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

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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Merritt Christmas Bird Count – 16th December 2018

Our 2018 Christmas Bird Count took place in pretty good weather – generally calm and not too cold (just below 0C all day). Overall 30 participants were out in the field in seven groups and there was one feeder-watcher (who reported the only Northern Pygmy Owl). This was the 20th CBC done in the Merritt count circle.

In total we recorded 62 species (just above the average of 61 species) and 4,021 birds (above the average of 3641 birds). To see the entire count data click here: Merritt Xmas Count data 1995 to 2018

Group A2 scanning Nicola Lake during the Merritt Christmas Bird Count. The calm conditions made for excellent birding conditions around the lake. Photo: ©Kyla Strange

Highlights of the Count

Four species were recorded that have not been found on previous count days:

  • Greater White-fronted Goose – 1 seen at the old Quilchena yacht club site on Nicola Lake, among a flock of 220 Canada Geese.
  • Northern Shoveler – 6 found on the settling ponds in Collettville.
  • Red-breasted Merganser – 1 on Nicola Lake near Quilchena (this species has been seen in a previous count week but never on a count day)
  • Swamp Sparrow – 1 at the old Nicola Road bordering Nicola Lake near Quilchena

Greater White-fronted Goose (note the orange legs) among the Canada Geese near Quilchena, 16th December 2018. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A female Red-breasted Merganser follows a male Mallard on Nicola Lake, 16 December 2018. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A Swamp Sparrow near Quilchena, 16 December 2018. Photo: Alan Burger

In addition, on the day following the count Wayne Weber reported a Ring-billed Gull – a Count Week species never previously recorded on a Merritt CBC.

Record high counts were made for these species:

  • Black-capped Chickadee – 58 birds (previous high 47, average over 20 years 28 birds)
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 272 birds (previous high 190, average 65 birds)
  • Pine Siskin – 391 birds (previous high 153, average 38 birds)

Pine Siskin – a record high of 391 birds was recorded in the 2018 count. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Other interesting or relatively high counts:

  • Canada Geese – 482 birds (well above the average of 220 birds).
  • Trumpeter Swans – 51 birds (well above the average of 29 birds).
  • Tundra Swans – not seen on the count day but Wayne Weber saw a family of 5 during the Count Week.
  • Double-crested Cormorant – 1 seen during the count week (only the second Merritt CBC record)
  • American Robin – 61 birds (second-highest count in 20 years; average is 24 birds)

A Northern Shrike – always a good bird to see on the Merritt CBC. Photo: © Alan Burger

 

Big Misses and Low Counts

As usual there were a few species that didn’t show up on the count day or were in exceptionally low numbers:

  • Merlin – not seen on the count day but 1 seen in the count week.
  • Red-tailed Hawks – only 5 seen on count day (average is 15 birds).
  • American Coot – only 24 reported (average is 80 birds).
  • Mourning Dove – not seen on count day for the first time in 20 years (average is 97 birds).
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch – only 2 seen (average is 10 birds)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – not seen (average is 3 birds)
  • Pygmy Nuthatch – not seen on count day but seen in count week (only the second miss in 20 years; average is 16 birds).
  • House Finch – only 38 reported (average is 171 birds)
  • House Sparrow – only 37 birds (average is 74 birds)

Birding at the old yacht club site at Quilchena Point on Nicola Lake. Photo: © Kyla Strange

Pileated Woodpecker – only 2 were seen on the Merritt CBC. Photo: © Carol Madryga.

Post-count roundup

As usual, we wrapped up the day with a post-count dinner – this time at the United Church hall. The various groups’ triumphs and tribulations were shared, along with Brambles Bakery lasagna & salad, and pot-luck appetizers and dessert. A splendid end to a good day out.

Post-count dinner at the United Church hall with excellent food to wrap up the day. Photo: Alan Burger

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Nicola Naturalist Society – Fall Events 2018

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 October through December 2018

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 October 18th 2018, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Martin Ince –  Bats and Wind Turbines, Bat Acoustic Analysis at the future Mount Mabel Wind Project.

Wind turbines generate emission-free electricity. Bats are a sensitive wildlife that can often get killed by wind turbines. This presentation provides insights into the impacts of wind turbines on bats, reviews information on bats in BC, presents the methods for detecting and identifying bat species using echolocation call analysis, and lastly reviews the bat acoustical monitoring program at the future Mount Mabel Wind Project (30 km north of Merritt). Martin Ince, founder and president of MKI Wind Energy and the proponent of the Mount Mabel Wind Project, has been working in the wind-energy industry for over 17 years, as a consultant across Canada and most recently as a wind-project developer in BC.

