Desert Society News

Winter 2017
snow on boardwalk
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Dear Supporters:

On this winter's day my thoughts reflect on how lucky I am to live so close to wild spaces. It is 6:30 am and the great horned owls are hooting back and forth. Their calls are music to my ears. I know nesting has begun and I can identify the smaller male by his deeper voice and hear the larger female answer. Two pairs are relatively close by. As daylight creeps in, the owl calls will be replaced by overwintering birds chattering at the feeders outside my office windows.

The wildlife are of endless interest. In the early 1970s we dug three post holes; next morning the holes were filled. We thought the kids were being playful. They adamantly declared they were not. We took the dirt out and next morning the holes were again filled. We removed the dirt. Early the next morning I caught the culprit red-handed. Mr. Hole Filler was a North American badger. Evidence of badger on our wild acreage is occasionally seen, though actual sightings are a matter of being in the right place at the right time, usually as night becomes day. The last sighting was July 6, 2011 at 6:27 am by researcher Sonia Nicholl during a ground nesting bird study. Unfortunately I was not present, but was delighted to know a badger was in the vicinity.

Snakes are ever fascinating; when young and fairly ignorant, I was guilty of killing a rattlesnake or two and I always found it very disturbing. I learned a better way and have successfully relocated several. The sound of that rattle close by stimulates an adrenalin rush, especially when it is just outside the kitchen door. Fortunately, the search for appropriate tools provides time for my adrenaline response to subside and for the snake to feel secure and resume its peaceful demeanour. Once lured into a garbage can, the snake's magnified rattling sounds like I have captured a dozen or so. We release the rattlers some distance above the capture site and hope they will be able to find their den come fall. Encounters with Great Basin gopher snakes (bull snakes), Western yellow-bellied racers, and garter snakes are yearly events. Some years a racer lives in my rock garden and I encounter it frequently. One summer, a piercing call caught my attention. A bull snake was coiled around a pocket gopher, squeezing out its life. The gopher was snapping its teeth together and shrieking, fighting until the last minute. The wild drama initially horrified me, but I quickly realized this was the nature of things. My appearance, however, caused the snake to release the gopher and slither away while the gopher made a hasty retreat.

Now my mind wanders over my visit to Chicken, Alaska, beside Chicken Creek, a tributary of Fortymile River. Here I heard the story of the Fortymile Caribou Herd along with the effects of gold mining on this northern environment - from permafrost destruction to deforestation to the decimation of the Fortymile Creek Caribou Herd. The influx of miners into this pristine First Nation Territory had long-lasting consequences, although the gold rush lasted only a few years. The miners needed to eat and caribou were the main food source. The gold needed releasing from the frozen soil so the permafrost was melted by the injection of steam generated by wood-fueled boilers. Extensive deforestation severely reduced the lichens which the caribou fed on. When trees were too high up the mountain for wood cutters to economically sled them to the boiler the cutting stopped. The miners then found that air temperature water was just as effective at melting permafrost and less costly. The permafrost has never returned, the Fortymile Caribou Herd numbers fluctuate and the forest is slowly regenerating, but the cut line across the mountains clearly stands out. This was a fascinating adventure and left a permanent mark on my 'cause and consequence' consciousness.

These experiences reinforce why I am passionate about the work done by the Osoyoos Desert Society board, staff, volunteers and supporters. The Desert Centre is a vital ecological site, providing protected habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. We never know what wonder we might see. Another opportunity to see and learn about wildlife is available at the Society's Winter/Spring Program Series. This year's programs focus on a variety of species, including badgers, snakes and caribou. Details are included in this newsletter.

With 2017 fully launched, on behalf of the board and staff, I wish you a safe and fulfilling year. May nature be part of your joyful times and may a visit to the Desert Centre be part of your plans.

On behalf of the Osoyoos Desert Society Board
Lee McFadyen
President, Osoyoos Desert Society

Homes For Wildlife
By Michelle Lancaster
Education Coordinator, Osoyoos Desert Society

Winter is a wonderful time for a new project and what better project than making a home for wildlife. Many of us have built a birdhouse or have enjoyed watching a feathered friend use a birdhouse at some point. Birdhouses can be vital for some species. Bluebird populations reached an all-time low in the 
1970s. To help promote breeding, nestboxes were created to mimic natural nesting cavities such as  tree hollows and old woodpecker holes. Bluebirds are not the only birds to  benefit from these carefully designed boxes - tree swallows, house wrens and other native cavity nesters may make use of them as well. You can find plans for the Johnson Slot Nestbox at

In addition to bluebird nestboxes there are many other homes that can be made for wildlife. There are several species of owls that would be happy to take up residence in a properly designed and installed nestbox. Other native species may show interest, too, including the American kestrel, our smallest native falcon. I have personally had a Northern flicker in my owl box for the past four years. Don't hang the welcome mat out for everyone though, placement is important not only for happy owls but also to prevent invasive species like starlings from taking up residence. Plans and installation instructions for boxes for small owls - including Flammulated, Northern Saw-whet, Boreal and all the Screech owls - can be found at

