All Things Natural: Western Screech Owls have been spotted

Readers send in their questions to Aaron Deans, executive director of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in Vernon

Q: Are there Western Screech-Owls in Coldstream Park?

A:  There have been no confirmed observations of Western Screech-Owl in Coldstream Park during the past four years. There were however, consecutive year observations made in 2006, 2007 and 2008 during breeding bird surveys conducted in Coldstream Park. Reproductive success was confirmed in 2007 when a juvenile Western Screech-Owl responded during a call-playback survey in the summer of that same year.

Q: Why is the tree maintenance schedule at Coldstream Park currently impacting public usage of the park?

A: A Western Screech Owl Stewardship Agreement for Coldstream Park was signed and put into effect in 2010 by the BC Ministry of Environment. The agreement is a living document to address threats to, and provide protection of endangered Western Screech-Owls in Coldstream Park. The objective of the agreement is to promote the long term maintenance (e.g., 100 years) of Western Screech-Owl on lands owned by the District of Coldstream through managing identified threats and by providing effective stewardship and planning. If/when there are perceived public safety concerns, within Stewardship Agreement areas, public safety in all instances is priority over habitat considerations in place for the wildlife species of concern; however, a reasonable level of habitat consideration still must be taken into account when maintenance activities occur. The current schedule for tree maintenance has sections of Coldstream Park closed through the third week of August, 2012.

Q: Why is it important that we consider Western Screech-Owl in particular areas?

A: Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicotti macfarlanei; WSOW) was designated as a Threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife Species in Canada in 2012. The species is also on the Red-list for species at risk in province. The population of WSOW in B.C. is thought to be less than 400 adults. They occur in deciduous valley bottoms and low elevation water-associated areas. Nesting habitat is typically patches of Black Cottonwood, paper birch and trembling aspen, with moderate to dense understory of shrubs. Since there are relatively few patches of contiguous and intact riparian (read: water-associated) habitats left throughout the Okanagan, those that remain have a heightened importance for this and other riparian-associated plant and wildlife species. There is a reproductive pair 1 km away from the park that produce young nearly every year. There is only one other pair in the Vernon area, likely because of a lack of suitable habitat.

All Things Natural is a public education and community engagement project of Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society that is aimed at promoting public enjoyment and increasing awareness and appreciation of nature in the Okanagan. If you have a question about nature that you’ve always wanted to know or recently wondered, please send your question via email to askanaturalist@gmail.com.

Aaron Deans is the executive director of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society.