Images courtesy Martin Ince and Wikimedia Commons


Thursday November 15th 2018, 7 PM at NVIT Lecture Theatre: Frank Ritcey –  Wolves, bears and snakes

Frank Ritcey is the Provincial Coordinator for WildSafeBC, based in Kamloops. In this presentation he will focus on the public perception of charismatic mega-fauna vs. bugs and snakes, and the challenges in trying to promote the preservation of some of the ‘lower’ creatures on the public’s list of what is important. Expect some pretty cool videos of both the charismatic mega-fauna and some of Frank’s favourite “less desirable” species. Frank was raised in the wilds of Wells Gray Park by his pioneering mother, Clara Ritcey, and Park Biologist father Ralph Ritcey. His love of nature has been with him his whole life and he still spends much time filming and studying nature. Frank often contributes to CBC’s popular North by Northwest show.


We don’t have an evening meeting in December, but two popular events …

Saturday 8th December 2 – 4 PM, NVIT upstairs Room U011:  Winter Bird Identification Workshop (for NNS Members)

Brush up on your identification skills for the upcoming Christmas Bird Count. Or improve your knowledge of the birds at your feeder. Come to the bird identification workshop led by Alan Burger. This will focus on birds likely to be seen in and around Merritt in winter. Beginner birders welcome.

White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches – birds we usually find in the Merritt Christmas Bird Counts. Photos: ©Alan Burger


Merritt Christmas Bird Count –  Sunday December 16th.

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 the 2017 Merritt Christmas Bird count click here: Merritt 2017 CBC

Scanning for birds on the frozen edge of Nicola Lake,  2015 Christmas Bird Count. Photo: ©Corey Burger

 

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ first club camp – July 2018

Our club held its first camp for members on 20-22 July 2018 at Frank Chisam’s campsite. Situated about half way between Merritt and Spences Bridge and right on the Nicola River with the Kettle Valley Railroad trail running right past the gate, this was an ideal spot to relax and explore. Eighteen NNS members camped – in tents, RVs or campers – and three others joined us for day activities. Several campers brought their bicycles to ride along the KVR trail – with the bridge right in front of the campsite, we could go both downstream and upstream for decent bike rides on a very gentle slope.

Here are some photos from our camp.

Tenting under the trees. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Sitting around the campfire in the early evening. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Norm gets the wood ready for our campfire. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Ivan is getting a lesson in being a woodsman from the master woodsman himself – Norm. Photo: ©Anne Pang

The campfire is a focal point of our weekend. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A major feature of our camp was a visit and presentation by local Shackan Band elder Jimmy Toodlican. We were enthralled by the stories, legends, and explanations of his people’s culture that Jimmy told us. He also showed us leather articles that his grandmother had made and decorated in the traditional manner.

Shackan elder Jimmy Toodlican welcomes us to his traditional territory. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Jimmy Toodlican showing us a deerskin jacket that his grandmother made and decorated in the traditional manner. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Sitting around the campfire as elder Jimmy Toodlican tells us about his people’s history, culture and use of native plants. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Later, Jimmy led us on an excursion towards Spences Bridge to see some of the archaeological sites and important features of his neighbourhood.

Jimmy Toodlican tells us about the people that lived near this huge boulder with its pictographs. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Jimmy Toodlican explains the significance of the pictographs on this huge boulder. Photo: ©Alan Burger

These boulders lie in the hollow where there was a pit house over 100 years ago. Situated close to the Nicola River these pit houses were roofed with pine poles covered with branches and soil to make a well-insulated winter home. Up to 15 people could live in one of these houses. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Elder Jimmy Toodlican points out some of the important sites used by his people in past times and some still used today. Photo: ©Anne Pang.

On our drive down the lower Nicola Valley we encountered a large herd of Bighorn Sheep. With rams, ewes and lambs all present this herd was very cooperative allowing us great views and photo options.

Bighorn rams near Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Bighorn Sheep along Highway 5 near Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

The pre-breakfast birding excursions with Alan were popular on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Even though many of the bird species had stopped singing, we still ended up seeing and hearing 47 species. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds nesting in the trees above the campsite kept us entertained throughout the weekend. Click here to see the full list of birds and mammals recorded on the camp weekend:  NNS Chisam Camp July 2018 bird list

A recently-fledged Willow Flycatcher juvenile is backlit by the morning sun. Several pairs of Willow Flycatchers were breeding in the thickets along the KVR trail bordering marshy areas. Photo: ©Anne Pang

On Sunday morning Norm led us on a hike up the slopes above the Nicola River near Spences Bridge to look for some fossilized logs that he knew about. Our route took us through some interesting dry habitat, with Ponderosa pines, cactus and sagebrush. From our lunch spot we had lovely views up and down the lower Nicola Valley with hoodoos, cliffs and scenic outcrops.

