Okanagan branch – Restoration, Birds, & Wine Bus Tour – September 21, 2019

Okanagan branch – Restoration, Birds, & Wine Bus Tour – September 21, 2019

By Michael Lapham, A.Ag.    (Download full article PDF)

On Saturday September 21, 2019, the Okanagan branch hosted a tour which included four stops at Ellis Creek, Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, Liquidity Winery, and Oliver at a restored segment of the Okanagan River. Approximately 25 Agrologists attended the tour to learn about the different Okanagan River restoration projects going on in the Okanagan, bird monitoring and banding techniques, and to listen in on a local vineyard’s new plant blend project aiming to improve soil quality in orchard rows. 

We started our tour at Ellis Creek where Lee McFadyen, a member of the Okanagan River Restoration Initiative (ORRI) and John Garland, a dedicated volunteer and BCIA member discussed habitat restoration work that has been done over the past five years. Ellis Creek is an important fish spawning ground that feeds into the Okanagan River and eventually into Skaha Lake. The Ellis Creek restoration project primarily focused on restoring sections of the creek to create more natural habitat and spawning grounds for fish such as Sockeye and Kokanee.  The restoration work has involved creating passages, fish ladders, diversions, and re-growing natural vegetation. One of the bigger restoration challenges encountered at Ellis Creek involved a sedimentation basin that requires dredging every few years. The dredging process is problematic for fish passing through Ellis Creek as it destroys natural vegetation and can impact their ability to pass through the area. As a result of this issue, a diversion pipeline was constructed to allow fish to pass through while the dredging process occurs. Work is still being conducted and is being funded by various associations.

The next stop of our tour was at the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory where bird banding and monitoring activities occur from the beginning of August to mid-October. The Observatory is a member station of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) which is a subsidiary of Bird Studies Canada that oversees all migration monitoring stations in Canada. The Observatory is roughly 5 hectares in size and is the only active station in the dry southern interior region. Our tour was led by Matthias Bieber, a member of the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, who showed us the bird monitoring and banding process conducted at the observatory. Birds are captured in netting, go into a bag, and are brought to the observatory where age, gender, species, and other traits are determined before being released. The observatory has uncharted territory for banding over 3,000 birds. This surpasses the record set in 2006, and may be due to many factors including the cooler wetter weather this fall.

Onto lunch at Liquidity Winery we went! But before our delicious lunch, we started the next part of our tour with Julien Herbert, a viticulturist at the beautiful Liquidity Vineyard in Okanagan Falls. Liquidity has taken the initiative to move away from traditional use of grasses and herbicides to control weeds between orchard rows. Instead they have been experimenting with different blends of plant species for ground cover that will add to the health and nutrient levels of the soil naturally. Julien showed us his blend of plant seeds that he has been experimenting with and he said that it would help create new organic matter, improve nutrition cycling, and increase biodiversity in the soil. He is hoping that the new plant blend will also help grow better vine roots, reduce water use, and increase resistance to draught. The goal of this experiment is to eventually increase crop production solely through organic means without the use of chemicals.   

Our last stop of the tour was in Oliver where Lee McFadyen, a member of ORRI, discussed extensive reconstruction and restoration efforts of a biologically important segment of the Okanagan River.  During the 1950’s, major flood control work channelized the Okanagan River which severely impacted the river’s health and fish bearing capacity. This segment of the Okanagan River required major re-construction as it’s one of the most important sections for fish spawning that feeds into Osoyoos Lake. This Okanagan River restoration project primarily focused on reuniting the Okanagan River with two Oxbows and reconstructing the river dike to re-establish natural aquatic and terrestrial habitat for fish such as Sockeye, Chinook, and Steelhead.  The restoration work has also involved lengthening the river channel, re-establishing meanders and pool/riffle sequences, creating side channels and spawning beds, improving biodiversity, and re-growing natural vegetation. The restoration project was done primarily between 2006 and 2009 and has been major success as the natural aquatic and terrestrial habitat has been greatly restored.  

At the end of our tours, each of the presenters were given a gift from the Okanagan Branch to thank them for providing our group with some valuable knowledge of the important restoration efforts, bird monitoring, and soil biodiversity projects occurring in the Okanagan. I would like to thank the organizers of this field trip for planning this day out for us and providing us all with a great opportunity to learn new things and meet other BCIA members and professionals. The event was very well planned, had a great attendance, and most importantly was fun! Already looking forward to the next event!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019