After a winter of skiing, snowshoeing and enjoying fresh mountain air, springtime in British Columbia’s South Okanagan is a refreshing change. The smell of fruit blossoms and sounds of birds make walking around the picturesque town of Osoyoos so enjoyable, and the valley bottom offers a plethora of wildlife to view. Many endangered bird species are found in eco-sensitive areas, and Osyoos is fortunate to have several protected areas for bird viewing. Here are five places for great bird watching, courtesy of the staff at the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Osoyoos.
Osoyoos Desert Centre
The Osyoos Desert Centre has 27 ha (67 ac) dedicated to maintaining the desert in its natural state, including a 1.5-km (1-mi) boardwalk where visitors can read about or take a guided tour to learn about the creatures of the desert. This boardwalk can be accessed by a 4-km (2.5-mi) trail that starts from the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Osoyoos. This trail follows the old irrigation canal that, decades ago, was used to supply water to the orchards in the area. When visiting the centre, keep an eye out for hummingbirds, Western and Mountain bluebirds, quail, Golden eagles, and Red-tailed hawks. It’s best to visit in the morning, as it gets very hot in the afternoon and most creatures are savvy enough to hide from the scorching sun and heat during the day.
Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre
The Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre offers another guided or self-guided walk that focuses on the history of how First Nations people once used the desert land. The natural grasslands of the desert offer several birds species to watch for including White-throated swift, Brewer’s sparrow, Lark sparrow and Say’s phoebe. There is even a chance to see a black-throated sparrow, though they are rare in this area. This walk is unique in that it’s one of the few areas where you can see the terrain in its natural state. The trail is constructed in such a manner that no buildings are visible as you enjoy the serenity of the desert.
Haynes Point Provincial Park
Haynes Point Provincial Park, where you can see and hear the common loon, is located 2 km (1.25 mi) south of Osoyoos. White-throated swifts, canyon wrens, great-horned owls and yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds can be viewed from look-out towers and viewing benches located along the trail. The trail is gravel, but in places there are footbridges & raised boardwalk sections over the lower lying areas. Haynes Point Provincial Park is dog-friendly; however, they ask that you keep your four-legged friend out of the wetland trail area. An information kiosk is located at the beginning of the trail and provides excellent information and much appreciated shade. If you decide to walk the length of Haynes Point (approximately a 45-minute walk), you can stop at a designated “dog swimming area”, where everyone can cool off and likely spot a wood duck paddling by.
The Osoyoos Oxbows at Road 22 is a Riparian area. The wetlands are adjacent to a marsh and meadow and there are many birds in the area. An information kiosk and parking area is found at the Okanagan River Bridge. If you hike north, you’ll follow the river channel for 18 km (11 mi) to McAlpine Bridge north of Oliver. Walking south, you can access the Oxbows and see many birds, including Cinnamon teal, Willow flycatcher, Yellow-breasted chat and Grosbeak. You may be fortunate enough to see a nesting Osprey on the bridge, just above your head. Various species of owls can be found in the Oxbow area, and it’s adjacent to the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO) and within walking distance from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where wine tastings are by donation to SORCO.
Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre
Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre is located on Highway 97 between Oliver and Okanagan Falls. Birds can be viewed from a 400-m (1,300-ft) boardwalk along the lakeshore to an observation tower and blind. Cliff birds can be viewed across the highway from McIntyre Creek Road. This is probably one of the most popular birder trails in the area. In the spring, you have the chance to see Western meadowlark, Red-naped sapsucker, swallows, bluebirds, woodpeckers and more. Driving past the area on the highway, Trumpeter swans are sometimes seen near the lily-pads, just a stones-throw away from the highway and parking lot! Vaseaux Lake has such an abundance of birds that they have a banding station there. Keep an eye out for California Bighorn Sheep which frequent the bluffs nearby. The birding trails are host to so many other wetland creatures, including the painted turtles. They can be seen sunning themselves on a log, and it’s such a treat to see so many all at the same time.
Meadowlark Nature Festival
The Meadowlark Nature Festival held annually in mid-May is a birder’s dream. Visitors “flock” to the area for this popular five-day, multi-disciplenary event, featuring more than 70 guided tours, including many bird tours, that take participants from Canada’s unique desert in the South Okanagan to the alpine meadows high above the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Be sure to bring sturdy hiking boots, check the difficulty level of the hikes in advance, and for everyone’s enjoyment, please leave your dog at home.
Bird watching in Osoyoos, British Columbia