Hoodoos above the lower Nicola River near Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Hiking along the Kettle Valley Railroad trail near Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A Myotis bat, probably a Little Brown Bat, roosts on a cliff near Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Norm leads our group up the cattle trail above the lower Nicola River. The town of Spences Bridge is in the distance. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A juvenile Ruffed Grouse sits in a tree as our hiking party goes by. Photo: ©Alan Burger

One of the fossil logs found on our hike high above the Nicola River. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Looking down at the lower Nicola River and Highway 5 from our lunch spot. Photo: ©Alan Burger

We hope to make a summer camp an annual feature for our club members.


 

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Spring and Summer 2018 – photos from our outings

Here are some photos from our spring and summer field outings in 2018.

Lundbom outing – Sunday June 3rd: Birds, Blooms & Butterflies

Six keeners showed up for this outing. We drove to the end of Lundbom Common and walked a 3 km loop through grasslands and forest. It was cloudy and cool so not many butterflies, although a few showed up later in the day. The blooms and birds were spectacular – many plant species in bloom (it is a very good year for larkspur) and good birding (48 species recorded). We ended our outing just as the weather changed and it poured rain.
For the list of birds seen click here: Bird list Lundbom 3 June 2018

Silky Lupine (foreground) and Arrow-leafed Balsamroot (background). Photo: ©Alan Burger

Conditions in 2018 are great for Upland Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) with huge swaths of violet-blue on the hillsides. Yellow Arrow-leafed Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) flowers in the background. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Silvery Blue butterflies (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) – female in the main picture, male in the inset. Photos: ©Alan Burger

Meadow Death-Camas Zigadenus venenosus (Left) and Silky Lupine Lupinus sericeus (Right). Photos ©Alan Burger

Bumblebee on a dandelion flower – Lundbom Common. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Two common flycatchers in the Lundbom area: Western Wood Peewee (left) and Dusky Flycatcher (right). Photos ©Alan Burger


Coutlee Plateau outing – Sunday June 24th, 2018

Local rancher and rangeland expert Wayne Schindler led us on an interesting drive around the Coutlee Plateau just southwest of Merritt up Midday Valley Road. With many stops along the way Wayne showed us the impacts of introduced weeds (knapweed, hounds-tongue, Dalmatian toadflax, cheatgrass etc.) on the grasslands and the efforts to control these with both natural predators (e.g., weevils to attack the knapweed roots) and selective herbicide use. Later we visited his woodlot on the higher reaches of the plateau to see the various ways in which the forest is logged and managed. We ended up at just over 1600 m elevation (6,000 ft) with great views of the hills and valleys around Merritt. It was a sunny, warm day with lots of wildflowers blooming so the butterflies were plentiful. Although this was not a birding trip we did record some interesting species and 28 bird species in total. For the bird list from this outing click here: Bird List for Coutlee Plateau 24JUN2018

A close view of the tall grass on the Coutlee Plateau. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Panoramic view of our group checking out the grasslands of the Coutlee Plateau. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Grasslands on the Coutlee Plateau are important grazing areas for local ranchers. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Rancher Wayne Schindler shows our naturalist group the weevil that is having some success in biological control of the noxious Spotted Knapweed. ©Alan Burger

Larva of the knapweed weevil in the root of the introduced pest Spotted Knapweed. Photo ©Alan Burger

Savannah Sparrow – one of the common birds of the Coutlee Plateau. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A Square-spotted Blue butterfly (Euphilotes battoides) sitting on a Parsnip-flowered Buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides). This butterfly is sometimes called the “Buckwheat Butterfly” because both the larva and the adult use this plant for food. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Parsnip-flowered Buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides) – a favourite plant for butterflies. Photo ©Alan Burger

Regenerating forest on the Coutlee Plateau woodlot. Photo ©Alan Burger

Tiger Lilies (Lilium columbianum) blooming in a forest glade on Coutlee Plateau. Photo ©Alan Burger

Lunch with a view – at over 1600 m on the Coutlee Plateau. Photo: ©Anne Pang


 

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