Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2022

Well, a picture is worth a thousand words …….

A Great Blue Heron hunkered down in snowy gloom at Nicola Lake – 17 December 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

For most of the day on 17th December our field groups experienced the conditions this heron was tolerating – heavy snowfall and -8C temperatures with some wind. Getting useful photographs was a major challenge. Incidentally, this was the only Great Blue Heron to be found on the count day.

But, despite the snowy conditions we had a good count. We had 21 people out in the field and 3 feeder-watchers. We recorded 60 species on the count day (close to the average of 61 across 24 years) and two additional species during the count week. We recorded a record high count of 9,154 birds (more than double the long-term average) thanks mainly to huge flocks of Mallards that were on Nicola Lake and feeding on the hayfields at nearby ranches. We tallied 5,199 Mallards and that included leaving out over 3,000 ducks we saw on Nicola Lake that we assumed had been counted on the hayfields.

The complete count data are available here:   Merritt Xmas Count data 2022

Some of the highlights:

We recorded two species that were new to the Merritt Christmas Bird Counts. The first was Sharp-tailed Grouse seen in the Quilchena area – first a flock of 21, counted accurately as they flew directly overhead after the observers had seen them in the nearby trees and thickets. An hour later a lone bird was found some distance away and clearly not part of the bigger flock. This grouse species inhabits the high grasslands and was likely driven to lower elevations by the deep snow cover we are experiencing this winter.

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse feeding on buds in the thickets near Nicola Lake. These were part of a flock of 21. Photo: © Alan Burger.

A lone Sharp-tailed Grouse in the Quilchena area. © Alan Burger

The second new species to our count history was Snow Bunting – a flock of 15 on the hayfields of the Huber Ranch near Quilchena. This species was a Count Week sighting in 2013, but has never appeared on the count day. No photos were obtained, but this location often supports Snow Buntings in winter.

It was a good year for picking up owls. Northern Pygmy Owl and Great Horned Owl are  fairly regular species for our count (found on 11 and 7 previous counts, respectively), but a Short-eared Owl, seen near Quilchena, is only the second occurrence for a Merritt CBC.

A Great Horned Owl roosting in a willow tree near Nicola Lake, 17 December 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

It was also a good year for the two Buteo hawks that occur in winter in our area. We recorded 24 Red-tailed Hawks (well above the average of 15) and 15 Rough-legged Hawks (close to the all-time high of 16 birds).

Rough-legged Hawk on the count day, 17 December 2022. This hawk visits us in winter, migrating south from its summer breeding grounds in the arctic tundra. Photo: © Alan Burger

Several other species occurred in high numbers, compared to the previous 23 counts:

  • Pied-billed Grebe – 5 (average is 2)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5 (equal to the previous record high)
  • Rock Pigeon – 281 (average is 188)
  • Eurasian Collared Dove – 242 (record high count, average is 70)
  • Northern Flicker – 54 (average is 26)
  • Northern Shrike – 7 (average is 4)
  • European Starling – 787 (record high count, average is 285)
  • American Tree Sparrow – 11 (average is 5)
  • Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco – 263 (average is 76)

An immature Pied-billed Grebe among the snowflakes on Nicola Lake. We recorded five of this species on the lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

A Northern Shrike on a typical high perch, looking out for small birds or mice that are its prey. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another Northern Shrike – this one a juvenile bird – on a frosty branch in the Merritt area, 17 December 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal.

On the downside, we missed a few of our regular species:

  • Belted Kingfisher – seen in the Count Week but not on the Count Day (has been recorded in 19 of the previous 23 counts)
  • Mountain Chickadee – recorded in 22 of the previous 23 counts, but not this year.
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – recorded in 17 of the previous counts.

And a few other species were seen in low numbers:

  • Great Blue Heron – 1 (average count is 4)
  • Clark’s Nutcracker – 1 (average is 24)
  • Song Sparrow – 7 (average is 21)

And did we mention that we saw a lot of Mallards on the count day?

One of several huge flocks of Mallards resting on Nicola Lake. These ducks were feeding on the hayfields and feedlots around Nicola village and resting on the lake. Overall we counted 5,199 Mallards. Photo: © Alan Burger

Part of another big flock of Mallards on Nicola Lake, closer to the shore. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another waterbird found in big numbers on Nicola Lake was American Coot.

American Coot on Nicola Lake (they are the little black dots along with a few American Wigeon and Mallards). There were 204 coot in this flock and 48 more were seen elsewhere on the lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

But one lone coot was missing the party ….

This lone American Coot was found in the Merritt sewage settling ponds. Photo: © Vic Newton

It is always a treat to see Trumpeter Swans on Nicola Lake in mid-winter. We had 27 on the lake this Christmas count. Photo: © Alan Burger

Bohemian Waxwings are another northern species that migrates south into our area in winter, to feed on berries and buds. They have been recorded in all 24 Merritt Christmas Bird Counts and in very variable numbers from 1 to over 2,000. This year we found 670 waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings in a big flock in the Bench area of Merritt, 17 December 2018. Photos © Corinne Pitt

Another regular species that also occurs in variable numbers in the Mourning Dove. This year we recorded 53, below the average count of 96 and well below the record high of 441 doves. Photo: © Vic Newton.

House Finches are common visitors to feeders in Merritt, and have been recorded on all 24 Merritt Christmas counts. This year we found 188, close to the average of 182 birds. Photos: © Corinne Pitt.

A Song Sparrow, puffed up to tolerate the cold.  Notice the bit of ice on the beak tip. These sparrows breed in our area and a few of them remain through the winter. Photo: © Alan Burger

And finally a word of thanks to the folks who braved the snow and searched out birds in eight zones within the count circle.

Diana and Bruce among the snowy Douglas-firs on the Lundbom Commonage. Photo: © Frank Ritcey.

Craig and Loretta scanning for waterbirds on Nicola Lake, before the snowstorm. Photo: © Alan Burger


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Nicola Naturalist Society – Fall and Winter events 2022-23

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held once a month from September through May. We generally meet at 7PM on the third Thursday of the month in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. Admission is free to members. We have awesome raffles.

Field Outings are usually held in spring, summer and fall and are listed below. Members will receive e-mail notices too. Field trips are restricted to paid-up members (but visitors can sign up as a member for the day for a nominal fee).

