Every Thursday throughout the year, Winfield resident Ann Gibson heads into Kelowna to go birding with the Central Okanagan Naturalists Club.
Sometimes they head back to Lake Country, other times out across the Central Okanagan, considered one of the top spots for bird watching in Canada.
But last week Gibson and 25 other bird enthusiasts stuck close to home, taking part in Lake Country’s annual Christmas bird count, getting an idea about the number of birds and the different species in Lake Country, to add to a North America-wide bird count, held annually for more than a century (see sidebar).
“We had the whole area of Lake Country divided into seven areas and each group went out and did its thing,” said Gibson. “It’s a cooperative effort. It’s an excellent area for bird watching. It’s great out there.”
The Lake Country Christmas count spotted 85 different species and a total of 7,375 birds. The highlight was a rare red-throated loon that was seen on Okanagan Lake.
“Apparently there hasn’t been one in this area for at least 11 years or maybe longer,” said Gibson. “In the birding world that’s a big deal.”
Other species around Lake Country included a pair of Anna’s hummingbirds with their distinct rose-pink throat, a a rare site in the winter. More common were boreal chickadees as well as Eurasian collared doves, finches in the mountains and owls up Beaver Lake road.
Gibson’s favourite, the wren, was also out in force.
“Everybody has their personal favourite but for me it’s the wrens,” she said. “They’re perky little birds and they just sing and sing. They are kind of aggressive but their song is so beautiful, especially the house wren, which we have a lot of around here.”
The number of species was down slightly from past years.
“I think we were a bit down but 85 different species is pretty good in the winter time,” said Gibson.
The bird count numbers will be submitted to the National Audubon Society and compiled as statistical data to help conservationists track bird populations across North America.
In the Okanagan there will be about 10 different bird counts including in Vernon, Kelowna, Peachland and Penticton, all taking place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
Organizer Chris Charlesworth took part in the Lake Country count and has been running the Kelowna count for the past 22 years. He says the trends are easy to spot.
“Typically the birds that are doing well in the city’s are doing really well,” said Charlesworth. “A lot of the water fowl, geese, ducks and gulls, they are all doing well. The woodland and forest bird members are doing down because the city’s are always growing and we are hacking down bits of the forest. The wood peckers and forest species are dropping.”
In Lake Country the best spots for bird watching include Beaver Lake Road, leading all the way up to Dee Lake where the blue bird trail is located. Wood Lake and Okanagan Lake are also alive with birds as is the area around the Oceola Fish and Game Club reserve.
For Gibson, who has missed just one of those Thursday birding events in seven years, it’s all about Mother Nature.
“It’s just really a neat hobby,” she said. “It really makes you think and learn and you go out in the natural world. It’s just a fun thing to do.”