Snow Bunting Shiver – Feb 2024

The Nicola Naturalist Society held our traditional winter Snow Bunting Shiver outing on Sunday Feb 18th, 2024. Eleven members ventured up to the Douglas Lake Plateau in search of winter specialties – and maybe even Snow Buntings. The weather was kind – no wind and mild and the roads were freshly plowed.

Our first wildlife encounters were with two herds of Mule Deer and a rapidly disappearing Coyote.

Mule Deer along Pennask Lake Road. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Despite the good conditions we encountered very few birds. Our next bit of interest involved another mammal species – Moose on a distant hillside

A female Moose with a yearling calf on the Douglas Lake Plateau. Photo: © Alan Burger
A closer look at mama Moose and her coy calf. Photo: © Alan Burger

After giving us a careful scrutiny, the pair disappeared over the hilltop.

The pair of Moose heading over the hilltop. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

At the Spax’mn Reserve at Douglas Lake we found many more birds. Douglas Lake was frozen over but the runoff into the Nicola River at the bridge provided open water with lots to see there. The usual Belted Kingfisher was there, but didn’t stay long enough for photos. A family of Trumpeter Swans, however, provided plenty of photo ops.

A pair of Trumpeter Swans and their three offspring in the Nicola River at Douglas Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger
A closer look at the Trumpeter Swans – an adult and two juveniles. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley
The advantage of having such a long neck – an adult Trumpeter Swan preening its wing feathers. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal
Followed by some vigorous wing-flapping. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal
One of the juvenile swans feeding. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley
Meanwhile the rest of the family got in some rest time. But look closely and you can see that the front two swans are keeping an eye on us humans on the bridge. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal
In the same patch of open water as the swans – a pair of Gadwall. Photo: © Alan Burger
The Spax’mn village is always a good place to find Black-billed Magpies – we had 8 there during our visit. Photo: © Alan Burger
The ice in the Nicola River has fascinating patterns. Photo: © Alan Burger
This adult Red-tailed Hawk was patrolling the road north of Spax’mn. Notice the bulging crop – the hawk has evidently just eaten something, likely a vole. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley
The adult Red-tailed Hawk on a power pole. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley
And finally heading off. Photo: © Leanne Cleaveley

We had lunch at Prince Philip Point on Douglas Lake – warm enough to stand around in the snow and enjoy the view and some socializing. But we hadn’t seen a Snow Bunting. And the day was still young. So most of us decided to retrace our path back up Minnie Lake Road and down Pennask Lake Road in hopes of finding an elusive bunting.

A black dot on a far hillside turned out to be a Coyote. Or is this a Wolf? At this range it was hard to say. Photo: © Alan Burger
But zooming in we can see that is indeed a Coyote, looking larger with its thick winter coat. Photo: © Alan Burger

Many km later, along Pennask Lake Road, something whitish flits across the road ….

We finally get our Snow Bunting. Just one. But it remains on this post for 10 minutes or so, allowing us to get good views and some photos. Photo: © Alan Burger
Closer views of our Snow Bunting – a male in its winter plumage. Photos: © Loekie van der Wal

Snow Buntings breed in the high arctic tundra but some of them migrate into our area in winter and are most often found in the open snow-swept grasslands of the Douglas Lake Plateau. In our area they are usually in small flocks of 5-20 birds so finding a lone bunting is somewhat unusual.

The birds seen on this outing are listed here on eBird: Feb 18 Trip List

And mammals:

  • Moose 2
  • Mule Deer 15+
  • Coyote 2
  • Small rodent running across the road 1


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