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

Thursday September 15th, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: AGM and Members’ Photo Night

Saturday September 24th, 2022: Mushroom outing with Michael Ebenal

More photos from this outing will be posted soon.

Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Thursday October 20th, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Sonya Richardson and Sean Morton – Come Walk With Us

Dr Sonya Richmond is a biologist and researcher who has worked on many ornithological and conservation projects, and received numerous awards and grants for her work. Sean Morton is an award-winning landscape and nature photographer whose work has been published in numerous magazines. Together they have been walking across Canada on the Trans Canada Trail, starting in 2019 at Cape Spear, Newfoundland. While exploring Canada in this unique way they are also promoting awareness of our country’s open spaces and wildlife and the need for local engagement to conserve them.

We are privileged to host this intrepid couple and hear of their experiences and their passion to share and conserve wilderness and nature across Canada.

Thursday November 17th, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Rory Fogarty: Forestry, fire and fur: Understanding the factors driving the decline of Fishers in central BC.

Fishers (Pekania pennanti) are one of the least known of our native weasels (mustelids). Although they are found across much of British Columbia, they are seldom seen by casual observers. Rory Fogarty is a Registered Professional Biologist and graduate student at Thompson Rivers University who has been studying this secretive critter in central B.C. for the past 5 years. His presentation will focus on research to explain the distribution and decline of Fishers in the BC Interior. The work includes DNA-analysis of fur samples to identify individuals and determine population size and distribution. Come and learn more about one of our most charismatic mammals.

Saturday December 10th, 2022, 10-12 AM at NVIT (Room U011): Winter Bird Identification Workshop

Alan Burger will be leading this workshop covering common winter birds in the Nicola Valley and focusing on waterfowl, woodpeckers and finches. Should be useful for both beginner and experienced birders. Tune up for the Christmas Bird Counts! Open to Nicola Naturalist Society members only.

Quiz time! Can you identify this bird? It is found fairly regularly in the Nicola Valley in winter (in 19 of the past 23 Merritt Christmas Bird Counts). Answer is at the bottom of this web-page. Photo: © Alan Burger

Saturday December 17th, 2022: Merritt Christmas Bird Count

This will be the 24th Christmas Bird Count in the Merritt count circle. You don’t have to be an expert birder to participate – the count is done in groups and there are always one or more experienced birders in each group. So this is a great way to learn the winter birds in the Nicola Valley. To register please email:

A Northern Pygmy Owl. This species has been recorded in 11 of the 23 Merritt Christmas Bird Counts. Photo: © Alan Burger

Thursday January 19th, 2023, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Loretta Holmes and Dawn Brody: Burrowing Owl Restoration in the Upper Nicola Valley

Loretta Holmes and Dawn Brodie at the Upper Nicola Burrowing Owl Reintroduction Site. Inset Burrowing Owl (Audubon Society).

Burrowing Owls are one of the most charismatic of our local fauna. But this species almost disappeared from British Columbia as a result of loss of nesting habitat in the grasslands. For over a decade a dedicated group of biologists and volunteers has been working diligently to bring back this tiny owl as a local breeder. Loretta Holmes and Dawn Brodie have been working on this conservation project since 2014, in collaboration with the Burrowing Owl Society. They will describe the joys and tribulations of reintroducing Burrowing Owls in the Upper Nicola Reserve.

Sunday January 22, 2023. Field Outing – Tracking with Frank Ritcey

Meet at Lundbom – Guichon Grasslands Interpretive Sign at 10 AM. Bring snowshoes and appropriate winter gear – expect to be out for 2+ hours. Note that all field outings are restricted to paid-up NNS members.

Noted naturalist Frank Ritcey has once again offered to lead a winter tracking outing to look for wildlife signs and much more.

Frank Ritcey leading one of our previous tracking outings at Lundbom Common – December 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Sunday February 12, 2023. Field outing – Snow Bunting Shiver Sunday

Meet at the Merritt Civic Centre parking lot at 9 AM. Bring lunch, hot drink, warm clothes, binoculars, camera etc. We will not be doing long walks. High clearance vehicles or 4x4s. Note that all field outings are restricted to paid-up NNS members.

An annual tradition – we trek up to the Douglas Lake Plateau in winter to look for winter specialties like Rough-legged Hawks, Horned Larks, Northern Shrikes and ….. yes in most years we do find Snow Buntings. Also a great opportunity to see wintering mammals like moose, deer, coyotes and more. Plus wonderful winter scenery in the high grasslands.

Snow Buntings and Shiverers on a previous outing. Photos: Alan Burger

Thursday February 16th, 2023, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Veronica McKelvey – Overwintering behaviour of snakes in the B.C. Interior

Veronica McKelvey is a Master’s of Environmental Science student at Thompson Rivers University studying the overwintering behaviour of the Great Basin Gophersnake, Western Yellow-bellied Racer and Western Rattlesnake under the supervision of Dr. Karl Larsen. This is an opportunity to hear about some of our lesser known but important reptiles and how they survive the seasonal fluctuations in temperature and food availability.

Thursday March 16th, 2023, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Leona Shepherd – Wildfires and Climate Change

We all have first-hand knowledge of the devastation that wildfires can produce in the BC Interior. So how does the frequency and severity of wildfires relate to climate change, and what is in store for us as the planet heats up? Leona Shepherd is a graduate student at Thompson Rivers University researching these important issues. This topic is highly relevant and important to us all.

Thursday April 20th, 2023, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Carol Holmes, Susan Newton & Matthews (Vancouver Avian Research Centre) – Bluebird research in the Nicola Valley

The Vancouver Avian Research Centre runs the bluebird nest-box program in the Nicola Valley – several of our members volunteer for this program. In addition to monitoring and cleaning the nest-boxes the group also records breeding success of both Western and Mountain Bluebirds and bands the chicks for long-term research. Carol Matthews is the Director of Public Outreach for the VARC and will describe the work being done on bluebirds in our area and beyond.

Thursday May 18th, 2023, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: David Holden – Moths of the B.C. Interior

Our club’s resident moth aficionado Bob Scafe has already identified over 600 moth species around Merritt. There is definitely a lot of biodiversity in this group of insects in our area, and some fascinating and rare species. Come and hear more about these from Dave Holden – a moth expert and Western Survey Biologist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Bird Quiz: The photo is a Northern Harrier – probably a juvenile male.




