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Posts tagged ‘oxbows’

Spring or a Long April Fool’s Day?

Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day happened to land on the same date this year–and I’m thinking that momentous event totally messed up Spring! How else could it be that here in Penticton in the sunny South Okanagan, four days later, the weather forecast reads “rain showers or wet flurries.” Come on! It’s April! Easter has come and gone! This isn’t Alberta, after all ūüôā Check it out:

 

Well, at least the ice has melted off the oxbows … and the turtles have come out of hibernation and are hopefully trying to catch a few rays….

The urban deer are looking chipper, too — and I see they’re mighty pleased to be able to nibble at the fresh green tulips … and have even left a few buds behind to let us humans enjoy the flowers when they finally get around to blooming!

A few brave souls figure that if they get outside and pretend it’s Spring, the weatherman might take the hint and send some truly Spring-like weather along.

Oh! Check it out! Lots of flowers! It must be spring after all! Or is it?

 

But wait! Maybe spring is springing after all! Looks like Mother Nature isn’t going to let Mr. April Fool get away with his tricks altogether …

Yes! Spring has sprung!

 

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Update on the Brandon Street Oxbow

In the past, I have posted photos and commentary on the Okanagan River oxbow at the foot of Brandon Avenue. Much of the oxbow was extremely overgrown with bulrushes, and filled with silt from street runoff. Fortunately, the City of Penticton, working with the Friends of the Oxbows society and other concerned citizen groups, has placed a filter in the run-off collector at the foot of Brandon, to prevent more silt buildup. Once that was done, this oxbow underwent a major reconstruction, bringing it back to much the way the Okanagan River oxbows must have looked prior to being cut off when the “channel parkway” was put through from Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake, with the highway running along beside it.

As Friends of the Oxbows member, Randy Manuel, explains: The City of Penticton and the Penticton Indian Band cooperated in the removal of 360+ cubic meters of debris, sand from street runoff, and overgrown bulrushes. Now we have a very vibrant oxbow at the foot of Brandon Avenue, with nature returning. Where machines had to access the oxbow from the west (reserve) side, their intrusion has been replanted with riparian plants.

I took a walk down to this oxbow today and took some snapshots. In the following photos, you will see the amazing difference from just 7 months ago, with before (April 2016) and after (November 2016) photos! (You can see other posts about this oxbow at “Perfect Time to See the Oxbows,” “Oxbows or Progress?” and “Penticton Oxbows Tour“). To get a really clear view of the photos, click on the first one, and then you can click through them with larger and brighter views. You will also notice that in the “barren” area where the machinery had to come in, there are wire containers, each of which has a riparian plant native to this area. The final photo shows a view of the new container growth from above.

Green Okanagan Summer

This summer of 2016 is the greenest Okanagan summer I have ever seen … and I’ve lived in the Okanagan, or visited it in the summer, for most of my 61 years. The weather has been pleasant, but it hasn’t had the usual Okanagan heat. Oh yes, it did start off with a hot spell, mid to high 30s Celcius, in early May, and folks were predicting a long dry summer, drought, and probably wildfires.

But ever since then, we’ve had mostly pleasant mid-20s days, with summer showers often enough to keep the hillsides green–hillsides that are normally brown by early June. Now we are into August and they are just starting to brown. Every so often we have a few days in the low 30s, but even then, they’ve often been accompanied by thunderstorms with downpours just strong enough to prevent any major fires from lightning strikes. Most summers here in Penticton we’re under strict water regulations by early July, but this summer we’ve hardly needed to water our lawns and gardens.

What’s really amazing is the changes in the natural vegetation. Trees and bushes have sprung up. creating green oases where normally one night find thin, scraggly vegetation. The oxbows are coated in thick algae in any places–so thick that the usual ducks, turtles, and other wildlife have moved away. Even in more open water in the oxbows, there is far more floating vegetation than usual, and the bulrushes are tall and thick. The branches of berry bushes are hanging low, with heavy and very early crops such as I’ve not seen here before. The deer and bears are going to be plenty fat before winter comes.Even tree trunks have unusual growth of moss.

Gardens are amazing, too. Everywhere you look, there are amazing tall, thick-stemmed sunflowers. The fruit crops gave been thick and heavy-laden–and far earlier than usual. Despite very little watering, compared to normal summers, strawberries and vegetables are amazing. Along fence lines, flowers and crops are¬†escaping their bounds.

What do you think? Is this just an unusual summer, or is this part of climate change? The thing is, the past few summers have been drier and drier, and the Okanagan has experienced some pretty devastating wildfires … yet now we’ve had a summer that, while pleasant, has definitely not reflected our semi-desert reputation!

Oxbows or Progress

This morning I thought I’d take a walk along the path between the oxbows and the highway, from Kinney Avenue to Green Avenue. Back in May I took in the “Friends of the Oxbows Tour” (part of the annual Meadowlark Festival in the South Okanagan), and posted photos and descriptions then. So my plan today was to take autumn photos of this particular part of the oxbows tour. I’d been through there in the summer, and except for the increased dryness, things were pretty much the same.

