Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 4

This is the fourth in our series of virtual spring outings during the 2020 COVID restrictions, with photos by members of the Nicola Naturalist Society. Scroll down to enjoy a bumper crop of interesting spring photos.

To see previous editions click here:  First Virtual OutingSecond Virtual OutingThird Virtual Outing.

As the end of May approaches we are still seeing some new arrivals of spring migrant birds and many have settled down, selected territories and are singing and nesting. Some of the resident birds get an early start on breeding. Great Horned Owls are among the first of our birds to start pairing up and nesting – often while there is still a lot of snow on the ground. So in May this is what you might see ……………

Mom – or it could be Dad – and two half-grown Great Horned Owl chicks near their nest in the Coutlee area. Note the beginnings of the feathery “horns” even in these young chicks. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Adult Great Horned Owl near the nest site, Coutlee area. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Even at a young age, Great Horned Owl chicks start moving around the branches near their nest site. The parents keep a close watch over them. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Many waterfowl also get an early start in breeding. So in late May we might expect broods of tiny ducklings or goslings to appear.

A Canada Goose pair with three newly hatched goslings – May 24, Logan Lake Marsh. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Other waterfowl are still in courtship mode. Ruddy Ducks have one of the most unusual courtship displays.

A Ruddy Duck male giving its unique bubble display. The bird pumps its head up and down, beak just touching the water and blows bubbles. Female Ruddy Ducks must find this irresistible, although there was no female in sight to appreciate this particular display. Photo taken at the Logan Lake Marsh reserve. ©Alan Burger

And if the bubbles don’t do the trick, the female’s heart will melt at the sight of the powder blue and pink beak. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Warblers are a welcome addition to our spring avifauna. Although they are sometimes hard to see high in the trees, their cheerful songs liven up our spring soundscape.

One of our brightest warblers, Yellow Warblers are most often found in deciduous trees and shrubs, like willow thickets. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Yellow-rumped Warblers are probably our most common warbler, found in a wide variety of forest and bush habitats. Photo: ©Vic Newton

One of our less common warblers, Nashville Warblers are always welcome visitors in the “Country & Western Music Capital of Canada”. Photo:©Paul Willms

This is not a warbler, but the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a common and very vocal member of our forest community. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Finches have strong and melodious voices too. Cassin’s Finches are quite common in our area from spring through fall. They are one of the more unusual songbirds in that the female can often be heard singing from a treetop as well as the male. They look similar to the resident urban House Finches but have subtle differences in plumage and song.

Cassin’s Finch, female (L) and male (R). Both sexes generally show more of a slight crest on the head but in these photos the head feathers are slicked down. Photos:© Paul Willms

Another look at a female Cassin’s Finch. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Here is a male House Finch to compare with the Cassin’s Finches. This species has a shorter beak than Cassin’s and has a slight “sneering” look to the curved beak. There are subtle differences in the plumage too. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Black-headed Grosbeaks are uncommon spring-to-fall visitors in our area. With the chunky beak they look a bit similar to the resident and common Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, but they are not closely related to those species. This is a male. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Swallows are, of course, harbingers of spring and summer. Six species of swallows breed in our area, using different nesting sites. These two species are both common and sometimes hard to separate in flight.

Tree Swallows are probably our most common and widespread swallow, nesting in tree cavities (usually old woodpecker nests) and nest boxes. In flight they look similar to Violet-green Swallows (see next photos) but sitting on a wire they are easier to separate. Photo: ©Anne Pang.

Front and side views of an aptly-named male Violet-green Swallow. Photos: ©Vic Newton

A few more of our spring migrant birds:

Golden-crowned Sparrows are uncommon breeders in our area and the ones we see are sometimes on their way to other breeding grounds further north. The similar White-crowned Sparrows (not shown) are common breeders here. Photos: Vic Newton

The unmistakable intense blue of a male Mountain Bluebird. They are most often seen at nest boxes placed for their use on fence-posts, but this male is using a natural cavity, probably excavated by a woodpecker. Photos: ©Vic Newton

Are Black-necked Stilts becoming a regular visitor to the Nicola Valley? This pair was found in a shallow pond near Tunkwa Lake north of Logan Lake on May 25th. See our Virtual Spring Outing #3 for other photos of this rare shorebird. Photo: ©Alan Burger

While most woodpecker species remain with us year-round, Red-naped Sapsuckers migrate south for the winter. Their distinctive staccato drumming is a feature of the spring forests. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Another view of the Red-naped Sapsucker. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Fish-eating hawks, Ospreys are a common site from spring to fall in our area, along rivers and lakes. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A male Rufous Hummingbird – our most common hummer. The males are aggressive little demons, driving away other hummingbirds at feeders and flower patches. Photos: ©Vic Newton.

A male Anna’s Hummingbird. Unlike our other hummers this species does not undertake long-distance migrations and on the BC coast winter feeders allow it to stay all year round. In the past decade this species has started showing up more often in the Merritt area but is still rare. Photos: ©Paul Willms

Some mammals and insects too are emerging as spring progresses.

Yellow-bellied Marmots have emerged from their long winter hibernation. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A bumblebee visiting a dandelion flower. In their efforts to rid their pristine lawns of dandelions people often overlook the value that these spring flowers have to many pollinators, like bees. Photo: ©Alan Burger

And our resident species remain interesting and varied.