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Sandhill Crane outing – 17 April 2022

Sixteen participants came out to today’s Sandhill Crane outing, including some guests from the Central Okanagan Naturalists Club. The weather was cool in the early hours with a mix of sun and cloud.

A good day was had by all, the highlight was watching the flights of the large flocks of cranes as they continued their journey to their breeding grounds. Thanks to Liis Jeffries and Vic Newton for coordinating the outing.

For a list of bird species seen on the day click here: NNS Sandhill Crane 17APR2022 bird list

Scanning for waterfowl on the Nicola Naturalist Society April 17th outing to Douglas Lake area. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Of course the Sandhill Cranes were the primary focus of the trip and we were not disappointed – flocks were seen on the ground and in the air as they continued their northward spring migration.

Sandhill Cranes on the Douglas Lake plateau wetlands – 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Part of the large aggregation of Sandhill Cranes seen on the Douglas Lake plateau on 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Another highlight was a big flock of 29 American White Pelicans passing overhead.

Part of the flock of American White Pelicans over Douglas Lake plateau – 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

American White Pelicans – 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Count the dots! High flying flock of American White Pelicans at Douglas Lake area, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Rick Gee

And another unusual species for our area is the Snow Goose. The group found 14 at a pond next to the Douglas Lake Ranch headquarters.

Snow Geese near the Douglas Lake Ranch headquarters, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Snow Geese – 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Other waterfowl were plentiful too …..

Cinnamon Teal male at Rush Lake, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

A male and two female Cinnamon Teal at Rush Lake, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

The only shorebirds seen were Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs.

Greater Yellowlegs on the Nicola River – 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

An interesting diversity of raptors was recorded, including Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk and American Kestrel.

A Rough-legged Hawk taking off from a power pole. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

An adult Red-tailed Hawk taking off from a field, Douglas Lake plateau, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

A few migrant passerine birds were also found, although the major spring migration was yet to come. Yellow-rumped Warblers are usually the first warblers to appear in spring and sparrows like Dark-eyed Juncos arrive at the same time. Lincoln’s Sparrow is one of our less common sparrows, so always good to see.

Lincoln’s Sparrow -17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

Lincoln’s Sparrow at Douglas Lake plateau area, 17 April 2022. Photo: © Loekie van der Wal

The count data from our outing goes into the database for the Douglas Lake Plateau Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA). The Nicola Naturalist Society, along with the Kamloops Naturalist Club, are the monitors for this IBA – the largest in BC.


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Snow Bunting Shiver Outing – February 2022

Our annual Snow Bunting Shiver Sunday on February 27th 2022 was a success, despite some initial weather threats. Every year we venture up to the Douglas Lake plateau at this time to look for winter specialties in the high grasslands. Early morning snowfall promised a cold, dreary day but by the time we got going the weather had improved and it was a very pleasant, if blustery day. Six members showed up which made for a convenient 3-car convoy. The roads were in reasonable shape so we all managed both the Pennask Lake Road (which is well maintained) and the more dicey and muddy Minnie Lake Road to end up at Douglas Lake and loop back to Merritt. All our travels were on public roads with no intrusion on to the private ranch-land or First Nations reserve.

The snow-covered Douglas Lake plateau on 27 February 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

Highlights of the day were mostly of the mammalian kind. It was a thrill to encounter three separate groups of Moose – five animals in total. This species is becoming harder to find in our area. The first was a big mamma Moose and a big calf, quite close to the road.

This female moose was our first wildlife encounter on 27 February. Photo: © Alan Burger

Big mamma was joined by big baby – a very large calf. What a treat to see these healthy-looking animals that are now quite rare in the Merritt area. Photo: © Alan Burger

A few minutes later the two Moose appeared again on a distant ridge – moving fast. Photo: © Alan Burger

Our second Moose encounter was on the Minnie Lake Road – again two animals.

Two Moose heading for the forest – probably a cow with a very large calf. Photo: © Alan Burger

We saw this pair again as they traversed a forest patch. Photo: © Alan Burger

Our final encounter was also on the Minnie Lake Road.

A rather secretive young Moose skirting the woody thickets. Photo: © Alan Burger

White-tailed Deer were the other ungulate that we encountered – a lone animal and later a herd of eight. Strangely enough we saw no Mule Deer – they are usually the most common mammal that we see on these trips.

Coyotes are in the midst of their mating season – as a result we saw many – at least 15 – mostly in groups of two or three. Because they get shot at they were understandably very wary and were mostly seen heading away as fast as they could.

Two Coyotes regarding us with deep suspicion and heading for cover. Douglas Lake plateau 27 February 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another Coyote watching warily from a distant ridge-top. Photo: © Alan Burger

A sample of the multitude of Coyote tracks. Photo: © Alan Burger

Birds were rather thin on the ground or in the air. We did see the usual ravens and magpies, but relatively few. And only 3 Rough-legged Hawks and no Red-tailed Hawks. Our first exciting bird was this lone Horned Lark – this striking bird flew back and forth around our vehicles for several minutes allowing photos and great views.

A Horned Lark foraging on the gravel road – Pennask Lake Road, 27 February 2022. Note the feathery head tufts that give it its name. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another view of the same Horned Lark. Photo: © Alan Burger

And nearby a more commonly-seen Black-billed Magpie.

A Black-billed Magpie taking off from a Cottonwood tree – Douglas Lake plateau, 27 February 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

What about Snow Buntings? Well, true to the outing name we were indeed shivering in a cold wind as we watched this lone bird foraging in the bunchgrass. It is highly unusual to have just one of these birds alone, but we searched in vain for a larger flock. So this was our only Snow Bunting of the day.

The lone Snow Bunting that justified the name of our winter outing. Photo: © Alan Burger

Snow Buntings breed in the Arctic but migrate south into southern latitudes for the winter. In our area they are most often found in the high grasslands. Photo: © Alan Burger

And a  few other birds from the day …..

These Bald Eagles were hanging around a site along with ravens and magpies – probably indicating some carrion nearby. Immature bird left and adult right. Photos: © Alan Burger

Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese on the Nicola River just below Douglas Lake, 27 February 2022. Photo: © Alan Burger

And finally a couple of photos of our happy crew, enjoying a lunch break in the shelter of an aspen grove

The Snow Bunting Shiverers at the lunch break.

