Desert Society News

Spring 2017
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Dear Supporters:

Spring is slowly unfurling, a few days of warm sunshine rushes the process, then back to gloomy, wet, cold days with new snow at higher elevations. This morning I commiserate with the cheerful little buttercups currently gracing the hillsides and the Desert Centre grasslands but think they must be shivering while I sit in my cozy office space. When driving through Richter Pass I scan the hillsides to see signs of emerging balsamroot leaves and anticipate the hills of cheerful yellow interspersed with the drifts of white Saskatoon blossoms. Flashing by on the highway the transformation of the winter landscape to green, yellow and white seems like a yearly miracle. Other tiny flowers need us to slow down and gently walk the wild spaces to be enjoyed. Yellow bells shyly look to the soil from which they came and a myriad of tiny flowers emerge, colour the landscape for a few days, or longer, if cold weather inhibits pollinators from doing their job. Once fertile seed is assured blossoms wither and drop and many species fade back into the soil before the hot summer sun bakes the hillsides. From miniscule to large, the seed bank assures future flowers and is part of the food chain.
While some of us may become impatient with the rain, I am thankful that the ground is frost free and the 'liquid gold' from the clouds is penetrating the earth, providing much needed moisture. I am also happy to see the precipitation expressed as snow at the higher elevations. The February 1st snow pack reading told us that Okanagan Basin snow packs were at 79 per cent of normal and the Similkameen snow pack was just 73 per cent, so high elevation snow at this time is very welcome as this feeds our summer water supply.

Up at the Desert Centre the ponds are full; spadefoot and salamander eggs are developing and many will survive to grow and reproduce again next year. These eggs also provide food for other wildlife. Migratory birds have returned and are some of the lucky ones as their habitat is still intact. Today's rapid development of wild spaces often means birds travel far to what they have known only to find a totally altered space which no longer provides them with nesting sites and food, their safe place to rear their families. Fortunately, the Desert Centre, the Nature Trust, The Nature Conservancy, B.C. Parks, Protected and Wildlife Management Areas - along with caring landowners who designate portions of their land for wildlife - provide at least some habitat. 
Having lived at the south end of the Similkameen Valley since 1970 I have observed dramatic change and look back to the perseverance of the Desert Society's founding members; hats off to you and your followers for securing the habitat at the Desert Centre and providing a safe haven for so many species. Hats off to all the volunteers who recognize the importance of this space and assist staff and Board members in achieving the Society's goals. A final hats off to our members. Your support is valued. Becoming a member is an easy and practical way to 'volunteer', particularly when distance or circumstance inhibits physical volunteering.

Now I must venture into the cool, rainy day and remind myself that any inconvenience caused by the rain is far outweighed by its benefits. May your spring unfurl and provide many wonderful moments in nature 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

Cute, Clever and Camouflaged
By Michelle Lancaster, Education Coordinator, Osoyoos Desert Society

Desert Centre Game Camera, August 2, 2013
A common spring sighting at the Desert Centre is a mother deer and her young. Every year guests get a glimpse of a spotted young deer bedded down or trailing only a few feet behind its mother. Not only cute, this wonderful opportunity to view wildlife often leads to a few frequently asked questions about the fascinating lives of fawns.

Which deer is which?
There are two species of deer found in the Okanagan. Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the most commonly sighted deer at the Desert Centre. They get their name from their large, mule-like ears, which is one way to distinguish them from the similar-looking Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The best way to tell the two species apart is by looking at their heads and their tails. Whitetail deer have smaller ears that stand nearly straight up; Mule deer have larger ears that angle out. The antlers on the males are also different. A male Whitetail deer will have one main beam from which tines emerge while a Mule deer will have antlers that fork. Contrary to what its name suggests, a Whitetail deer actually has a thick, dark tail that covers most of its white rear. A Mule deer, on the other hand, has a narrow white tail which fails to cover its rear, leaving its white rump more exposed. The Mule deer tail is also tipped with black, appearing as though it were dipped in black ink.
Desert Centre Game Camera, June 20, 2015.

When do you see fawns?
A doe will go into estrus in the fall and fawns are typically born between late April and early July. Both Mule deer and Whitetail fawns weigh between 4 and 8 pounds at birth. Newborns are usually quick to their feet and can typically stand and nurse within 30 minutes and walk within only a few hours. A first-time mother will usually have a single fawn; in the following years it is common to see twins. It is unlikely to see a mother with more than two offspring, but not impossible. Both Mule deer and Whitetail deer can have up to four fawns. If a doe has multiple babies she will typically hide them in thick cover in separate locations and not reunite or bed the siblings close to one another for about three weeks. This clever tactic can help prevent a potential predator from finding all of the offspring. 

Why do fawns have spots?
Fawns are born with a silky, reddish coat that is littered with hundreds of spots. The spots help the fawn stay camouflaged in its surroundings. For the first five days after birth, fawns will not run when approached. Instead, a frightened fawn will drastically lower its heartbeat from more than 175 beats per minute to only about 60. It will tuck its head and fold its ears back and lie very still trying to stay invisible. Sunlight filtering through the branches cast dappled patterns which match the fawn's light-coloured spots and help keep it hidden from harm. When the fawn reaches a week of age it can already outrun most predators and will exhibit "flight behavior" when approached. Spots start to fade by one month and fawns will venture out to browse with their mothers. By three to four months it will be late fall and the spots will have vanished altogether.