Bright heads and flashing white wing-patches make Yellow-headed Blackbirds highly conspicuous in their marshy cat-tail nesting habitats. and in the grassy areas where they feed. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Hard to see! A mule deer resting in a shady nook near the Merritt golf course. Photo: ©Paul Willms.

Relaxing in the long grass – another urban deer in Merritt. Photo: ©Paul Willms.

A charming close-up of the tiny Pygmy Nuthatch. Fond of big old Ponderosa Pines this bird has become harder to find after the pine beetle infestation killed many of our veteran Ponderosas. Photo: ©Vic Newton

We mentioned singing at the start of this outing. Well no group of birds can match the strenuous effort that wrens put into their songs. These tiny birds produce loud and prolonged songs that will drown out many much larger species.

House Wrens are common in thickets throughout our area. Their loud song is a mix of rattles and varied trills. This species often takes over nest boxes intended for bluebirds or swallows. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A Marsh Wren belting out its spring song from a cat-tail in the Logan Lake Marsh. Photo: ©Alan Burger.

Broadcasting in all directions – a Marsh Wren gives a view down its capacious throat. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Like any opera star, sometimes a Marsh Wren sings with eyes closed to get the full volume output. Photo: ©Alan Burger

 

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 3

This is the third of our virtual outings during the COVID-19 pandemic, with spring photos of local wildlife from the members of the Nicola Naturalist Society, based in Merritt, BC.

If you missed the first edition of this virtual outing – click here

For the second virtual outing –  click here

In mid-May, many migrant songbirds have arrived to set up territories, begin singing and start nesting.

Western Kingbirds have recently arrived in our area. These large flycatchers are typically found in open areas like grasslands and hayfields. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A lovely habitat photo of a Western Meadowlark – the melodic symbol of grasslands in the southern interior of B.C. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A pair of Western Meadowlarks foraging in the long grass. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A couple of sharp images of one of our more common warblers – Orange-crowned Warbler. The orange crown is often not visible. Photos: ©Bob Scafe

Blurred by the action! A rare photo of an interspecific spat between a female Rufous Hummingbird and a male Calliope Hummingbird. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A male Calliope Hummingbird showing off his iridescent violet gorget. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Many of our year-round resident birds are also preparing to breed. Blackbirds that spend the winter in large flocks are now more dispersed, often paired up and territorial.

Brewer’s Blackbirds – male left and female right. This attractive blackbird is often seen along roadsides, feedlots and other open areas. Photos: ©Anne Pang

A colourful year-round resident in our area, Evening Grosbeaks are always great to see. Photo: ©Anne Pang

One of the avian mysteries in southern B.C. over the past few years has been the huge fluctuation in numbers of Pine Siskins. These small finches are usually regular visitors to feeders year-round. In the winter of 2018-2019 with a superabundance of Douglas-fir cones there were siskins everywhere. In contrast, siskins were hard to find in the winter of 2019-2020 even though there were still a lot of Douglas-fir cones available. Now we are seeing a few siskins reappearing in the Nicola Valley and surrounding areas, but still in low numbers.

Missing for many months in our area, some Pine Siskins are reappearing in our area, at feeders and in the woods. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Pine Siskins (on the left) are once again showing up at Merritt feeders this spring. The species is usually a common year-round resident in our area but was rarely seen in the 2019-2020 winter. The bird on the right is a male House Finch – another regular at feeders in Merritt. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A pair of Mourning Doves in a Merritt garden. These days the introduced Eurasian Collared Doves are more often seen in urban areas than these native Mourning Doves. Photo: ©Paul Willms

Wetlands are busy places in spring and right now there are hundreds of ducks, geese, coots, and other birds in the lakes, ponds and marshes in our area.

An American Coot begins a nest in Rush Lake on the Douglas Lake plateau. Photo: ©Alan Burger

An inhabitant of many marshes and lake edges, Pied-billed Grebes are quite common but often overlooked. They tend to skulk around reed-beds and other aquatic vegetation, diving to catch aquatic insects and small fish. This one was at Rush Lake on the Douglas Lake plateau. Photo: ©Alan Burger

One of our less common dabbling ducks, Cinnamon Teal are most often found in shallow ponds. The male is unmistakable, but the female, seen bathing here, can easily be confused with other female dabblers. Photo: © Jack & Carol Madryga

Another look at Cinnamon Teal – female on the left, male right. Photos: ©Anne Pang

A pair of Gadwall. The male is easy to identify with his grey-brown plumage and black rump. The  female is similar to a female Mallard and other large female ducks, but note the dark tail and bicoloured bill. Photo: Anne Pang

A pair of Blue-winged Teal. Once again the male is distinctive but the female is similar to other female ducks. Photo: ©Anne Pang.

An Eared Grebe. More than 60 of these tiny grebes nest at Beaver Ranch Flats – lovely to see in their smart breeding plumage. Photo: ©Anne Pang

In spring wetlands are good places to look for rare birds – some of them are just passing through but others have been found breeding on rare occasions in southern B.C. Here are a few recently found in the Merritt area.