Another look at the Nicola Naturalist Society members on the Douglas Lake plateau.


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Nicola Naturalist Society – Winter & Spring Events 2022

We are resuming evening meetings starting with our March 2022 meeting – see below. We will update this posting as needed. Members please check your emails for updates on events.

Evening meetings of the Nicola Naturalist Society are held once a month from September through May. We generally meet at 7PM on the third Thursday of the month in the Lecture Theatre of NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) on Belshaw Road, Merritt. Admission is free to members. We have awesome raffles.

Field Outings are usually held in spring, summer and fall and are listed below. Members will receive e-mail notices too. Field trips are restricted to members (but visitors can sign up as a member for the day for a nominal fee).

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

Sunday February 27th 2018 – Annual Snow Bunting Shiver outing

Continuing our winter tradition we will be heading up to the Douglas Lake Plateau highlands to look for Snow Buntings, Rough-legged Hawks and other winter specialties. In previous years we have also found Sharp-tailed Grouse, Horned Larks and once …. a Snowy Owl. And yes – we do usually see some Snow Buntings!  Meet at 9 AM at the Merritt Civic Centre parking lot. Bring lunch, a hot drink, warm clothes, binoculars, camera etc.

To see photos of this outing click here: Snow Bunting Shiver 2022

A mix of Snow Buntings and a few Horned Larks on our February 2018 Snow Bunting Shiver outing. Photo: © Alan Burger

Thursday March 17th, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frank Ritcey – Ethical Wildlife Viewing & Photography   

Join Frank for an evening of videos and photos of BC wildlife and an in-depth discussion about what it means to be an ethical viewer and photographer of wildlife. An active Nicola Naturalist Society member, Frank formerly worked for WildSafe in Kamloops, promoting safe interactions between humans and wildlife. Those who enjoyed Frank’s recent photo/video exhibition in Merritt know that this evening will be a real treat.

Frank will have copies of his latest book for sale and signing: Tigers, Tumbleweeds  and Trauma

A sleepy Barred Owl yawning. Photo: © Frank Ritcey.

Sunday April 17th, 2022 – Sandhill Crane outing to the Douglas Lake Plateau.

Meet at the Merritt Civic Centre parking lot at 07:45. An early start is needed to catch the cranes before they take off on their migration.

To see photos of this outing click here: Sandhill Crane Outing 17APR2022

Thursday April 21st, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Camille Roberge – Are Cutblocks Affecting Moose Nutrition?

Camille Roberge is a Registered Professional Biologist pursuing a Master’s degree at Thompson Rivers University. She is collaborating with Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council, BC Ministry of Forests and Teck to understand the effects of forestry on the declining moose population in Wildlife Management Unit 3-18 (north of Merritt and west of Logan Lake). Specifically, she is investigating whether plants growing in forestry cutblocks are of lower nutritional quality than plants growing in intact forests, and whether this affects the condition, reproduction and survival of moose. Come and learn more about one of our most charismatic mammals.

Camille Roberge’s presentation will feature moose nutrition in cutblocks in our area. Moose photo: © Bruce Walter. Insets: © Camille Roberge

Thursday May 19th, 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Michael Ebenal – The Kingdom of Fungi

Humans have had a close relationship with Fungi for thousands of years. Not only do we relish mushrooms, but other forms of Fungi (yeasts etc.) are essential for our bread, beer and much more. But Fungi remain mysterious and poorly understood by most people. Michael Ebenal has been cultivating, foraging and researching mushrooms since 2015. In 2019 he built a lab, incubation area and fruiting chamber to grow mushrooms. Michael will present a slide show covering the life cycles of Fungi, Fungi as food and medicine and for remediation of toxins and damaged and poisoned landscapes. He will also explain low-tec cultivation techniques for mushrooms. Not to be missed if you like mushrooms …. or bread or beer!

Local mushrooms from the Merritt area. Photos: ©Alan Burger


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Christmas Bird Count for Kids – Merritt, January 2022

In a joint outing, the Merritt NatureKids club and the Nicola Naturalist Society ran the first Merritt Christmas Bird Count for Kids on 8th January 2022. The day turned out to be bitterly cold (-18 C at times) which meant that attendance was lower than expected, and those that did participate had to resort to regular warm-ups in their vehicles.

Keen birders at the start of the Christmas Bird Count for Kids, 8th January 2022. Photo: Loretta Holmes.

But we did have a good outing, recorded 27 species and over 2,000 individual birds. The kids had great views of Trumpeter Swans, several duck species, sparrows, eagles, doves, American Dippers plunging into icy streams and much more.

Birds Canada, which coordinates the Christmas Bird Counts in Canada, provides a wonderful aid for identification. On their website if one enters the location and the date the website produces a photo identification sheet showing the most common birds one is likely to see and a tally sheet for recording the sightings. The CBC4Kids website is here.

Here is the Birds Canada identification sheet for the Merritt area on 8 January. We did notice a few common species missing, such as American Crow.

Our first stop was at the Nicola River just below the Nicola Lake weir. The lake and most of the rivers were frozen over, but here the  stream coming out from the lake provided some open water. This attracted a nice selection of waterfowl – 8 Trumpeter Swans, 2 Hooded Mergansers, 5 Buffleheads, 2 Common Goldeneyes, and 11 Barrow’s Goldeneyes.

Alan setting up the spotting scope at child level. Photo: Loretta Holmes

Using binoculars at -18C while wearing thick mittens is not easy! Photo: Sarah Derosiers.

Kids and adults enjoying the birds despite intense cold and deep snow. Photo: Sarah Derosiers

Just a short way down the road we waded through deep snow in order to find some American Dippers. And we were not disappointed – three Dippers entertained us by plunging into the icy stream to feed underwater, and then leaping back on to the snowy rocks to catch a breath.

Watching Dippers at the Nicola River. We found three Dippers here, feeding in the icy stream. Photos: Anne Pang (left), Sarah Derosiers (right)

The spotting scope was a popular option at the Dipper site on the Nicola River. Photo: Sarah Derosiers

Our final stop was the cattle feedlot close by. Hundreds of cows are fed hay and silage and this attracts huge numbers of birds. Close to 2,000 Mallards were among the cows or resting on the snowy river banks. Flocks of sparrows, including Song and White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos, searched for seeds among the cattle feed.  Rock Pigeons, Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared-doves swirled around in flocks. The cow morgue attracted two species of eagles and dozens of American Crows and Common Ravens.