How long do they stay with their mother?
Fawns generally stay with their mother for their first year. By fall, however, the mother has taught them all they will need to know to survive on their own. Female fawns will likely remain with their mother until the following spring, or even longer. The more independent males may leave earlier to join with other young bucks. These dispersing males may establish new ranges some distance from their natal grounds. 
Desert Centre Game Camera, August 2, 2013

What should you do if you find an abandoned fawn?
The easiest answer is to leave it alone. A mother usually stays within 100 yards of her young and is likely watching you or waiting for you to leave. The Wildlife in Crisis Inc. quotes that in 99 per cent of "Fawn Calls" the fawns are not actually abandoned or orphaned. Generally, if there is no deceased doe in the area or on nearby roads, the fawn is not an orphan. The mother is likely waiting for the danger to leave or until well after dark to return to her fawn. So, the best thing for you to do is leave the fawn alone. Do not touch or move it and keep yourself and pets far away. It may take a good 24 hours for a doe to feel safe enough to return to her fawn. If a mother were to return prematurely, she might risk leading a predator directly to her offspring. If the fawn appears injured, still keep your distance and call the closest wildlife rehabilitation centre or a conservation officer.

Desert Centre Game Camera, July 12, 2016
Sighting a fawn is guaranteed to put a smile on the grimmest of faces; especially if lucky enough to see a fawn at play. Play is a very important part of a fawn's social and physical development. It helps a fawn strengthen its muscles and reflexes, which is critical for escaping predators. At the Desert Centre we have been delighted to witness fawns playing, hiding and growing up. We are looking forward to seeing fawns being raised again this season and welcome you to join us. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see photos from our game cameras, guides and guests. Or, stop by the Desert Centre for a visit - hours and admission information is available on our website at

Help Wanted
The Desert Society has a variety of enjoyable and worthwhile volunteer opportunities. Joining our volunteer team is a great way to share your time and expertise, support the Society's efforts, and have fun. Opportunities include:
~ Front desk reception at the Desert Centre
~ Site maintenance
~ Habitat restoration and native landscaping
~ Event and fundraising support
~ Computer tech support
For more information contact the Osoyoos Desert Society at or call 250-495-2470.

Desert Centre Work Parties
Wednesday, April 19
9:00 am - Noon at the Osoyoos Desert Centre
Join us for a morning work party to get the Desert Centre ready for Opening Day. Lend a hand tackling a variety of projects from maintenance to gardening.
~ Indoor and outdoor jobs to choose from.
~ Refreshments provided.
~ Everyone welcome!

Restoration Work Parties
Tuesdays April 25, May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
9:00 - 11:00 am at the Osoyoos Desert Centre
Join us for some native landscaping and habitat restoration projects at the Desert Centre.
~ Please bring your work gloves and a shovel.
~ Refreshments provided.
~ Everyone welcome!

Saturday, April 15
2:00 - 4:00 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.

Admission by donation 
Saturday, April 22
9:30 am - 3:30 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Stop by the Desert Centre for a special day of activities and tours.
  • Naturalist Club Walk at 9:30 am
  • Plant Sale & Gardening Information Booths from
    10:00 am - 1:00 pm
  • Guided Tours at 10 am, 11 am, Noon and 1 pm
  • Native Plant Talk at 2:00 pm 
    • Living on the edge: gardening for butterflies and bees in the South Okanagan 
      Join Tanis Gieselman, MSc. (SeedsCo. Community Conservation) to explore native Okanagan grassland wildflowers and how to plant them in your garden to help local pollinators. Discover how this simple action is key to the conservation of Okanagan grasslands. Learn about native seed saving initiatives and make some conservation "seed bombs" to create an explosion of Okanagan wildflowers around the Osoyoos area. Advance registration required (contact or 250-495-2470 to register).
Free admission on Opening Day
Sunday, April 23
2:00 - 4:00 pm ~ Watermark Beach Resort
Join us for the film "Toad People", which tells the story of concerned citizens and communities across BC taking action to save amphibians and other at-risk wildlife. After the film, attend the Desert Society's annual general meeting for an update on the Society's activities over the past year and our upcoming plans.

Everyone welcome! 
Saturday, May 6
5:00 - 8:00 pm ~ Sage Pub

Join us for an evening of food and fun featuring both a silent and a live auction with lots of great items! Proceeds support the habitat conservation efforts of the Osoyoos Desert Society.

$20 ticket includes a burger and a beer
Tickets available at Jojo's Cafe, Mills Office, at the door or by calling 250-495-0728
Thursday, May 18
9:00 am - Noon at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Explore the beauty and bounty of our local desert. Take a fascinating look at some edible and medicinal uses of native plants during an informative and fun-filled tour at the Osoyoos Desert Centre led by interpreter Michelle Lancaster. Following the tour, venture off-site with naturalist Lee McFadyen for a behind-the-scenes excursion through some properties adjoining the Desert Centre. During the walk, enjoy the beauty of local flora and learn about the impact of habitat disturbance and restoration on our desert ecosystem.

For Meadowlark Festival information and tickets visit
Thursdays: June 29 & July 6, 13, 20, 27 & August 3, 10
7:30 - 9:00 pm at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Experience the magic of the desert at night. Take a guided tour along the Desert Centre's 1.5 km boardwalk and get the inside scoop on our desert's "wild" night life. Learn fascinating facts about the many nocturnal animals that call this habitat home and what you can do to help protect them.

$10/person ~ Advance registration required 


Your support makes a difference. Memberships and donations help fund the Desert Society's
habitat conservation, restoration and education efforts.

Membership is $25 per person per year.

Members receive Desert Society newsletters and FREE admission to the Desert Centre.


Payment may be made through the secure, encrypted PayPal link, or you can click here to download a mail-in registration form.


Thank you!

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 The Osoyoos Desert Society