Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lewis's Woodpecker in BC's Okanogan Valley

Click image to view full size. Only nature could have come up with these colours!
Before embarking on my BC trip, I wrote out a wish-list of birds I would like to see. I came out with a reasonable list of the more common southern BC residents that would likely be around in mid-summer. Out of the twenty birds, I had one bird that I was dying to see... The elusive Lewis's Woodpecker.

I actually read BC birding lists, contacted birders on Flicker... and no useful advice or insight was gained on where I could find these birds. Jim Palwicki, (last years hawk counter at Holiday Beach) mentioned the habitat these birds like. They like Cottonwood trees in a valley meadow with dead snags. I recall him telling me this from last fall. This experience has reminded me about the value of understanding a bird's habitat if you want to see a bird.

So how did I find this bird? There are as little as 500 pairs of this bird in British Columbia (BCMOE) . It is an at risk species due to it's specific habitat requirements and the conversion of natural areas in valley bottoms to human interests such as highways, subdivisions, vineyards and strip-malls. Its a funny story actually. I was driving along eating some recently purchased fresh black-cherries when my son (who is 2 yrs old) threw up in his car seat of our rented car. I immediately pulled over for fear of him choking. As I took him out of his seat and stood him up on the side of the highway, my wife started cleaning him up and I saw a woodpecker-like swoop of a bird in the corner of my eye. I look over and see a row of Cottonwood trees in a with a some dead snags with huge woodpecker holes in them. I grabbed my binoculars and bammm!!! Lewis's Woodpeckers, possibly 4 or more in this group!!! I also noted a Red-shafted Northern Flicker and an American Kestrel perched in the same group of trees.


The gestalt, or overall 'essence' of this bird is all that I read it would be. They were flycatching from the top of a telephone pole. They would jump off and fly up, circling while rapidly flapping their wings and just circle downward filling their beaks with bugs. Then they would perch up on the top of the telephone pole and eat their bugs. Sometimes, three would be in the air at the same time, or one on top of the pole, one on the side of the pole, and one in the air or perched on a nearby tree. This could be the single rarest bird out of the 280 or so birds in my life list. And it was self-discovered, by a freak accident that was my son vomiting. I call it: "my little birding miracle".

My wife was unhappy that I walked away from the car onto private property at this point. I shot these photos of the woodpecker from about 150ft away, as I did not want to hop a fence with a dog warning on it. Further complicating the moment, my first memory card had filled after 10 or so photos, so I ran back to the car to get a second card.  I figured I would see more on my trip (actually, I didn't) so I abruptly left without really checking the quality of my photos.

Just as I was about to get in the car, another bird catches my eye. I snapped a few photos just in case it flushed. To my utter amazement, a male California Quail, tame as could be. I have such awesome photos of it, one might think they were in captivity. Soon after photographing the male, a few baby chicks jump up on a rock along with the mom. 

This is only the beginning of my Okanagan Valley birding experience. The next morning, I was to have one of the best days of birding I've ever had. I woke up at 5am and picked up a tonne of western bird species. I'll leave this for my next posting.

Good birding!

Lifer Summary-
260-Lewis's Woodpecker
261-California Quail

Spotted Towhee. Male and Female.
Violet Green Swallow from Butchart Gardens...

British Columbia Ministry of Environment (BCMOE), "Lewis's Woodpecker-Species at Risk", Sept 1998,

1 comment:

  1. Wow, WOW. Some great pics of the quails and a brilliant story! You just never know where or when, do you?



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