Some people think that hummingbirds catch rides on the backs of geese for their migratory trip down south.

Truth is; hummingbirds are well on their way to Mexico when the geese are just taking their “practice flights” for migration to the coast or just into the warmer United States.

Physics gives hummingbirds an advantage with a smaller, light body weight.

They just need to refuel all along the way to maintain their energy. That’s why all hummingbird feeders should be taken down by mid August. If the “hummers” stay too late, they could succumb to freezing.

Big Canada Geese, on the other hand, store fat for their trip. That’s why they’ve adopted the energy efficient “V” flight formation.

Our Great Blue Herons (that nest on 24th St.) have already been dispersing to various open-water lakes for the winter.

Some may migrate to the coast to winter on good fishing grounds.

Most birds migrate at night following the stars (like sailors) along migratory pathways (usually air currents of least resistance).

Some of our birds migrate all the way down to South America.

I love sitting back on mosquito-less, moonlit September and October nights with binoculars in hand to spot flocks passing in the night sky.

If you’re in a quiet spot; listen. Could it be the calls of migrating flocks or the rustle of dry leaves in the breeze?

You might even see bats migrating to their winter colonies further south. Their “flutter” of wings distinguishes them from birds.

Don’t come to the Allan Brooks Nature Centre looking for the yellow-bellied marmots now.

These large rodents, like the Columbian Ground Squirrels, have gone underground for an early rest to “estivate” while they’re still fat from summer’s seed bounty.

They re-emerge with young in April.

Snakes, frogs and other reptiles and amphibians are moving towards their wintering grounds now, too.

Watch for late emerging Mourning Cloak and Tortoiseshell butterflies in the fall. They’ll overwinter here tucked behind bark or in tree grooves. The large yellow and black butterflies are non-migrating Swallowtails, often mistaken for the orange and black migrating Monarchs.

Don’t miss watching the Kokanee spawn on Coldstream Creek in late September to early October.

The best spawning beds for viewing are in Creekside and Coldstream Parks (behind Coldstream School).

These Sockeye Salmon descendants became “land-locked” as the glacial-produced massive waterways, which once connected to the Pacific, drained and evaporated into separate lakes.

For thousands of years Kokanee annually spawned to lay eggs in gravel creekbeds and shorelines.

Until the early 1900s, almost every major creek flowing into Okanagan Lake supported thousands of spawning Kokanee each fall.

I’ve seen a sharp decline in spawning numbers in the past 25 years.

Get out there with your children and friends to enjoy this miraculous phenomena before it dies out (or can we save the Kokanee?).

Leave your pets at home!

Fall’s a great time to observe nature.

Thankfully, Vernon has many opportunities to enjoy it:

  • Visit the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. www.abnc.ca.
  • The North Okanagan Naturalist Club welcomes anyone interested to join their free Saturday morning nature hikes. www.nonc.ca
  • Join the Vernon Outdoors Club for a variety of great fall hikes and cycles.
  • There’s many hiking groups on Facebook.

Fortunately we’re surrounded by spectacular provincial parks: Camp and/or hike Kalamalka Lake, Ellison, Kekuli Bay, Sovereign Lake, Mabel Lake, Fintry and Bear Creek.

A Rare Encounter at ABNC

On August 12, 2020 we had a special visitor….a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake was found! This was an exciting and rare find, as this was the first time in our 20 year history that we have encountered a rattlesnake at Allan Brooks Nature Centre. 

The rattlesnake was found onsite at ABNC basking in the sun, by a staff member in the afternoon. The grassland at Allan Brooks Nature Centre is a protected ecosystem that is a safe place for wildlife species to call home and we are always excited to find new species onsite. However, due to the specific location that the rattlesnake was found it was not safe for the snake or for our visitors. For this reason, Peter Wise of Wise Wildlife Control was called to safely relocate the snake. The rattlesnake was relocated in the same grassland ecosystem to the south of ABNC, within 1 km of where it was found. 