Arriving at the cattle feedlot – the hay and silage fed to the cows also feeds huge numbers of birds. Photo: Loretta Holmes.

Sparrows foraging among the cow feed. On the right is a close-up of a Dark-eyed Junco – one of the common species here. Photos: Loretta Holmes.

A Song Sparrow – another common bird at the feedlot. Photo: Loretta Holmes.

Hundreds of Mallards at the Nicola River bordering the cattle feedlot. Photo: Alan Burger.

Another view of the Mallard crowds. There are also two American Wigeon in this flock, one taking off on the left and one with its cream-coloured head crest surrounded by Mallards. Photo: Alan Burger

The spotting scope was useful at the feedlot to get good looks at birds sitting on the nearby trees, like this Eurasian Collared Dove. Photos: Loretta Holmes.

Mourning Doves all fluffed up to tolerate the cold at the cow feedlot. Photo: Alan Burger

A closer view of a Mourning Dove. Photo: Alan Burger

A few of the scavenger birds at the cattle feedlot – on the left an immature Bald Eagle and three Magpies; on the right a pair of Common Ravens. Photos: Loretta Holmes

An immature Red-tailed Hawk – probably on the lookout for mice at the cattle feedlot. Photo: Alan Burger

A distant view of two Golden Eagles – quite rare birds in our area. Photo: Alan Burger.

A close view of one of the 16 Bald Eagles seen during our outing. Photo: Loretta Holmes.

After a couple of hours in the cold we were all happy to head home, having seen some beautiful and interesting birds and impressed at their ability to behave so normally during this cold and snowy weather. Here is our final tally for the day:

The tally sheet for the first Merritt Christmas Bird Count for Kids, 8th January 2022. Courtesy Sarah Derosiers.

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Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2021

When we decided to run the 2021/22 Merritt Christmas Bird Count on December 18th we knew we would have a low participant turnout and be unable to access parts of our count circle. Just weeks before, Merritt was hit by devastating flooding and several of our regular count participants were still dealing with severe damage to their homes. And the flooding  wrecked the sewage settling ponds on the edge of town, which were a regular site for interesting waterfowl.

On count day we had 17 people in the field and 2 feeder-watchers, far less than our usual 30-35 people in the field. Despite fewer people, and some nasty cold, snowy conditions we did well. Our species count was 59 on count day – very similar to the 23-year average of 61 species. And we actually set a new record for birds counted – 7,126 which is almost double the average. This high count was due to high numbers of Coot, Mallards, blackbirds, doves and pigeons (see below).

To see the complete count data, along with all previous counts, click here: Merritt Xmas Count data 2021

This photo of Mill Creek indicates the conditions for much of the Merritt CBC count day – cold and snowy. Photo: © Alan Burger

Perhaps the most unexpected discovery on our count was the huge flock of American Coot found on Nicola Lake. See if you can guess how many coot are in this photo (plus a few American Wigeon and Gadwall).

This huge flock of American Coot was found on Nicola Lake during the Merritt CBC. There were probably another 100 birds not in the photo. There are also some American Wigeon and Gadwall among the coots. Photo: © Rick Howie.

American Coot is not always found on the Merritt count – it has appeared in 15 of the past 23 counts. One coot was missing the Nicola Lake party – it was seen on the Nicola River in town. This year’s count of 1,118 birds is a new record high.

By dividing up the flock we could get an estimate of the numbers. There were at least 1017 coots in the photo and an estimated 100 more outside the photo. Photo: Rick Howie.

Here’s another view of the huge flock of American Coot on Nicola Lake. Look closely and you can see two Bald Eagles in the air – they prey on coots and cause the coots to cluster together in tight flocks. Photo: © Rick Howie.

No new species were added to the Merritt count circle, but a few unusual species did show up:

  • Wood Duck, 7 birds (only found once before in 23 years)
  • Ruddy Duck, 1 bird (reported in 3 previous counts)
  • Eared Grebe, 1 bird (reported in 1 previous count)

Fuzzy photos of a distant Ruddy Duck on Nicola Lake. The diagnostic line through the face and the vertical stiff tail feathers are, however, visible. Photos: Alan Burger

Species which appeared in unusually high numbers:

  • Mallard, 2,784 birds minimum (almost 3x the average) – most were at feedlots and nearby fields.
  • Rock Pigeon, 380 birds (more than double the average)
  • Eurasian Collared Dove, 161 birds (3x the average count)
  • Mourning Dove, 235 birds (more than double the average)
  • Northern Shrike, 10 birds (all time high, average is 4 birds)

As always, there were a few BIG MISSES – species that we almost always get that failed to show up this year:

  • Common Loon (seen in 15 of the 23 counts)
  • Pied-billed Grebe (seen in 17 of the 23 counts)
  • Hairy Woodpecker (only the second miss in 23 years)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch (only the second miss in 23 years, but seen in the Count Week)
  • American Robin (seen in 18 of the 23 counts)

Exceptionally low counts were also noted for several species:

  • Canada Goose, only 19 birds (the average is 242 birds)
  • Green-winged Teal, 2 birds (average is 17 birds)
  • Red-tailed Hawk, 8 birds (average is 15 birds)
  • Pine Siskin, 1 bird (average is 42 birds)
  • American Goldfinch, 10 birds (average is 48 birds)

Here are some photos from the count period. Photography was tricky with the gloomy conditions and falling snow for much of the day.

Trumpeter Swans on Nicola Lake – juvenile left and adult right. We found 49 swans on the count day – a bit above average. Photo: © Alan Burger

This photo captures the mood on the Merritt count day – a Great Blue Heron on the icy Nicola River amidst falling snow. Photo: © Vic Newton.

Another Great Blue Heron hunched up and tolerating the weather. Photo: © Paul Willms.

This lump in a tree turned out to be a tiny Northern Pygmy-owl. Photo: © Alan Burger

Spot the owl. Alan photographing the Northern Pygmy-owl next to Nicola Lake. Photo: © Loretta Holmes

A closer look at the Northern Pygmy-owl. Notice the little feather tufts on its forehead. Photo: © Alan Burger

This Merlin was the only one recorded on the Merritt Christmas Bird Count, 18 December 2021. Photos: © Vic Newton

Guess how many Bohemian Waxwings are in this tree. Answer below. Photo: © Alan Burger

Our record high for Bohemian Waxwings in the Merritt count is 2,009 birds. This year we had only 290. In the photo above there are 123 birds. Most people would underestimate this flock.