But sadly, it seems that “progress” is more important than maintaining the increasingly small areas of green space in our city, whether it be plans to turn several acres of lakeshore park into waterslides, or expand the highway to allow a new access across the channel–and slice off a good chunk of the oxbow trail in the process. Not to mention that in some spots the broadened highway and fence that runs alongside it leaves only a foot or two of space beside oxbows, surely breaking bylaws related to riparian space beside waterways. Oh, and did I mention that you can no longer walk all the way to Green Avenue; a fence has been placed across the path to prevent people enjoying the oxbow in that area, which has been so generously cared for by the resident on its east side. But that’s okay–several areas of the path are now so narrow that one must hang onto the fence to prevent sliding down into the oxbow below. (Click on the pictures to see full size!)

To top all this off, all along the new fencing and highway extension, the workers have tossed into the riparian areas next to the oxbows, the wooden stakes used as markers during the construction. I suppose they reasoned that the markers are biodegradable (well, maybe except for the plastic tags tied around them!), so no problem. No problem if you don’t mind setting an example to locals and tourists of how to litter. Fortunately, I saw potential for them as garden posts, and I picked up all the ones still in good shape and dropped them off to a neighbour who has a large garden. A number of broken stakes are still scattered along the oxbow path; I suppose it would be too much to ask the city fathers to send someone out to gather them? (I’d have gathered all of them, but a person my size and age can only carry so much).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I also see that the oxbows are even more overgrown than they were this spring, and I don’t see the city making any effort to dredge the “introduced” species which are taking over the open water so necessary to birds and wildlife. Maybe if they get overgrown enough, they can be filled in and become locations for more waterslides? Hmmm!

Thankfully, mother nature still manages to show her beauty despite mankind’s best efforts to provide progress and tidy up nature’s wildness–as you can see below.

Thanksgiving Weekend in Penticton

These Thanksgiving weekend¬†snapshots were taken on October 10 2015 in my neighborhood … mostly at the oxbow at the foot of Baskin Street and Warren Avenue. Such a beautiful place; so much to be thankful for!

 

Penticton Oxbows Tour

During the 2015 Meadowlark Festival¬†I took in the Friends of the Penticton Oxbows tour–and what a wonderful tour it was!

Did you know that 10,000 years ago or so, the Penticton area was under about 2 kilometers of ice? Even our mountain tops were covered. ¬†As the ice slowly melted over time, a proto-lake was formed, which flowed north toward the Thompson region. Gravel fans in our area are reminders of the run-off from that time of glaciation. Later, at some point the flow changed toward the south. The “benches” above the current valley bottom are the remains of beach levels. At one time, a large ice-dam in the McIntyre Bluffs area, towards what is now Oliver, burst, and the water rushed out of the valley, leaving behind Okanagan and Skaha Lakes, and the slow-moving Okanagan River and its surrounding wetlands and marsh. The slow river twisted its way through the wetlands, forming many ox-bow turns between the lakes.

The First Nations were content to live with the natural formations of this valley. When the first Europeans arrived in the Penticton area, they settled in the drier areas of the valley bottom. Small steamships pulled barges between the two lakes, carrying freight, and dredging kept the channel open to a sufficient depth. But as the town grew and more land was needed, and as folks experienced some years of severe flooding, it was decided in the 1940s to 1950s to “improve” the Penticton townsite between the rivers by putting a direct channel through from Okanagan to Skaha Lakes, thus cutting off the oxbows from river flow.

When the Penticton townsite was laid out, and the Penticton Band reservation lands, the border between the two ran down¬†the center of the Okanagan River. ¬†When the channel was pushed through, this meant that some pieces of land on the west side of the channel belong to the city, while some pieces on the east side belong to the Penticton Band. Thus, the valley bottom involves¬†both municipal and federal governments (and the Band government)–and the river itself is provincial! ¬†This means that when groups like the Friends of the Penticton Oxbows want to care for the oxbows, they must work¬†with multiple levels of government, not to mention individual landowners, both ¬†in the City of Penticton and “locatee” landowners from the Band. ¬†But the Friends of the Oxbows are not daunted by this prospect, even if it does complicate things. Goals of the Friends include securing and managing habitat, encouraging natural riparian vegetation, providing controlled access (such as through “blinds”) for the public, preventing too much silt and other run-off materials from entering the oxbows, dredging out the excess that is already there, and improving water flow in and out of the oxbows.

Our tour started at the Okanagan Avenue northern access of the Warren Avenue oxbow. We saw turtles, ducks, redwing blackbirds, and many other birds. There is quite a bit of debris in the water, and an invasive species, yellow flag (a type of iris) has filled up a lot of the edges of the oxbow.  Across the oxbow is locatee land; the family is working with a developer to put housing in the area, but as sustainably as possible to maintain the wetlands.