A Greater White-fronted Goose hanging around with the local Canada Geese at Beaver Ranch Flats on the Guichon Ranch. Greater White-fronts breed on the Arctic tundra – so this bird was probably a juvenile or was still heading north a bit late. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Three Black-necked Stilts, along with a couple of Greater Yellowlegs, at the flooded field next to Beaver Ranch Flats on the Guichon Ranch. B.C. is north of the regular breeding range of these stilts but in recent years a few pairs have been breeding in southern B.C. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A close-up of a Black-necked Stilt at Beaver Ranch Flats on 5 May 2020. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in small numbers in shallow wetlands in southern B.C. This pair was at Beaver Ranch Flats. Unlike most birds, in phalaropes the female (left) has the brightest coloration and the less colourful male (right) incubates the eggs and rears the chicks. Photo:© Anne Pang

And finally, here is a delightful sequence of a local sparrow reveling in its bathing.

White-crowned Sparrow bathing – just look at that commitment to cleanliness! Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow bathing. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow -the belly-wash. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow doing the head-dunk portion of its bathing repertoire. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow emerging soaked after a vigorous bathing episode. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 2

More interesting spring photos from the members of the Nicola Naturalist Society, based in Merritt, BC.

If you missed the first edition of this virtual outing – click here

More spring arrivals in the Nicola Valley …..

Smallest of all North American birds, the Calliope Hummingbird is one of four hummingbird species that one might see in the Nicola Valley. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Say’s Phoebe – usually the first flycatcher species to arrive in our area in spring. Note the black tail and cinnamon flanks. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A Cassin’s Finch male. These finches arrive in spring and are quite common all summer in the Nicola Valley. Don’t confuse them with the resident House Finches. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A nice close-up of a Cassin’s Finch male. Note how long the beak is in contrast to a resident House Finch. And a much brighter plumage, with a bit of a head crest. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Vesper Sparrow – a common sparrow of the open grasslands in our area. Has a lovely complex song. Note the diagnostic cinnamon scapular patch. Photos: ©Bob Scafe

Who, other than Bob Scafe, would submit a great photo of some insulators? Oh … there is an Osprey in the background. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A pair of Ospreys back from their winter migrations are re-occupying their nest. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A female American Kestrel on an Osprey nest. Kestrels nest in tree cavities so would not be trying to take over this nest. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Beautiful patterns! Common Loons have arrived in our lakes in their fresh breeding plumage. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

Spring is a great time to see a big diversity of waterfowl in the Nicola Valley.

Why are these ducks called Ring-necked Ducks and not Ring-billed Ducks? No-one knows. This is a male. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Male Northern Pintail. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A pair of Cinnamon Teal – female on the left. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Buffleheads – female on the left, male on the right. These small ducks nest in cavities (and duck nest boxes). Photos: ©Anne Pang

A pair of Canada Geese have usurped an Osprey nest on a high pole. When the ducklings hatch they will have long drop to reach the ground. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A nice mix of diving ducks – Canvasbacks at the back and Lesser Scaup in front. Both species breed in the Nicola Valley. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Quiz time! Can you figure out the species of these two male goldeneyes? Note the shape of the white cheek spot and the amount of black and white on the folded wings. Only one of these species breeds in our area but both might be seen here in winter and during spring migration. Keep scrolling down to see the answers.
Photos: ©Vic Newton

A big flock of Coots on Nicola Lake. These birds will disperse to nest in shallow lakes and ponds. Photo: ©Vic Newton.

A closer view of the Coots. They are not ducks (note the bill shape) but belong to the Rail family (Rallidae). Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

And birds that remain with us all year round are also interesting.

A female Hairy Woodpecker. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A Bald Eagle adult. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A Sharp-shinned Hawk. These little accipiters are regularly seen all winter in town – often trying to catch birds at bird feeders. They also nest in our area.
 Photo: ©Vic Newton

Penetrating gaze! This photo captures the intensity of Sharp-shinned Hawks.
 Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

Some species that spend the winter with us will soon be leaving to head to northern breeding grounds ……

Northern Shrike. These birds breed in the northern boreal forests and edges of the tundra but spend the winter in our latitudes. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

And finally a couple of photos of one of our most charismatic mammal species:

River Otters in Nicola Lake. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A River Otter. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

P.S. Goldeneye quiz: The bird on the left is Barrow’s Goldeneye and on the right Common Goldeneye. Both males. Barrow’s Goldeneyes breed in our area. Common Goldeneyes breed further north but some overwinter and migrate through our area.

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 1

With the COVID restrictions still in place we are unable to have our usual evening meetings and outdoor outings. So here we have organized a virtual naturalist outing, with members contributing their recent photos of local nature for all to share. Thanks to all who have contributed.

This is the first edition of our spring virtual outing. To see the second edition – click here.

This is always an exciting time for arrival of spring migrant birds. Here are a few fresh arrivals:

Yellow-rumped Warblers are often the first warblers to arrive back. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

One seldom sees the ruby crown of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet this well. Doug Turvey managed to get this great shot in his backyard. Photo: ©Doug Turvey

Anne Pang’s cherry tree attracts many birds. Here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Another spring arrival in Anne’s cherry tree – a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo: ©Anne Pang

And finally a Dark-eyed Junco gracing Anne’s cherry tree. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Perhaps the most exciting arrival so far – this Burrowing Owl was raised in the Nicola Valley and has just returned to Loretta Holmes’ study site. Photo: ©Loretta Holmes

White Pelicans on Nicola Lake. At this time of year we regularly see these huge birds passing through and spending some time on our bigger lakes. Photo: ©Mary Masiel (Vermilion Forks Naturalists, Princeton)

Long-billed Curlews can sometimes be seen on hayfields in the Nicola Valley at this time of year – this one was near Nicola Lake. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

For several years now we’ve had a late-April outing to the Douglas Lake plateau to look for migrating Sandhill Cranes. No organized outing this year, but several of our members have been up there and found good numbers of cranes resting on their northward migration. The marshy area on the Douglas Lake Ranch just west of Chapperon Lake seems like a good place to look.