Blizzard birds! These Bohemian Waxwings visit us in winter from their northern breeding grounds, so they might be used to tough weather conditions. Photo: © Loretta Holmes.

Fluffed up to tolerate the cold, this Song Sparrow was one of 38 seen on the Merritt count. Photo: © Alan Burger

American Tree Sparrows are winter visitors to our area, coming south from their Boreal and Arctic breeding grounds. They have been recorded in fewer than half of the 23 Merritt counts, but this year we had 29 birds, close to the record high of 33 birds. Photos: © Alan Burger

It was a low year for finches, apart from the resident feeder-loving House Finches (266 counted – a bit above average). We recorded only one Pine Siskin and 10 American Goldfinches and there were no redpolls, crossbills or grosbeaks.

A male House Finch (left) and an American Goldfinch (in winter plumage, right). Photos: © Vic Newton

Northern Shrikes are often seen on conspicuous high vantage points (left). The right photo gives a closer view. This year we had a record high count of 10 Northern Shrikes. Photos: © Alan Burger (left); © Vic Newton (right)

Despite the freezing weather, many of our creeks were still flowing and here we located several hardy American Dippers – a total of 10 (just above average numbers). Watching these tough little birds leap from an ice platform into icy water to find aquatic insects is an amazing experience.

An American Dipper on the ice edge at Mill Creek. How a robin-sized bird can tolerate being on ice and in icy water for hours at a time is quite astounding. Photo: © Alan Burger

The same American Dipper taking the plunge. This bird would remain submerged for 10-15 seconds and then leap back on to the ice to rest briefly between dives. Photos: © Alan Burger

Here are a couple of owls that we missed on the count day but were seen in the count week.

A Great Horned Owl seen in the count circle within the Count Week. Photo: © Paul Willms.

This Short-eared Owl was found a few km outside our count circle so unfortunately is not included in our count data, but we decided to show it here anyway! This species has occurred in the Merritt Christmas count only once in 23 years (in 2004). Photos: © Loretta Holmes.

In the mid-afternoon the snow stopped and by dusk it was positively pleasant in the Merritt area (but still cold at -6 C).

Nicola Lake at sunset on the count day, 18 December. Photo: © Rick Howie

And a beautiful full moon rose to wrap up a good birding day. Photo: © Vic Newton.

In the late afternoon gloaming, a Rough-legged Hawk flies by. Photo: © Alan Burger

Thanks to all who participated in the 2021 Merritt Christmas Bird Count.


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Nicola Naturalist Society – Fall & Winter Events 2021-22

Evening meetings are on hold due to the Covid restrictions (January & February 2022). We will update this posting as needed. Members please check your emails for updates on events.

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

For insurance reasons, our field outings are restricted to our members (visitors can join membership-for-a-day). Annual membership runs from 1 September through 31 August. To join the Nicola Naturalist Society click here: Membership Page

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

Meet us at these Merritt community events:

  • Saturday September 18th – Merritt Street Market, 9:30 AM – 1:00 PM
  • Saturday October 2nd – Community Engagement Fair, Merritt Civic Centre from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM

Thursday October 21st, 2021, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture TheatreAGM and Members’ Photo Night

We keep the necessary business meeting short so there is ample time to enjoy local nature photos taken by our talented membership. We haven’t seen members’ photos on the big screen for many months so this will be a gala occasion.

This little Saw-whet Owl found a sheltered spot to roost during the day. This species is strictly nocturnal. Photo: © Cathy Tombes

Thursday November 18th, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture TheatreElaine Sedgman – Common Bees of the Southern Interior of B.C.


Elaine Sedgman is a well-known Kamloops naturalist and a strong supporter of native pollinators. Her presentation will introduce us to some of the diverse bee species in the Southern Interior and their important roles in pollination and food production. This presentation was originally scheduled for May 2020 but postponed because of the pandemic.

A native bumblebee on a dandelion flower. Photo: © Alan Burger

Sunday December 12th – 09:00: Tracking with Frank Ritcey

For members only. Meet at the Lundbom parking lot. From 09:00 until about noon. Wear clothing to match the weather. Gaiters and snowshoes should be useful.

Saturday December 18th: Merritt Christmas Bird Count

Our club organizes the Merritt Christmas Bird Count – an annual one-day event focused on a 22 km diameter count circle. We are one of several thousand Christmas Bird Counts that take place each year across North America (for over 100 years in some places). You don’t have to be an expert to participate – groups are led by a knowledgeable birder. To register please email:

See our feature page on this event: Merritt CBC 2021

For information and photos from the December 2021 Merritt CBC click here: 2021 Merritt CBC

Saturday January 8th: Merritt Christmas Bird Count for Kids

An outing jointly run by the Merritt NatureKids Club and the Nicola Naturalist Society.

For a report on this outing and photos click here: CBC4Kids

Thursday January 20th 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Meeting cancelled because of Covid resurgence

Thursday February 17th 2022, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frank Ritcey – Ethical Wildlife Viewing & Photography   

NOTE: This meeting was postponed because of the COVID restrictions and risk. We hope to have this event in March 2022.

Join Frank for an evening of videos and photos of BC wildlife and an in-depth discussion about what it means to be an ethical viewer and photographer of wildlife. An active Nicola Naturalist Society member, Frank formerly worked for WildSafe in Kamloops, promoting safe interactions between humans and wildlife. Those who enjoyed Frank’s recent photo/video exhibition in Merritt know that this evening will be a real treat.

A sleepy Barred Owl yawning. Photo: © Frank Ritcey.


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Nicola Naturalist Society – April 2021 “Nature News”

With continuing covid restrictions, our website has become the substitute for monthly meetings. A regular feature at our normal meetings is “Nature News” with photos and stories of local nature from our members. So here is the online spring 2021 version. Enjoy! And many thanks to the photographers who contributed.

Lets go with mammals first.

