Volunteers working in the banding station at Vaseux Lake cataloguing migrating birds captured in mist nets.                                Photo courtesy David Wilde

Volunteers working in the banding station at Vaseux Lake cataloguing migrating birds captured in mist nets. Photo courtesy David Wilde

Getting up close and personal with birds in the South Okanagan

Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory opening doors to the public

Birds are very pretty to watch, but these amazing creatures do so much more for us.

Wildlife biologist Tanya Luszcz said it’s estimated that from Canada to Mexico, migrating land birds consume 100,000 tons of invertebrates (insects) daily, which is equivalent to 20,000 elephants in weight.

“They play an important ecosystem role,” said Luszcz. “We estimate Canada’s boreal forest birds alone provide $5.4 billion in pest consumption services each year.”

This Sunday, (Sept. 23) the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory is holding it’s fourth annual Bird Migration Day, an open house to show the community, first-hand the important research and monitoring going on there. People will have a chance to see birds being based, go on a guided walk with nature interpreters and learn about birds and bird migration.

Related: Bird Migration Day offers close-up on birds

And it’s a chance to observe birds without needing binoculars and experience the miracle of migration.

“It is pretty magical to see a bird up close,” said Luszcz. “It creates added appreciation. It’s an opportunity to share the research that is happening there and to highlight how amazing birds are, that they can get to where they are going with a precision that we can’t do without having a GPS in our hands.”

It’s also a way to educate people on the importance of the lands at Vaseux Lake.

This is not only important breeding habitat for birds that spend the summer here, but it is also important for birds that are migrating from other parts of B.C. through the Okanagan Valley, in some cases travelling as far as South America.

“It’s a very narrow part of the valley. The riparian habitats are very rich and diverse, they have a lot of insect availability and seed availability,” said Luszcz.

Among the people visiting will be a group from South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services. Karina Chambers, SOICS lead language instructor, says the students are already excited about the trip.

It’s part of providing the students studying English with some real-life language opportunities.

“We are preparing them to be out in the community, interacting with Pentictonites,” said Chambers, adding that for some students, it also a new experience.

“A lot of the students are very new. Often they get isolated, stuck in their job or school. They are really excited to be out there and experience Canadian wildlife,” said Chambers. “One of the things we’ve noticed is that many people around the world and a lot of students is they don’t have a chance to interact with wildlife.”

People move here for the natural surroundings, Chambers continued and this is both a chance to experience that and learn about Canadian cultural values related to the environments.

Luszcz said it’s also a chance to talk to people about conservation and challenges to the bird population.

“We have seen significant declines of our bird populations. They face a lot of threats, on the breeding grounds, during migration and wintering,” said Luszcz. “Habitat loss, climate change, cats, collisions, pollution all play a part.”

The research and the banding program contribute to the knowledge base, helping understand migration patterns and bird life. Luszcz notes that the same yellow warbler was captured and banded over several years as it migrated through the area.

“We wouldn’t have known these birds can live that long without catching it 12 years in a row,” said Luszcz.

The Bird Migration Day takes place on from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday at the observatory, located about three kilometres to the south. It’s open to everyone, but the site is rustic with uneven terrain and narrow paths, which are not wheelchair accessible.

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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