We also went to the Roy Avenue access point of the same oxbow, where we saw a large heron and mallard ducks. The deer enjoy browsing the native wild rose bushes, which also form a good natural riparian boundary area along the banks of the oxbows. The surrounding lands used to be productive bottom land during the freshet, which overflowed the natural banks and laid down nutrient-rich silt. The current higher banks are a result of the dredging done when the river was used for transport.  The water weed here are a good sign of continuing productivity of this land.

Going on to the south end of this oxbow, on Warren Avenue, we saw the tall pole placed there for the osprey; this year a pair of geese decided to take over the nest, and the ospreys did their best to chase them away!  There was once a crossing here for cattle as well. We were impressed with the size of the carp in this oxbow.  The water this year is very low due to the lack of moisture over the winter, but there is still some surcharge from groundwater. Pipes connect most of the oxbows to the channel; however, they are placed so that overflow from the oxbows will go into the channel, but fresh water from the channel cannot get into the oxbows. The Friends of the Oxbows would like to see this remedied.

Next, we went to the oxbow access point at the foot of Kenney Avenue. There is one oxbow right there; and if one walks or drives down the dirt road, there is access to more oxbows. The first of these is behind Ayres Crescent. ¬†It has a lot of cat-tails growing in it, which is causing diminished productivity for birds that need open water; the very invasive yellow iris add to the problem as well. Tall cottonwood trees along the oxbow are typical of local riparian vegetation; there used to be many more of them in the area. Trees near the oxbows have been wrapped in fencing wire to discourage beaver from cutting them down. Along the highway by these oxbows are many Russian olive trees (they are not native to the area). ¬†If you decide to follow the path along these oxbows, be sure to watch out for snakes. Unfortunately, some folks also seem to think the land alongside the oxbows is a great place to toss their junk–cleaning these areas is another goal of the Friends of the Oxbows.

The oxbow at the foot of Brandon Avenue has been the receiving environment for half the city’s street runoff, including a lot of silt. At one time the city dredged the excess silt to keep the water clear; however, governments have been doing less of this lately, and the oxbows have been filling in with silt and vegetation. The built up banks, and spots of bare sandy soil are other reflections of past dredging. Most of the dead trees in this area are a result of beaver activity; at first the wire wrap held them off, but now they’ve learned to climb above the wire. Beaver tend to be a problem in these kinds of managed environments. There even used to be lots of trees along the Warren Avenue oxbow, but the beaver took them out about 10 years ago, and this has put back succession by about 50 years worth. Beavers along the oxbows tend to build bank dens rather than dams. Water birch, a native raparian species, is almost endangered now.

The final oxbow along this path (almost to Green Avenue) is beside a privately owned piece of land, and the owner has been taking very good care of it–this oxbow is generally in the condition that the Friends of the Oxbows would like to see all the oxbows in. Across the highway and beyond the channel, there are other oxbow areas which have been used most recently for cattle farming, but that is changing with the introduction of a new channel crossing and an upcoming shopping center.

We walked back to our parked cars and then drove to the foot of Brandon Avenue to see that oxbow from the other side. It is astonishing that only ten ago this was quite deep, open water; now it is very shallow and mostly filled with vegetation. However, just recently the City of Penticton has put in a silt interceptor on the drain at the foot of Brandon Avenue, and it is hoped that this will stop the silt build up.

On to the next oxbow access point, Figueras Mobile Home Park, where we enjoyed watching more ducks, including a wood duck, and also a muskrat. Our guide noted that there has been undercutting of the banks along the Mobile Homes due to the water; attempts have been made to stop it by putting in large cement “legos”; however, promoting more riparian growth would be more helpful.

Our next stop was behind the Oxbows RV Park, where for the first time we did not see any cat-tails; the water here is basic rather than acidic.  Old pilings are part of the CPR waterway barges system when the oxbows were used for transportation. Rocks placed along the edges of the oxbow have created banks that unfortunately are too steep for good riparian growth.

 

Finally, we went out onto the highway where it enters Penticton, and took a quick look at where the Okanagan River used to flow into Skaha Lake–you can see it just east¬†of where the channel enters the lake; it is the marshy area that crosses the beach there. ¬†We drove back north along the highway bypass, and parked near¬†the north end of the channel by the recreational area there (just south of Loco Landing). ¬†This is what is left of the old Okanagan River at its northern end–bits of swampy ground surrounded by lawns and large, planted trees. Because it is so close to the channel, and there is no road in between, it could easily be connected to the channel to introduce fresh water and restore the natural riparian vegetation. Our guides showed us aerial photos of how the area looked before the channel was put in and the oxbows were cut off. ¬†Thanks to the Friends of the Penticton Oxbows for an amazing tour!