Seen in February with the pond still frozen and snow covered – here is where Muskrats spend the winter, under the ice and in a lodge made of matted vegetation and mud. Muskrats don’t hibernate but probably sleep much of the winter in between nibbling on their supplies of aquatic vegetation. Photo: © Alan Burger

When spring arrives and the ice melts off their home ponds and lakes Muskrats become more active. Here, at Separation Lake, Knutsford, a young Muskrat munches on roots of a water plant. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another rodent emerging at this time of year is the Yellow-bellied Marmot. These large gophers hibernate for 7 to 8 months through the winter. It must feel really good after all those months to get out on a warm rock and enjoy the spring sunshine. Photo: © Cindilla Trent

Another rodent emerging in April is the Yellow Pine Chipmunk. It is always a delight to watch these colourful and hyper-active little critters. Photo: © Bruce Walter

Another Yellow Pine Chipmunk. Related to squirrels, they are at home on the ground or in the trees. Photo: © Cindilla Trent

Red Squirrels remain active all winter, but one seldom sees them during the really cold and blustery winter weather. In spring they become much more lively, maintaining territories and seeking out mates. Here the squirrel is feasting on the old seed head of a sunflower. Photo: © Cindilla Trent

A young Bighorn Sheep near Spences Bridge. Small herds of these sheep are most often seen in the warmer valleys along the Thomson River. In pre-European times their range was much wider and covered much of the Nicola Valley. Photo: © Vic Newton

A herd of Mule Deer in the sagebrush. Photo: © Vic Newton

This Mule Deer has something wrong with its right eye – notice the opaque look to the eye. Despite this handicap the deer is in good shape. Photo: © Vic Newton

More Mule Deer – a lot more! A big herd grazing on a hayfield. Photo: © Bruce Walter

This Mule Deer had a portrait shot taken as it browsed on lichens right next to a wildlife camera set in a tree. Lichen-covered twigs had been placed around the camera to help with camouflage – Logan Lake ski trails. Photo: © Alan Burger

A nice shot of a Coyote sneaking through the brush. Photo: © Cindilla Trent

These River Otters in the Nicola River have caught fish to make any angler proud – a big rainbow trout above and an even bigger burbot below. Extremely dense fur keeps these otters warm even in the icy water. Photos: © Vic Newton

Some of our birds remain with us all winter, providing wildlife interest through the bleakest weather.

Mountain Chickadees, with their distinctive white eyebrows are common year-round in the forests through most of the Nicola Valley. In many areas they overlap with Black-capped Chickadees. Photo: © Alan Burger

A flock of Mourning Doves having a break from foraging at a Nicola Valley feedlot. Photo: © Anne Pang

This Northern Pygmy Owl was a regular visitor in Vic and Susan Newton’s backyard, providing opportunities for great photos. These tiny owls are fierce predators, taking both mice and small birds. Photos: © Vic Newton

Northern Shrikes breed in summer in the arctic and boreal areas, but come south to overwinter with us. Although they belong to the songbird (Passerine) order of birds, they have developed characteristics of small birds of prey – using their strong hooked beaks to catch small mammals and birds. Photo: © Bruce Walter

Snow Buntings are another winter visitor in our area. In April they start heading back to their arctic tundra breeding grounds. This photo was taken at a cow feedlot in Lower Nicola. Photo: © Diana Grimshire

Nuthatches, like chickadees, remain with us all winter. Nuthatches and chickadees are often found in the same winter flocks, hunting for dormant insects and seeds in the trees. This is an unusual ventral view of a White-breasted Nuthatch – the least common of our three nuthatch species. Photo: © Bruce Walter

Pygmy Nuthatches are, as their name says, the smallest of our nuthatches. They are often found high in the branches of big ponderosa pine trees  Photo: © Bruce Walter

Time for the quiz. Can you identify this bird? Hint – it can be found in our area all year round but becomes more obvious when breeding season begins in spring. Keep scrolling down to see the answer. Photo: © Anne Pang

April is the time that many of the migrants return, having spent the winter in warmer southern latitudes. For some species this might be the southern U.S. or Mexico, but some of our breeding birds migrate as far south as the tropical forests of South America. It is always a joy to see them return in spring.

Swallows are the acknowledged harbingers of summer to come. Tree Swallows are usually the first to arrive in our area. This is a male with its lovely glossy plumage. Photo: © Alan Burger

Western Meadowlarks are also early spring arrivals, and their lovely lilting songs drifting across the grasslands are a sure sign that spring is here. Photo: © Bruce Walter

A few Spotted Towhees remain with us for the winter but most head south and then return in spring. Photo: © Bruce Walter

True to their name, Song Sparrows give loud voice to spring, as they establish their territories and start attracting a mate. Photo: © Anne Pang

In April as the ground warms up, snakes begin to emerge from their winter dens (hibernacula). This is a Common Garter Snake – our most common snake in the Nicola Valley. Photo: © Bruce Walter.

As the ice leaves our lakes and ponds, huge flocks of waterfowl return to the Nicola Valley, some to breed here but many just in transit to breeding areas further north. Here are a few seen in recent weeks.

A pair of Ring-necked Ducks, male on the left, female right. These ducks dive down to feed on aquatic insects and worms on the bottom of ponds and lakes. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another duck that dives underwater to find food is the Canvasback. Female left, male right – seen here in a pond in Tunkwa Provincial Park. Photo: © Alan Burger

Gadwall are a big dabbling (surface-feeding) duck. The black vent of the male (on the right) is a diagnostic feature to look for. Photos: © Anne Pang

Even with its head underwater there is no mistaking a male Pintail, one of our most attractive ducks. Photos: © Vic Newton

Eurasian Wigeons are close relatives of our common American Wigeon. Small numbers of this species regularly find their way from Asia to British Columbia. The brick red head of the Eurasian male differs from the green head of the local male. This April several Eurasian Wigeons were seen in the Nicola Valley – this was one of three seen on April 17th on Stump Lake. The ducks in the foreground are female and male Mallard. Photo: © Alan Burger

Huge numbers of Lesser Scaup can be found on our lakes in spring, but only a few will remain to breed in our area. These were just a few of the hundreds on Stump Lake in mid-April. Photo: © Alan Burger

And finally here are some spring arrivals that are seldom seen, unless one goes looking at their specialized habitats.