Sandhill Cranes on the Douglas Lake Ranch fields. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A coser look at some Sandhill Cranes – April 2020. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Sandhill Cranes in the marshy area near Chapperon Lake. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Cranes starting to take off. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Cranes taking off. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Sandhill Cranes departing to continue migrating to northern breeding grounds. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

 

And of course spring is also a time when hibernating critters emerge and insects  metamorphose from larvae or hatch out ….

Common Garter Snakes emerging from their winter hibernaculum on Lundbom Common. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

The Patchett / Spius Creek forest service road has been a productive butterfly hunting ground for Bob and Bev Scafe. This is a California Tortoiseshell found there on 20 April 2020 – an unusual species in our area. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Compton Tortoiseshell – another uncommon butterfly located by Bob and Bev Scafe. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Mourning Cloaks are one of our most common spring butterflies and one of the few butterflies to overwinter as adults. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

This is a good time to brush up on your local butterflies and moths – visit the two  identification postings that our resident lepidopteran enthusiast Bob Scafe has created:

Know your butterflies and moths – Merritt BC

More butterflies and moths of the Merritt, BC area

And it is always a treat to see those animals that are around all year:

A Hairy Woodpecker female about to depart from Anne Pang’s bird-bath. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are often hard to identify if there are no colourful males with them. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Quiz time! Here we have does of our two local deer species. Which is a Mule Deer and which a White-tailed Deer? Photos: ©Vic Newton

A Steller’s Jay at Lundbom Common. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

What a great photo of curious River Otters! – taken at Monck Lake Park. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

P.S. Deer Quiz – the White-tailed Deer is the one on the left, Mule Deer on the right.

 

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Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2019

Good weather and plenty of open water made for a good count on 15 December 2019. This was the 21st Christmas count for the Merritt circle. We had 31 field observers and one feeder-watcher. Our total of 66 species was slightly above the 21-year average (61 species) and the total count of  3,699 birds was close to the average (3,644 birds). Scroll down for more details and photos.

To see the complete set of results and data from past years click here: Merritt Xmas Count data 2019

Binoculars and big lenses in action on the Merritt CBC 15 December, in area B2 overlooking Nicola Lake. Photo: ©Kyla Strange.

Two new species were added to the Merritt count long-term list. Wayne Weber and his group heard three Virginia Rails calling in a reliably ice-free spring near Coutlee and this species was confirmed again with play-back two days later. Sharp-eyed birders in the B2 area at Nicola Lake picked out Cackling Geese among a flock of the smaller types of Canada Geese and at least five were subsequently identified in a photo of part of this flock.

At least five Cackling Geese were identified among the Canada Geese in the high-resolution version of this photo from Nicola Lake. Cackling Goose was split from Canada Goose as a separate species in 2004, but there is still considerable confusion in identifying them. Photo: ©Murphy Shewchuk

Other notable species were Peregrine Falcon, Greater White-fronted Goose and Northern Shoveler, all recorded for only the second time in a Merritt CBC .

A Greater White-fronted Goose, noticeably smaller and with orange legs, among Canada Geese near Quilchena on the Merritt Christmas Bird Count, 15 December 2019. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Nicola Lake was mostly ice-free, with only shoreline sections ice-covered, and there were many other places with open water. As a result we had good numbers of waterfowl and record high counts for Trumpeter Swans (129 birds, previous high 57), Tundra Swans (7, previous high 3), American Wigeon (74, previous high 50) and Northern Pintail (17, previous high 2). This was only the third year that Tundra Swans have been recorded on a Merritt CBC.

A panorama composite showing some of the 129 Trumpeter Swans that were found on Nicola Lake on 15 Dec 2019. Photo: Alan Burger

Tundra Swans on Nicola Lake on the Merritt CBC, 15 Dec 2019. Photo: Alan Burger

Other waterfowl, like Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall and Ring-necked Duck were also in above-average numbers.

Mallards on the sewage settling ponds – Merritt CBC, 15 Dec 2019. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A flock of Mallards over the Nicola River. Photo: ©Paul Willms

Katharine scanning for water birds on Nicola Lake – Merritt CBC, 15 Dec 2019. Photo: ©Kyla Strange

Counts of town, forest and upland birds produced mixed results. The group in area D produced a near-record count of five Ruffed Grouse during their hike on Lundbom Common – their secret was to take along a couple of dogs that sniffed out the grouse in areas where there were tracks in the snow. The 12 Spotted Towhees matched the previous high count. American Kestrels (6, previous high 3), Steller’s Jay (38, previous high 37), Black-capped Chickadees (96, previous high 58) and Brown Creeper (4, previous high 2) also broke the records.

