Birding with big stars at Vaseaux Lake

Vaseaux Lake is a scenic stand-in for a Hollywood blockbuster and a birder's paradise

by Louis Bockner
A California quail at Vaseaux Lake.
A California quail at Vaseaux Lake. — Michael Klotz photo

The arid landscape surrounding Osoyoos lends itself well to being a scenic backdrop for movies but in 2010 it was a different element that drew some of Hollywood’s biggest performers to the area. When Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson along with a full-sized, feature film crew descended on the town and the surrounding area to film parts of The Big Year (released in 2011), they came for the birds.

The Big Year is a comedy about three men with a birding obsession, and in order to duplicate a scene set in Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona, the production chose one of Canada’s premier birding locations—the Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Area located just half an hour north of Osoyoos along Highway 97.

The park is home to 20 endangered or threatened bird species including Lewis’s woodpeckers, yellow-breasted chats and peregrine falcons, which nest on the McIntyre Bluffs at the south end of the lake. Along with these less common species, there are of course more common varieties like trumpeter swans, blue-winged teal, widgeons and wood ducks.

Accompanying the birds are other animals of interest including mountain goats and California bighorn sheep, which call the bluffs on the southwest side of the lake home, and rarely seen badgers and pallid bats.
While the campsite is small—with only 12 vehicle spots available—it is easily accessed off of Highway 97 and offers large, flat gravel campsites with four pit toilets and a water pump.

A short drive away to the north is the wildlife area, which offers tourist information in the form of kiosk-style signs and a short but beautiful boardwalk that ends in a two-story bird blind perfect for the patient observer with a keen eye.
Fed by the Okanagan River, the lake also offers great opportunities for canoeing and fishing, where anglers can find largemouth bass, rainbow trout and carp below the lake’s murky waters.

  • RV parking: 12 vehicle-accessible campsites that are booked on a first-come, first-serve basis
  • Driving instructions: Follow signs to Oliver/Penticton out of Osoyoos heading north along Highway 97 for 35 kilometres. Turn left, and follow signs to Vaseaux Lake Provincial Park.
  • Cost: $18/night for vehicle camping
  • Hours of operation: Campsite is open from March 24 to October 10. Camping is allowed in off-season but the park area is walk-in only.
  • Website: www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/vaseux_lk

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