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (or Western Rattlesnake) is commonly found in the Thompson-Okanagan region and their summer habitat includes grassland ecosystems with rocky outcrops. ABNC is located in a grassland ecosystem that would seem like suitable habitat for the species, however they have very rarely been found in the area surrounding ABNC. Peter Wise stated that “In his previous 25 years of working in wildlife control in the Vernon area, he has only encountered 2 other rattlesnakes on the Northern piece of the Commonage ridge that ABNC occupies”. It is unknown as to why this is.

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is an important part of the local ecosystems and should not be feared, but rather respected. If you come across a rattlesnake it is important to keep your distance and slowly back away from the snake. They are a non-aggressive snake, but any wild animal may try to defend themselves if they feel threatened. If you find a rattlesnake in a location not safe for the snake or for people, do not try to relocate the snake yourself. Please call Peter, at Wise Wildlife Control at 250- 503-7151. 

For more information on the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (or Western Rattlesnake) check out Roseanne Van Ee’s article here: Get Outdoors! and learn about rattlesnakes. 

Get Outdoors! and learn about rattlesnakes Part 2

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.

(Part 1 on Rattlesnakes was published in the Vernon Morning Star’s July 9, 2020, edition)

Rattlesnake reproduction is remarkable and unique.

Western Rattlesnakes must be almost one-metre long before becoming sexually mature at five to eight years.

They mate in late summer and early fall on the foraging range, but females store the sperm.

In the following late spring, the sperm is reactivated to fertilize the eggs within her, then the gravid (pregnant) mom basks near the den in the warm sun all summer to encourage the babies growth.

From the time a female mates until the five or so young are born in the fall, she rarely feeds.

She then enters hibernation for the winter to recover. By the time she emerges next spring, she is emaciated (wasted)!

The following summer season or two is spent foraging to recover and to double her weight before mating again.

Male rattlesnakes, on the other hand, fight each other during breeding season. (Sound familiar for the animal kingdom?)

This amazing reproduction process gives the rattlesnakes a disadvantage to survival as a species, and makes them vulnerable to environmental disturbances or poaching.

They easily become extirpated (extinct in areas).

Rattlesnake facts

Western Rattlesnakes are almost endangered in British Columbia.

Their numbers are quickly declining because of habitat destruction, purposeful killings and road kill.

It is illegal to harm or kill a rattlesnake.

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park had 2,000 to 3,000 rattlesnakes within its boundaries in the 1980s when last counted. There’s probably far fewer now. It is the only protected area for Western Rattlesnake dens, but you’re unlikely to encounter one.

Rattlesnakes overwinter in communal hibernacula in deep crevices or rock piles on sunny, warm slopes. They stay close to home; within 1.5 kilometres of their dens during their active season from spring thaw to autumn frosts.

They faithfully return to their same dens. Vernon dens that were studied contained eight to 266 snakes.

Adult rattlesnakes are 60 to 150 centimetres in length. The oldest can live up to 25 years.

Rattlesnake fangs are on hinges that pop into action when they strike. They can regrow new fangs if any are removed.

B.C.’s rattlesnakes diet: 96 per cent small rodents, four per cent small birds.

Very large Rattlesnakes will eat Red Squirrels and baby marmots.

Rattlesnake predators include skunks, hawks and owls.

Most are preyed on in their first year.

Only about 25 per cent of rattlers survive their first year.

Young rattlers have the same strength of venom as adults, just as children’s saliva is similar to adult humans.

Bull Snakes (aka Gopher Snakes) often share the same habitat as rattlers.

They are adaptive imitators of rattlesnakes without the triangular head, fangs or rattle.

Bull Snakes will coil up in defence, hiss and shake their tail. Their hissing and shaking on pebbles sounds like a rattle. This is all in bluff to scare off predators.

Rattlesnakes around Vernon were hunted to near extinction in the 1930s and ‘40s after a young boy from Austin Mackie’s school was killed. Around 4,000 rattlers were killed. The student was handling rattlesnakes at a den site.

Areas where snakes have been eliminated tend to have terrible rodent populations.

Rodents can cause way more damage to human livelihoods and crops than snakes ever will.

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

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.