Long-billed Curlews certainly live up to their name. This was one of two birds seen regularly on the hayfields in Lower Nicola. Small numbers of this rare bird do breed in our area, usually in areas where the grass is not mowed through the summer. Photos: © Diana Grimshire

Early in the spring, a drive up to the Douglas Lake grasslands might produce some Horned Larks. This one, along with a dozen or so more, was found on March 12th. Small numbers do breed on open areas in this area, with their melodious songs reminding us that they are larks. Notice the feather tufts that give the “horned” appearance. Photos: © Alan Burger

Two Grey-crowned Rosy Finches showed up among the juncos in a Logan Lake backyard on April 10th. These finches are normally found in high alpine meadows and snowfields. Photo: © Alan Burger

And the answer to the quiz ….

Photo: Anne Pang

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Sandhill Crane outings – April 2021

Our club headed up to the Douglas Lake grasslands twice this April to monitor the migration of Sandhill Cranes. The Douglas Lake Plateau Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) was established primarily because of its importance as a staging ground for thousands of cranes heading north in the spring. Our club, along with the Kamloops Naturalist Club, are the custodians of this IBA, checking on bird numbers and factors that might be affecting birds. All our monitoring is done from the public roads. Having an outing coincide with a lot of cranes is always a bit hit and miss – but we did well this year.

On 11 April a small convoy of club members drove up to the grasslands, following strict anti-Covid guidelines. We encountered four groups of cranes on the Douglas Lake Ranch – two groups (8 and 84) near the Englishman Bridge, one group of 54 on the wetlands west of Chapperon Lake and a large aggregation of 150 at Chapperon Lake itself. In total 296 cranes for the day. Here are some photos from 11 April:

Spot the cranes? On April 11th this was our first small flock of Sandhill Cranes – way across the field next to the trees. Two pairs of Canada Geese closer. Photo: © Alan Burger

Then just around the corner, a larger group on the irrigated field.

Sandhill Cranes foraging on the dry hayfield, Douglas Lake Ranch, 11 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

The wetlands west of Chapperon Lake are often a great place for migrating cranes and some were there again this year:

A few Sandhill Cranes on the wetlands near Chapperon Lake, 11 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Finally, at Chapperon Lake we had large flocks flying past the road, giving their distinctive bugling calls – wonderful sights and sounds.

Sandhill Cranes heading north – Chapperon Lake, 11 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

A mass of Sandhill Cranes taking flight after resting overnight on the Douglas Lake Ranch. Photo: © Bruce Walter

Sandhill Cranes on their spring migration northward. Chapperon Lake, 11 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

A crisp close-up view of one of the departing Sandhill Cranes. Photo: © Bruce Walter

Besides cranes there were many birds to be seen.

Immature Bald Eagles near Englishman Bridge. Eagles are attracted to the ranch during the spring calving time when cow placentas offer a feast. Photo: © Alan Burger

A close-up view of an immature Bald Eagle. Photo: © Bruce Walter

An adult Bald Eagle in the ranchlands. Photo: © Bruce Walter

The first Turkey Vultures are just arriving in the Nicola Valley in mid-April. Photo: © Bruce Walter

A pale-phase Rough-legged Hawk. As the summer migrants arrive, our winter visitors, such as this species, will be heading north to their arctic breeding areas. Photo: © Bruce Walter

The lakes were loaded with waterfowl of every description – some migrating on their way north and others arriving to breed here.

Two male Green-winged Teal on Rush Lake, Douglas Lake Plateau. Photo: © Alan Burger

A much smaller group of Nicola Naturalist members came out on the April 17th expedition, but were well rewarded. Our first group of cranes was somewhat modest – just two birds near Englishman Bridge. But a couple of km further on as we came over the hill we hit the crane bonanza at the usual wetlands site.

Part of the flock of almost 1500 Sandhill Cranes on the wetland near Chapperon Lake, Douglas Lake Ranch. 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Here is a close up of part of this mass:

A small section of the big flock of Sandhill Cranes on the wetlands, 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

So – how does one count such a large number of birds. The best way is to take a series of photos with a telephoto lens, stitch the photos together and then laboriously count every crane. It helps to divide up the flock into countable sub-sections. This is done with a high resolution photo, too large to show here, but here is a greatly reduced version. (click on the photo to see it enlarged; click on the back arrow to get back here):

A low-resolution version of the 10-photo panorama used to count Sandhill Cranes at the Douglas Lake wetland, 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

In total 1449 cranes were in this photo and another 11 just out of the photo, giving a flock of 1,460 cranes. Shortly after we arrived the cranes started taking off to resume their northward flight. As more and more took off the sky above us was filled with circling, calling cranes – this has to be one of the most spectacular wildlife experiences in southern B.C. No photo can do it justice. These birds will be heading to breeding grounds in northern B.C., Yukon and Alaska. A handful will remain to breed in our area.

A flock of Sandhill Cranes departing from the Douglas Lake wetlands, 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

More Sandhill Cranes leaving to resume their northward migration, 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

And when we got to Chapperon Lake there were more big flocks of cranes coming over the hills and heading north.

How good is your crowd estimating? How many cranes in this photo?

Some of the large flocks of Sandhill Cranes passing Chapperon Lake on 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

Using a high-resolution version of this photo, a total of 434 cranes were counted. And other flocks added more. Overall we estimated at least 650 cranes passing Chapperon Lake.

In total we encountered 2,123 Sandhill Cranes on 17 April. It has been estimated that over 25,000 cranes use the Douglas Lake Plateau as a stop-over on their spring migration. These ranchlands are a critical bit of habitat for these magnificent birds.

Once again, on April 17th there were plenty of other birds to see on the grasslands and on the lakes.

White Pelicans are always a treat to see. On April 17th we found these big birds resting at the pond next to the Douglas Lake Ranch headquarters. These pelicans are probably headed to the only  breeding colony in B.C. – at Stum Lake on the Cariboo Plateau near Williams Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

A dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk at the Douglas Lake grasslands. These hawks overwinter in our area, but migrate north to the arctic and boreal areas to breed. Photo: © Alan Burger

A pair of Mallards on Rush Lake, 17 April 2021. Photo: © Alan Burger

A Pied-billed Grebe on Rush Lake. These little grebes nest in the emergent cat-tails. They feed on small fish and aquatic insects. Photo: © Alan Burger

Here is the complete bird list of our two April 2021 excursions to the Douglas Lake Plateau. Click here: Bird lists April 2021

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