Photo by Bob McKay
South Okanagan Nature Photo by Bob McKay white-crowned sparrow
The White-crowned sparrow is one of the birds currently migrating through the valley. It can be easily recognized by the generally brilliant white stripes on its head.

Birds migrating through valley

November is here and fall is well underway. With autumn comes a number of exciting events in the world of nature. Perhaps the two most easily observed changes occur in the vegetation and in our bird populations.

During the spring and summer our local mountains are pretty well covered in a carpet of green trees and from a distance they all look pretty much the same. In fact, even up a little closer it’s not always easy to distinguish between the various conifers but come fall, it’s an entirely different story. Earlier this month I drove up the road from Oliver to Mt Baldy and it’s pretty amazing to note how many western larch there are in our local forests at the mid-level elevations – perhaps from 1000 to 1600 metres. I recognize larch because they are the only coniferous tree (often called “evergreens”) in BC with needles that change colour in the fall and then drop off. Right now they are a beautiful yellow-gold colour and really stand out in the mass of “regular” evergreens.

The second change is the makeover in our local bird populations at this time of year. Most of the summer nesting birds such as swallows, orioles, hummingbirds and ospreys have headed south by now – in fact the vast majority of our summer nesting birds are gone by mid-September. During the fall many migrants pass through the valley on their way south. These migrants include many small birds such as warblers as well as larger birds such as Sandhill cranes. Right now one of the common migrants passing through is the White-crowned Sparrow, easily recognized by the generally brilliant white stripes on its head. Often with birds, the immature birds have different colourations than the adults and that is true of these sparrows. The immature birds tend to have beige and brown stripes on their heads, rather than the bold white and black of the adults. At seven inches in length it is also the largest sparrow you are likely to see in the Penticton area. If you have a bird feeder in your yard you will almost certainly see some of these as they pass through the valley. Something that I find interesting is that not all individuals of every species that migrates actually go south – some hang around. While most White-crowned Sparrows pass through the valley and head further south, some do manage to eke out an existence here during the winter, so keep an eye out for White-crowned sparrows now and in the months to come.

Despite migration, fall and winter are good times to see a variety of birds. By November there are good numbers of ducks and other waterfowl on the valley bottom lakes and ponds. In the South Okanagan there are several spots where it is easy to see a variety of waterfowl. Around the Penticton Yacht Club and where the river leaves the lake behind the SS Sicamous are two good locations.
Nature Wise