NATURE KAMLOOPS - Evolution of a naturalist

I received a pair of binoculars and " A Field Guide to Western Birds" by Roger Tory Peterson for Christmas in 1972. At that time I was living in a small trailer on the Kamloops Indian Reserve on Salish Road, surrounded by alfalfa fields. Today, the Halston connector and many commercial enterprises occupy those same fields. Being from the coast, it was on the reserve that I first identified the Common Magpie, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lazuli Bunting, Catbird, and Ring-necked Pheasant. They were so exotic compared to the ones I was familiar with - crows and robins. On a picnic at Paul Lake, I identified a number of ducks and the Red-winged Blackbird. It was always a thrill to identify a new bird.

A few years later, and living in Brocklehurst, I used to ride my bike out to Tranquille with binoculars, bird book, and flower field guides in my backpack. At that time, the sewage ponds were a perfect place to get a close-up look of the ducks. I liked the ducks because they were big enough to identify, particularly the males in breeding plumage. I also saw Bald Eagles and Ospreys at Tranquille, however, there were a lot of small birds flying around that defied my attempts at identification. It was at this time that I went on my first field trip with the Kamloops Naturalist Club and discovered that the little birds flitting in the trees at Tranquille were attractive little Yellow-rumped Warblers. I searched my field guide in vain for these birds, only to find that the name had been changed. My old Peterson's guide called it an Audubon's Warbler.

Once I joined the club, a whole new world around Kamloops opened up to me. I ventured along the roads of Knutsford monitoring a bluebird route and marvelling at the eye-catching blue of the male Mountain Bluebirds. I craned my neck to watch Red-tailed Hawks and Harriers soaring overhead while American Kestrels perched on the telephone wires. At one time, I enjoyed looking at the variety of ducks on small ponds on my route, but like many of the small ponds in Lac du Bois, they dried up long ago. Horned Larks could be seen ahead of the vehicle on the dirt roads. I have spotted coyotes, deer and bears while doing my bluebird route. It was on a field trip in March, when snow still covered the fields, that we had a memorable encounter with a porcupine, my one and only wild sighting.

The road up Lac du Bois offers lots of opportunity to look at the ducks on the numerous small ponds beside the road. The best time to look for the ducks is early in the morning with the sun behind you, shining on the birds to illuminate their vibrant colours. In the spring and early summer, you might be lucky enough to spot a pair of nesting curlews, and if you know where to look, you can find the Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing. Always carry a flower book so you can identify the many flowers that bloom in the area, from the Sagebrush Buttercups, Yellow Bells, Balsamroot, Wild Geraniums, and Mariposa Lilies; my favourite is "Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia."Go often during the spring and summer, as different flowers will be blooming. Favourite places to see a variety of flowers during the seasons include the Neskonlith flower meadows, Sun Peaks, Greenstone Mountain and the Trophy Mountains. Flowers are easier to identify than birds because they don't move. Keep your eyes open for deer, bears, and coyotes in the open grasslands and groves of trees. Turtles can often been seen sunning themselves on logs in lakes and ponds.

Other local areas I have been introduced to on field trips include the Dewdrop area, where you might catch sight of mountain sheep, deer, bluebirds, and Clark's Nutcrackers. I have even been startled by the warning rattle of a snake under one of the concrete berms that block access to the grasslands. Travel east along Shuswap Road on the north side of the South Thompson River toward Chase and you can see California Bighorn Sheep on the hillsides. There are swans, geese, and gulls on the river and a variety of ducks in the pond at Rivershore Golf Course. As you climb the hill you start to see bluebirds and if you stop in a grove of pine trees, you will see three kinds of nuthatches. Eagles and Ospreys nest in trees and on poles beside the road. In the fields of the Wolfe Ranch, curlews can be seen and heard as they fly near their nest sites. Highway 5A down to Merritt provides a scenic view with numerous ponds, great for viewing ducks or listening for Sora Rails. Sticking closer to town, venture along the Campbell Creek Road to Barnhartvale, or the Goose Lake Road to the Lac Le Jeune Road. Stop beside the little groves of trees and bushes to catch sight of warblers and flycatchers. In town, there are birds and flowers to be seen in the local parks - Riverside, McArthur Island, Peterson Creek, and Kenna Cartwright.

If you are interested in bird watching and want to learn more, go out on a field trip with the local bird experts, who will patiently identify the birds and give you hints on how to tell the soaring raptors apart, and how to distinguish a greater from a Lesser Scaup. There is usually someone with a high-powered scope, which will allow you to see the finer details and make an accurate identification of far-away birds. Some birds are rarely seen but easily identified by their calls. I can quickly identify the "witchity-witchity-witchity-witch" of the common yellowthroat and the "quick three beers" of the olive-sided flycatcher. It's the names I can't remember.

Spring is the best time for viewing birds in the Kamloops area as the male ducks are in their breeding plumage and a great variety can be seen on the local lakes as they pass through to their nesting grounds. Likewise, the call of the Sandhill Crane causes people to look high up in the sky and signals the club's migration to Separation Lake to view the birds resting in the fields before flying further north. I am still not a bird or flower expert, but I am happy to be out exploring the countryside around Kamloops, increasing my knowledge of the natural world, and sharing the fellowship of like-minded friends.

Nature Kamloops is written by members of the Kamloops Naturalist Club, a group dedicated to protection and promotion of the natural environment. Questions and observations about nature in and around Kamloops are welcome. Go online to www.ocis.net/~davids/or email kamloopsnaturalists@shaw.ca.

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