Beautifully framed by rose hips, this Spotted Towhee was one of 12 seen on the Merritt Christmas Bird Count. Photo: ©Vic Newton

“Beating the bushes” for land birds. A couple of American Tree Sparrows were found in this thicket at Quilchena. Photo: ©Vic Newton

American Tree Sparrow – this boreal-breeding sparrow visits our area in small numbers in winter. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Red-winged Blackbirds emerging from the cat-tails in the early morning. Photo: ©Vic Newton

The big miss of the day was Pine Siskin. There has been a massive drop in numbers following last winter’s huge influx of siskins, when we had a record 391 on the Merritt count. American Goldfinches were also in short supply with only 9 seen, compared to the average count of 48 birds. On the other hand, there was no shortage of House Finch, with 353 recorded, the second highest count in 21 years. American Robins were a near miss, with only one found on the count day, compared with the average of 23.

As usual we wrapped up the day with a pot-luck get-together, this year in the United Church hall. With an excellent supply of tasty appies, mains and desserts, we tallied up the numbers and shared the day’s stories from each of the seven groups.

Our post-count get-together and pot-luck is always a time to share stories and highlights from the day’s birding. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

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Nicola Naturalist Society – Winter events 2019/2020

UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE ALL MEETINGS AND OUTINGS OF THE NICOLA NATURALIST SOCIETY HAVE BEEN CANCELLED BECAUSE OF THE COVID PANDEMIC – HOPE TO SEE YOU ONCE THINGS RETURN TO NORMAL

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held at 7PM in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. This fall our meetings will be on the third Wednesday of each month (instead of our usual Thursdays). Our evening meetings are free for members. We have awesome raffles.

We are now on Facebook. Check out our new Facebook page: NNS Facebook

Scroll down to see what is coming in winter 2019-2020

For insurance reasons, our field outings are restricted to our members (visitors can join membership-for-a-day). To join the Nicola Naturalist Society click here: Membership Page


Merritt Christmas Bird Count –  Sunday December 15th

You don’t have to be an expert birder to participate in Christmas Bird Counts. Participants spend all or part of the day in a group covering a specific section of the 22-km diameter count circle. It is a great way to get to know the local winter birds and contribute to the world’s longest-running citizen science project. For more details on the Merritt CBC keep checking this website or contact    nicolanaturalists@gmail.com

To check out photos and species from this 2019 Merritt Christmas Bird count click here: Merritt 2019 CBC

Evening Grosbeak –  these attractive birds are sometimes found on the Merritt CBC. Photo: ©Bonny Kozub


Thursday January 16th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Paul Mozin –  Bat Inventory in the Nicola Valley

Paul Mozin is a biologist with the Nicola Watershed Stewardship and Fisheries Authority (Scw’exmx Tribal Council). This group has undertaken an ambitious project to inventory and monitor the bat species in the Nicola Valley. Paul will be presenting the results from last year’s bat inventory, some background on endangered bat species in the Nicola Valley and some actions their group has taken this year. Come and learn more about these important but poorly understood citizens of the night.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) photographed in the Nicola Valley during an inventory program (Photo: Alan Burger). Inset: bat box in the Shakan IR (Photo: Paul Mozin)


Sunday January 19th, 9 AM: Winter Tracking with Frank Ritcey

Join Frank Ritcey for an outing of hiking and observing tracks in the snow. Meet at 9 AM at the A&W Restaurant to car-pool. Destination to be decided, based on where the snow and tracking are optimal. There will be a fair bit of hiking but the first half hour or so will be relatively easy for those wanting a shorter outing. Others can continue for a longer hike to see more tracks. Winter boots and gaiters are a good idea – and pretty much needed for the longer walk. Bring food, hot drink, warm clothes and regular survival gear that everyone should pack when they are in the outdoors in winter.

Tracks in the snow – mouse (left) and snowshoe hare (right). Photos: ©Alan Burger


Thursday February 20th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture TheatreEdyta Marcisz –  Territoriality, Movements or Landscape: What Determines Home Range in Bighorn Rams?

Originally from Poland, Edyta was drawn to Canada by its vastness, nature and wildlife. She is currently a graduate student at Thompson Rivers University and works in collaboration with Gerad Hales of FLNRORD (Wildlife Management). Using massive data sets collected from Bighorns fitted with satellite-tracking collars, she is looking at long-distance forays by rams in several Bighorn herds, and also the general distribution of these herds. Contact with domestic sheep is of particular interest, because recent declines in one Thompson Region population is thought to result from disease linked with domestic sheep.

Photo credits: Edyta Marcisz and Bob Scafe (Bighorn portrait)


Sunday 23rd February – our popular “Snow Bunting Shiver Sunday

Meet 9 AM at the Merritt Civic Centre parking lot to carpool. Bring lunch, binocs, camera, warm clothes and drink. Mostly by car – some short easy walks likely.

Every year we venture up into the Douglas Lake Plateau to check out the winter birds there. Snow Buntings and Rough-legged Hawks are regular features and in some years we have encountered Sharp-tailed Grouse and Grey-crowned Rosy Finches. Guaranteed wonderful winter scenery in the high grasslands.

Snow Buntings on the snowy Douglas Lake Plateau. These Arctic finches are regular winter visitors to our high grasslands. (Photo: © Alan Burger)


Wednesday March 11th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Presentation by the Kamloops Exploration Group: Christopher West – Leafing Through History: Exploring the Fossil Plant Deposits of Western Canada.

[Note the change in dates – not our usual third Thursday of the month.]