Building a home for bats is another wildlife-friendly project to consider. Bat boxes work wonders if bats are taking up residence in an area that is unsafe for them or in an attic or barn from which they need to be relocated. A bat box can also be installed to provide cover and promote roosting. The box is designed to mimic the space between the bark and trunk of a tree. The tight and narrow space is a bats' ideal nursery. They like it nice and warm so it is important to remember to choose a dark colour when painting your bat box. Although bats may not be some people's first choice for neighbors, those of us who are bothered by mosquitoes have quickly learned to welcome bats to our back yard. One little brown bat can eat 60 medium-sized moths or over 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in one night! You can find plans to build a bat box at

To boost your garden's productivity, try adding a home for bees. Mason bees are incredible pollinators - they are slightly smaller than a honey bee, but make up for their size in hard work. They will visit as many as 1,000 blooms in a day - nearly 20 times more than a honeybee! Local mason bees are solitary bees that do not live in a hive like honey bees. Instead they find holes in fissured bark, woodpecker holes and other small, natural openings. There are several different bee home designs that mimic the naturally-occurring holes mason bees would choose. Local pollinators don't require a palace but do benefit from a modest bee hotel. Building a bee hotel is easy and requires only a little upkeep. You can search for creative designs or follow a simple plan at

The loveable ladybug can benefit from a home in your garden, too! A simple home made out of scrap wood or recycled lumber can offer ladybugs protection from the elements. You can keep it natural or dress it up with bright colours. The grateful ladybugs will earn their keep - they are a fantastic natural pest control. From larvae to adult they feed on soft-bodied insects. They will eagerly munch down mites, white flies and scale insects, however their favourite food of all is aphids. A ladybug can consume nearly 5,000 aphids in its lifetime, making a ladybug one of a gardener's best friends. You can find plans to make a Ladybug Loft at 

All of the above links can be found in the resources section of the Osoyoos Desert Society website at . We would love to see photos of any homes you have built for wildlife. Send them to  and we will post them on our Facebook page. 
To learn more about other wildlife and how you can help them, attend our Winter/Spring Program Series. See the Events section below for program details.


2017 Winter/Spring Program Series
Hosted by the Osoyoos Desert Society
Sponsored by Watermark Beach Resort 
February 11 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Join Jan Vozenilek and Ryan Cope as they share their experiences working on Midway Island. On this remote and barely populated atoll in the Pacific Ocean, Albatross babies are dying from ingesting everyday household items discarded by people living thousands of miles away. See dramatic film footage highlighting the impact of plastics on our oceans and find out what you can do to help protect the earth's water environments.
BADGER - Movie & An Expert
March 11 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Join us for "Wild Ways" a documentary highlighting efforts to preserve some of the world's most beloved species - including lions, bears and elephants - by connecting the world's wildlife refuges. Learn about an approach called "connectivity conservation" and how initiatives like Yellowstone to Yukon are working to link protected land. After the film, researcher Brett Ford will be on hand to discuss badger populations in B.C. and his study on badger genetics and gene flow between British Columbia and the United States.
SNAKES - Movie & An Expert
March 25 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
View the documentary "Sophisticated Serpents" for a revealing look at the fascinating lives of snakes. The film, narrated by acclaimed naturalist David Attenborough, features remarkable scenes of these often misunderstood reptiles - from the lethal arsenal of rattlesnakes and cobras to the beauty of courting kingsnakes and anacondas giving birth. After the film, snake researcher Jared Maida will discuss findings from his years of rattlesnake study around Osoyoos.
CARIBOU - Movie & An Expert
April 15 ~ 2-4 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Find out more about Canada's imperiled caribou. Follow the Little Smoky caribou herd in the foothills of Alberta's Rocky Mountains in the documentary "Billion Dollar Caribou" and hear from conservation experts, aboriginal groups, researchers, government and industry as they discuss caribou conservation. Following the film, join biologist Daryll Hebert for a talk about the challenges facing Canada's caribou and his first-hand experience trying to help preserve this iconic species.

Thank you
for your support!

The Osoyoos Desert Society would like to thank all the foundations, businesses, individuals and levels of government who support our efforts. Your support makes our projects and programs possible.

2016 Funders
* BC Community Gaming Grants
* Fortis BC
* Province of British Columbia
* Real Estate Foundation of BC
* Regional District-RDOS, Area A
* Southern Interior Bluebird Trail Society
* Suncor Energy Foundation
* Town Of Osoyoos

Our sincere appreciation to all the individuals who give donations to the Society throughout the year, as well as the businesses who kindly donate services and products to support our programs and projects.

Romancing the Desert Supporters
A big thank you to our 'Romancing the Desert' supporters. The Desert Society's annual fundraiser would not be possible without the generosity of the participating restaurants and wineries, and the many businesses and individuals who donate their products and time. We sincerely appreciate your support.

Volunteers and Members
As always, a very special thanks to our volunteers and members. You make it possible for the Osoyoos Desert Society to exist and continue to pursue its mission. Thank you so much for supporting our habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts!

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Desert Society, please check below.

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 The Osoyoos Desert Society