Birding in British Columbia
The Commonage is an area of grasslands, ranches and wooded hills south of Vernon. Predator Ridge golf course is found just below the summits of the hills and to the southwest of the course is situated a short series of wetlands including Tompson Lake and Cochrane Pond. Commonage Road from Vernon crosses the area, passes Predator, and descends the Commonage's south slope at Carr's Landing above the east shores of Okanagan Lake. Although Commonage Road is in the process of being widened and paved and drivers careen far too quickly along the road, given its windiness, and much birdy habitat has been lost or is off limits, the Commonage remains one of the top birding routes in the North Okanagan.
The starting point for this site guide is the junction of Highway 97 and 25 Avenue at the foot of Hospital Hill on the south side of Vernon. First time visitors coming from the south will descend Hospital Hill to see Vernon laid out before them. Turn left onto 25 Aneue. Drive 2 blocks then turn left again onto 34 Street. This street becomes Mission Road passing through the Vernon Army Camp. All kilometer measures are based on the Army Camp being km 0. Mission Road will become Commonage Road at its junction with Benchrow Road.
At km 1.4 where Mission Road passes the road to the Allan Brooks Nature Centre, look for Western Bluebirds and Tree Swallows nesting in the bird boxes along the fence lines. Red-tailed Hawks of dark, intermediate, rufous, and light morphs are frequent around the big crop field immediately south of Brooks Way. Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, a race that breeds in the interior of the Yukon and Alaska, also occurs on the Commonage as a migrant and uncommon winter resident. Most Red-tails will be "Western" Red-tails of the subspecies "calurus". In from May through early September also look for Swainson's Hawks which occasionally breed around the Army Camp as well as in one or two other spots along Commonage Road. From late October to early April Rough-legged Hawks from the Arctic occur either as migrants or as winterers. It's not unusual to see several Red-tails and Rough-legs in a winter birding trip along this route.
Gray Partridges have been seen consistently in the crop field south of Brooks Way; however, this field is private property and trespassing is forbidden. You may glimpse a covey as you pass the field or see one along Brooks Way, which leads to the Brooks Nature Centre. The Centre, open from May to mid October, is well worth a stop, especially if you have young children. There are several fascinating displays explaining the ecology and natural history of the Commonage. Birds of prey are frequently seen flying over the knoll the center is located on, and a colony of Yellow-bellied Marmots is active from April into July.
Just short of the junction of Commonage and Benchrow roads, pull off to the left to park in a dead end lane between the fenceline and a pump house. The land upslope belongs to the Department of National Defense so don't consider trespassing. However, from this spot, if one is patient, one may seen and hear several birds including Clay-coloured Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Eastern Kingbirds, Say's Phoebes, Bullock's Orioles, California Quail and other common birds of the brush. A small colony of Columbian Ground Squirrels is also present. The wooded gulley on the right at km 6.5 is good for Dusky Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos and Gray Catbirds. In winter the slopes here are a good spot to find a Townsend's Solitaire guarding its winter food source, a berry bush.
Rose's Pond at km 7.3 is always worth a stop. In spring the drowned aspens at the northeast corner are full of Tree Swallows nesting in old cavities. Also look for nesting Northern Flickers and the occasional nesting duck such as a Hooded Merganser. Ducks on the pond also often include Gadwalls, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaups, and Ruddy Ducks as well as the occasional Pied-billed or Eared grebe. Brewer's Blackbirds nest nearby as do Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. During summer Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers are resident, while during spring and fall migration the odd shorebird species such as a Black-bellied Plover or Least Sandpipers have been known to turn up. Watch for Osprey, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, American Kestrels, and Swainson's Hawks around the pond as well. Coyotes are often seen in this area as well.
The next kilometer of road is quite productive. Check the roadside marshes for small colonies of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Soras. Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds, House Wrens, American Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow Warblers and Bullock's Orioles are common summer residents. A pair of Swainson's Hawks has nested around the thickets at about km 7.8.
Commonage meets Bailey Road at km 8.3. About 50 metres to the left along Bailey is a farm with a large pond. Stand on the road edge to view the pond which is good for Eurasian Wigeons in early spring. Wood Ducks and Canvasbacks are also occasional here.
Bailey Road becomes Commonage Road, which is paved to just past Predator Ridge golf course. At km 9.4 behind a dike is Mackay Reservoir, an impoundment of treated sewage water that attracts many species of waterfowl and, depending upon water levels, shorebirds during migration. Be aware that both east and west dikes are next to active shooting ranges and sometimes archery ranges controlled by the Vernon Fish and Game Club. White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, coyotes and the occasional Black Bear are seen in the area.
Past Mackay Reservoir Commonage Road climbs Past Predator Ridge golf course. Just past the gates to the course, brush on either side of Commonage Road attracts Clay-coloured Sparrows. In summer Saskatoon bushes can attract Western Tanagers, Nashville Warblers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks from the nearby dry forest.
Kilometre 13.8 marks Tompson Lake, a shallow alkaline body of water that attracts a few Barrow's Goldeneyes, Redheads, and Mallards during the summer and a sizeable flock of America Wigeons during the spring. Also look for Howard Road at this point, a paved road heading about 2 kms through the dry Douglas-fir forest. Right at the corner of Commonage and Howard Roads is an excellent spot to look for Cassin's Finches, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Hairy Woodpeckers drawn to bird feeders in the yard of one of the property owners. Howard Road is always worth a look. In summer a brood of Blue Grouse may appear walking along the road, kinglets occur in the firs and in migration, raptors may pass overhead. Common rodents include Red Squirrels and Yellow-pine Chipmunks.
Commonage Road beyond Tompson Pond crosses the top of the forested hill and descends through the dry brush to Carrs Landing. South of Carrs look for the entrance to Kopje Regional Park. Offshore is Grant (Whiskey) Island where hundreds of Ring-billed and California gulls, as well as a few pairs of Herring Gulls and occasionally Glaucous-winged Gulls, nest. Farther south you can turn left onto Okanagan Centre Road (km 38) which takes you over an orchard covered hill to Highway 97 at the south end of Wood Lake. Turn left onto Highway 97 to return to Vernon.
6131 Silver Star Road
Vernon, BC V1J 3P3
The site guide is copyright © Chris Siddle 2004. All rights reserved.