Dr. Christopher West is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He has degrees in Earth Sciences and Paleobiology, including a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan. He has published research on late Paleocene and early Eocene fossil floras from the Canadian High Arctic, British Columbia, and Alberta. Dr. West’s research interests are focused on reconstructing ancient climates and ecosystems using plant fossils in order to better understand ancient forest ecosystems, and how these ancient ecosystems gave rise to the modern forest biome in North America.


Coming up in spring (details to come):

Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology has cancelled all bookings of its lecture theatre for 2020. As a result, there will be no meetings for April, May and June. We will inform members and update this website if there is any change in the situation. – 17 March 2020

Thursday April 16th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Joey Chisholm (Thompson Rivers University MSc student) – Habitat use by snowshoe hares, red squirrels and Northern flying squirrels in central British Columbia

Thursday May 21st, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Elaine Sedgman – Common Bees of the Southern Interior of BC

Thursday June 18th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Jolene Cumming – The 1914 Naturalist Expedition to the Botanie Valley

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Nicola Naturalist Society – Fall events 2019

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held at 7PM in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. This fall our meetings will be on the third Wednesday of each month (instead of our usual Thursdays). Our evening meetings are free for members. We have awesome raffles.

We are now on Facebook. Check out our new Facebook page: NNS Facebook

Scroll down to see what is coming in fall 2019

For insurance reasons, our field outings are restricted to our members (visitors can join membership-for-a-day). To join the Nicola Naturalist Society click here: Membership Page

Membership Draw – renew your 2019-2020 membership on or before our September 18th meeting and you could win this stunning Ansel Adams photo print.

The draw will be held at the end of the September 18th meeting. Family membership gives two tickets in the draw, Single and Student memberships one ticket. The framed print, ready to hang, measures 70 x 91 cm (26 x 36 inches) and was kindly donated by Margaret and Glen Carlson.

Framed Ansel Adams photo print “Oak Tree, Snowstorm” – to be drawn on September 18th among those who have renewed memberships for 2019-2020. Donated to the Nicola Naturalist Society by Margaret and Glen Carlson.


Wednesday September 18th at 7 PM: AGM and Members’ Photo Night

[NOTE  – this meeting is on Wednesday and not our usual Thursday] 

As usual, we kick off the fall with our popular Photo Night – always an amazing collection of local nature pics taken by our members during the summer. We keep the required AGM business meeting short – but this is a good time to discuss any options or new directions for our club. The club always needs members to volunteer as directors, field outing leaders and much more, so please contact one of the directors to volunteer to help run the club.

White Pelicans on Stump Lake – 31 May 2019. Photo: ©Carol Madryga


Wednesday October 16th at 7 PM: Franz Reuter – Adventures in Chad – climbing the highest mountain in the Sahara

[NOTE  – this meeting is on Wednesday and not our usual Thursday] 

NNS member Franz Reuter is well known for his travels to exotic wild places. This presentation features his travels in the Sahara wilderness. Franz is a fine raconteur and has some excellent photos of his African adventure.

Camels in a Sahara sandstorm and trekking up a volcano to reach the Sahara’s highest summit – all part of Franz Reuter’s adventures in Chad. Photos: ©Franz Reuter


Wednesday November 20th at 7 PM: Tom Willms – Thermal Refugia in the Nicola River

[NOTE  – this meeting is on Wednesday and not our usual Thursday] 

Tom Willms is a PhD candidate with UNBC, an Instructor at NVIT, and an active member of the Nicola Naturalist Society. He will share some of his research in characterization of thermal refuge habitat in the Nicola River and the importance of these refugia to salmonid fish. His work explores groundwater-surface water interactions in streams and uses some new technologies, including drone-based thermal imagery.


Coming up in December: Merritt Christmas Bird Count (date to be confirmed but likely on Saturday December 21st)

Fall Field Trips – members will receive email notifications and check this site.


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Nicola Naturalist Society – members’ camp 2019

Our club held its second summer camp on the weekend of 19-21 July, once again at the lovely private campsite on Frank Chisam’s property. This is a great place for summer activities – located half way between Merritt and Spences Bridge, right on the banks of the Nicola River and with the KVR rail trail running by just steps away. A privileged group of nine campers stayed for the weekend and two others joined us for the Saturday potluck and Sunday hike. Thanks to Chris Lepsoe for doing most of the organizing and to Frank Chisam for sharing his scenic campsite with our group.

Saturday’s highlight was the visit of Grand Chief Howie Holmes from the Upper Nicola Band. Howie delighted us with stories of his adventurous youth – as a rodeo rider and horse trainer – and his current role as Knowledge Keeper to maintain his people’s traditions and culture.

Grand Chief Howie Holmes (far left) and Nicola Naturalist campers around the campfire on Saturday morning. Photo: Alan Burger

Howie is an 80-year resident of the Nicola Valley. As a ranch worker and sought-after horse trainer he got to know most of this extensive area and has vivid memories of the people, wildlife and lifestyle of this area.

Howie Holmes, Alan and Norm sharing memories of the old days in the Nicola Valley. Photo: Janet Roth

Howie Holmes and Gale at the campsite stage. Photo: Janet Roth

Chris, Howie and Gale at the Nicola Naturalist camp. Photo: Janet Roth

Our relaxed camp schedule provided lots of time to chat by the campfire, go biking on the KVR rail trail, birding, botanizing and swimming in the Nicola River (although only two campers and a dog took up that option).

