Variously called the Wood tick or deer tick, Dermacentor is the most common tick in the Okanagan Valley and a sure sign of spring.
South Okanagan Nature Variously called the Wood tick or deer tick, Dermacentor is the most common tick in the Okanagan Valley and a sure sign of spring. teng's ticks 2

Spring is in the air

There are two certain signs that spring is in the air – the miracle of bird migration and the emergence of ticks in our Okanagan woods.

Not all migratory birds return to the Okanagan at the same time with a few beginning to return as early as February and some not until May. And of course the migrants generally show up in the Osoyoos area at least a week before they reach the somewhat cooler Penticton – Summerland area. Some migrant birds come to the south Okanagan to nest and raise their young while others simply use our area as a resting and refueling stop on their way further north. And some simply pass over as they head to more favourable habitat.

Sandhill Cranes generally fall into this latter category, seldom stopping here in great numbers. They are however, in my opinion, one of the awe-inspiring sights of spring. To see a large flock of Sandhills heading north while filling the air with their unique, resonant call is a thrilling sight and one not soon forgotten. Sandhill Cranes almost invariably fly up the west side of the Valley so take a picnic lunch and head out to White Lake Basin and wait for the cranes to pass over. April is the busiest month for crane migration in the Okanagan.

Of course, while you are out at White Lake you’ll be able to catch many of the other migrants. Western and Mountain Bluebirds and Western Meadowlarks are already staking out their territories. Other birds such as Say’s Phoebe are also here and the hummingbirds will be only a few weeks behind. Spring is just a fabulous time to see so many birds returning to our area so get out and enjoy them. And contemplate with awe the immense journeys these little bundles of feathers make twice each year.

However, while you are out birding, don’t forget to keep an eye on yourself and your dog for ticks. Ticks aren’t just icky little “bugs” – they are potentially serious disease-bearing pests that need to be treated with respect. Elsewhere in western North America ticks are known to carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Fever and Anaplasma granulocitis.

Jack Teng, a Ph.D. student at UBC is doing a study of tick-borne diseases in the Okanagan. Generally what happens is that ticks feed on infected mice and then later bite a human. Thus the disease is carried from a mouse to a person. To complete his study Jack needs to analyze as many ticks as possible. Last year observant residents submitted 286 ticks to Jack. He would like to get an equal number this year. He has a form to be filled out with certain information – go to to get the form.

The incidence of all of these diseases in ticks in North America is low so don’t let the fear of ticks keep you indoors. Do however take reasonable precautions – use an insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants when in the bush.

The speaker for the next meeting of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club on April 23 (United Church 7:30) will address Wind Power in southern BC. This will be an excellent chance to hear about some of the pros and cons of this emerging energy source.
Nature Wise