The ever-changing desert

The ever-changing desert

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Valerie Blow (left), restoration co-ordinator at the Osoyoos Desert Centre, leads a guided tour where she talks about plants. (Richard McGuire photo)

Rufous hummingbirds darted about at feeders and a number of plants were in bloom next to the boardwalk of the Osoyoos Desert Centre, when it opened for the season in late April.

Plant and animal life at the Desert Centre constantly changes with the seasons, but spring is a fascinating time to visit this 67-acre pocket of arid South Okanagan landscape just north of Osoyoos.

Among the plants in bloom when the centre opened for the year were antelope brush, a shrub growing throughout, which was covered in small, yellow flowers.

Phlox too was abundant, with several varieties ranging in colour from almost white, through shades of pink to a more purple colour.

The indigo-coloured larkspur (delphinium) could also be spotted in clusters growing amidst the antelope brush.

One small, yellow flower looks innocent, but its common name, death camas, suggests it’s not to be messed with. This plant, explained Valerie Blow, restoration co-ordinator, is very toxic. Eating a sufficient amount will kill a human or livestock, while just handling it and then bringing your hand in contact with your mouth can make you quite sick.

Small prickly pear cactus plants hide on the ground, their long spikes ready to grip onto passing people or animals. These don’t bloom until June, when their yellow flowers last only a few days.

Visitors in May can look forward to seeing arrow-leaved balsamroot and bitterroot in bloom. Later in the summer, visitors can expect mariposa lilies, long-leaved phlox and rabbitbrush to be flowering.

In several small ponds, little spadefoot tadpoles were swimming about. These toad relatives are endangered.

Although sightings may be rare for some animals, you may find scat from a coyote on the boardwalk. Black bear, mule deer and the Nuttal’s cottontail are among other animals that live in or pass through the Desert Centre.

You’re very likely to see birds, which can sometimes include hummingbirds, bluebirds, red-tailed hawk or even golden eagles.

Local invertebrates, rare or unknown elsewhere in Canada can be found here including scorpions and black widow spiders.

For more about the Osoyoos Desert Centre, visit: desert.org

By Richard McGuire

A male rufous hummingbird hovers beside a feeder. (Richard McGuire photo)
A male rufous hummingbird hovers beside a feeder. (Richard McGuire photo)
Indigo-coloured larkspur (delphinium) blooms along the boardwalk. (Richard McGuire photo)
Indigo-coloured larkspur (delphinium) blooms along the boardwalk. (Richard McGuire photo)
Prickly pear cactus blooms in June, but don't blink -- the yellow flowers only last a few days. (Richard McGuire photo)
Prickly pear cactus blooms in June, but don’t blink — the yellow flowers only last a few days. (Richard McGuire photo)
The pink and purple phlox plants were in bloom. (Richard McGuire photo)
The pink and purple phlox plants were in bloom. (Richard McGuire photo)
The antelope brush is in bloom throughout the Desert Centre in April. (Richard McGuire photo)
The antelope brush is in bloom throughout the Desert Centre in April. (Richard McGuire photo)
This innocent-looking white and yellow flower is the highly toxic death camas. (Richard McGuire photo)
This innocent-looking white and yellow flower is the highly toxic death camas. (Richard McGuire photo)
A male rufous hummingbird hovers beside a feeder at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. They can beat their wings up to 80 times a second, hovering in mid air or even flying backwards. Bees were also attracted to the sweet water in the feeder. (Richard McGuire photo)
A male rufous hummingbird hovers beside a feeder at the Osoyoos Desert Centre. They can beat their wings up to 80 times a second, hovering in mid air or even flying backwards. Bees were also attracted to the sweet water in the feeder. (Richard McGuire photo)

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