Norm and Bob chatting by the campfire. Photo: Janet Roth

Cathy and Andrea at the Nicola Naturalist camp. Photo: Janet Roth

Chris at the outdoor bar on Frank Chisam’s campsite. Photo: Janet Roth

Sunday’s feature was a drive down to Spences Bridge, with a stop to explore the junction of the Nicola and Thompson rivers, and look for wildlife at a couple of stops.

Someone has spread milkweed seeds along the lower Nicola Valley in an effort to attract Monarch butterflies. Here is a healthy milkweed plant near Spences Bridge. Photo: Alan Burger

A male Mule Deer near the junction of Nicola and Thompson rivers. Photo: Alan Burger

Chris pointing out a large Poison Ivy plant – unfortunately quite common near the rivers. Photo: Alan Burger

We enjoyed ripe Chokecherries on the banks of the Thompson River. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Then we hiked from “downtown” Spences Bridge along the Thompson River to the beautiful waterfall on Murray Creek. Along the way we saw Bighorn Sheep and many birds, including the uncommon Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

Bighorn Sheep eating apples on the outskirts of Spences Bridge village. Photo: Alan Burger

Hiking from Spences Bridge to Murray Falls. Photo: Alan Burger

Lewis’s Woodpecker – one of the specialties of the Thompson-Nicola area. Photo: ©Alan Burger

On a hot sunny day it was a pleasure to sit in the shade next to Murray Creek just below the falls and enjoy our lunch. We were entertained during lunch by a newly-fledged American Dipper juvenile that wandered down the rushing creek, picking at tiny insects on the water’s edge.

Lunch in the shade with Murray Falls behind. Photo: Alan Burger

Enjoying the shade on the edge of Murray Creek. Photo: Alan Burger

A newly-fledged American Dipper foraging along the edge of Murray Creek just below the waterfall. Photo: Alan Burger

American Dipper fledgling just out of the nest and already foraging for itself. Photo: ©Alan Burger

On both Saturday and Sunday mornings, Alan led pre-breakfast birding walks along the KVR rail trail. With a variety of habitats (riverine shrubs and forest, hayfields, dry pine slopes and the river itself) we encountered a diverse array of birds. For a full list of the birds and mammals recorded during the camp click here: Birds & mammals NNS camp 2019

Here are a few photos of the birds seen on our birding walks:

Say’s Phoebe. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Grey Catbird singing. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Spotted Sandpiper on the banks of the Nicola River. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Spotted Towhee in the shrubs along the KVR rail trail. Photo: ©Alan Burger

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Nicola Naturalist Society – Spring & Summer events 2019

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held at 7PM, usually on the third Thursday of the month, in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. Our evening meetings are free for members. We have awesome raffles.

Scroll down to see what is coming up from January through May 2019

For insurance reasons, our field outings are restricted to our members (visitors can join membership-for-a-day). To join the Nicola Naturalist Society click here: Membership Page


Monday April 22nd: Field outing to Douglas Lake area

This is our annual field trip to look for migrating Sandhill Cranes. We might encounter hundreds or even thousands of cranes as they head north. Many stop over on the fields of Douglas Lake Ranch and neighbouring areas. Also expect to see numerous water birds and raptors and many other birds. White pelicans are a possibility and we usually see interesting mammals too.

Meet at 0800 (note the early time to catch the cranes) at the Merritt Civic Centre to carpool. Bring lunch, drink, binoculars, camera and warm clothes.

Sandhill Cranes on the Douglas Lake plateau in 2013. Photo: © Alan Burger


Thursday May 16th 2019, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frances Backhouse –  “Once they were hats” The biology of beavers and their role in Canada’s history.   

[This presentation was postponed in 2017 due to weather – rescheduled by popular demand]

Biologist and author Frances Backhouse has published books on a wide range of nature topics, including owls and woodpeckers, and also on historical topics such as the women in the Klondike gold rush. Her latest book examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. This will be a fascinating presentation blending biology and history. Some of you have heard Frances’s recent CBC Radio Ideas program on beavers.

Frances Backhouse brings a huge amount of knowledge and an infectious enthusiasm for Canada’s iconic emblem – the beaver. Photos courtesy Frances Backhouse.


Saturday May 25th – Nature with Norm

Our respected elder Norm Hansen will lead us on another interesting outing to see local features and nature. This trip will first have a gentle walk to visit an old brick factory above Merritt. Then we will drive to Dry Lake Road to see one of the biggest and oldest culturally-modified trees in our area. This giant was alive before Columbus came to North America! And lots of opportunities to enjoy birds and wildflowers along the way.

Meet at 09:00 at the Civic Centre to carpool. Bring a lunch and drink, binoculars and walking shoes.

Norm Hansen at a culturally-modified tree near Merritt. Photo: ©Anne Pang


More spring and summer field outings to come – watch this space!

Likely outings will include birding, wildflowers, butterflies and more.


 July 19-21  – Nicola Naturalists’ Second Annual Summer Camp – FX Ranch

We are heading back to Frank Chisam’s excellent campsite on the FX Ranch  – the same venue as our first summer camp last year.

Situated on Fx Ranch Road off Hwy 8, half-way between Merritt and Spences Bridge, this is a sheltered and scenic spot right on the Nicola River with lots of nature to enjoy close by. There are many tent sites (cost $10 per night per site) and also 8 hookups for RVs ($25 per night per site). Toilets & showers are available. Swimming hole just steps away. Hike or bike on the KVR trail right there.

Campers will need to register with the club and provide their own food and drinks. We are planning a communal pot-luck BBQ on the Saturday night. Members who are not camping and would like to join us just for that event are welcome too (but let us know you are coming by submitting the registration form). We are planning a guest speaker and some hiking and non-hiking outings. Stay tuned and watch your e-mails and our website as plans evolve.

To register for the camp – complete the registration form and submit that, with your payment to the mailing address provided or drop off with Chris Lepsoe – contact phone on the form. For insurance reasons only members can register. Click here for the NNS Summer Camp registration form.

To see a short report and photos from last year’s camp click here: 2018 Summer Camp

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Nicola Naturalist Society – Winter & Spring events 2019

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held at 7PM, usually on the third Thursday of the month, in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. Our evening meetings are free for members. We have awesome raffles.

Scroll down to see what is coming up from January through May 2019

For insurance reasons, our field outings are restricted to our members (visitors can join membership-for-a-day). To join the Nicola Naturalist Society click here: Membership Page


Thursday January 17th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Richard Chavez –  Silviculture: More than Just Planting Trees.

Silviculture, the science of trees in the treatment of a forest, is highly relevant to our local forestry-based economy and ecology. Human population increase and changing climate has put pressure on forest resources. Has our understanding and application of silviculture kept pace with these changes? Are our forestry practices keeping up with modern demands? This talk reviews current practices and other factors that challenge foresters, and possible ways to improve forest management. Richard Chavez is an Registered Professional Forester with Aspen Planers. He has a degree in Forest Engineering and a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University. Richard has extensive experience in silviculture, ecology and forest planning in tropical and temperate forests.

Regenerating forest. Photo: ©Jenn Reid


Tuesday February 19th, 6 PM at Merritt Libary  Budding Birders – launch of the birding kits sponsored by Bird Studies Canada and the Thompson Regional Library.

Bird Studies Canada, in collaboration with the Thomson Regional Library, is providing birding kits for budding birders. Anyone interested in trying out birding can check out a birding kit from the Merritt Library. Each kit contains a bird guide, checklists and binoculars. Nicola Naturalist president Dr. Alan Burger, a professional ornithologist and keen birder, will give a presentation featuring local birds to launch this exciting new birding venture at the Merritt Library.


Thursday February 21st, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frances Iredale –  Grizzly Bears and Whitebark Pine in the South Chilcotins

Francis Iredale doing research on Grizzly Bears in the South Chilcotin. Photo courtesy Francis Iredale.

Everyone loves hearing about Grizzly Bears and the presentation by Francis Iredale is especially worth attending. Since 2008 Francis has worked for the Province to conserve and manage species at risk and big game animals in the Thompson Region. He enjoys collaborating with indigenous communities and non-government organizations towards the long-term conservation of local wildlife populations. For several years Francis has been studying the special relationship that Grizzly Bears in the dry mountains of the Chilcotin have with Whitebark Pine in the fall. Understanding the resource use of these bears is essential to build up their diminished population. At the same time, the selection of Whitebark Pine needs to be understood for the conservation of this endangered tree species. Not to be missed!


Thursday March 21st, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Stephanie Winton – Impacts of Roadkill on the Western Rattlesnake in British Columbia

Stephanie Winton is a conservation researcher with Thompson Rivers University and Environment Canada. She recently completed her Master of Science degree assessing the impacts of roadkill on the population of Western Rattlesnakes in the White Lake Basin. Roadkill is a major and worldwide threat to wildlife, particularly for species-at-risk like rattlesnakes that face existing natural constraints. Stephanie’s research highlights the severity of this issue for rattlesnakes and led to the installation of ecopassages for snakes. Her study has important conservation applications with the burgeoning human development in BC’s interior valleys. Excellent research on an enigmatic species.


Thursday April 18th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre Dr. Lauchlan Fraser and Rachel Whitehouse – New grassland studies in the Merritt area (details to come).

The Merritt-based Nicola Watershed Community Round Table has a new partnership with the Grasslands Conservation Council of BC, promoting education and research at the Laurie Guichon Memorial Grasslands Interpretive Site near Merrit. Thompson University Professor Lauchlan Fraser and FLNRO ecologist Rachel Whitehouse are leading this work and will give a joint presentation on the project. Controlling invasive weeds, like knapweed, is a huge problem across the grasslands of southern BC and this project is testing some innovative methods to maintain healthy grasslands. Exciting work happening right on our doorstep.

Grasslands of the Lundbom Commonage – location of the joint research and education project of the Grasslands Conservation Council and the Nicola Valley Community Round Table. Photo: Alan Burger


Thursday May 16th 2019, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frances Backhouse –  “Once they were hats” The biology of beavers and their role in Canada’s history.   

[This presentation was postponed in 2017 due to weather – rescheduled by popular demand]

Biologist and author Frances Backhouse has published books on a wide range of nature topics, including owls and woodpeckers, and also on historical topics such as the women in the Klondike gold rush. Her latest book examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. This will be a fascinating presentation blending biology and history. Some of you have heard Frances’s recent CBC Radio Ideas program on beavers.

Frances Backhouse brings a huge amount of knowledge and an infectious enthusiasm for Canada’s iconic emblem – the beaver. Photos courtesy Frances Backhouse.


 

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