Wetland Birds

Cattail marshes like Carney Pond offer essential life-support systems to a diverse array of bird species. For some birds, this pond is a permanent home, while for others it is a place they come to breed, nest and raise their young. It is also a crucial rest spot, where migratory birds find shelter and refuel their energy reserves before continuing a journey that takes them across continents. 

Not all bodies of water are equal to birds. Most birds have very particular requirements for their wetland habitats and what makes a pond acceptable differs greatly between types of birds. The essential features of a pond for an individual bird species may include a specific water depth, chemistry or temperature, a type of soil, vegetation and a specific amount of patchiness, and the presence or absence of open water. What is considered food is also species dependant. At Carney Pond, you may see birds forage for vertebrates and invertebrates in wet soil, in the water, amongst the vegetation and some eat the seeds, fruit, leaves or tubers of the plants themselves. In fact, noticing what and where a bird eats can go a long way toward identifying what type of bird it is. 

Waterfowl are birds that swim like ducks, geese, and swans. They have webbed feet and waterproof feathers. You can see waterfowl in the Okanagan year-round. Most species of ducks fall into one of two categories: dabblers and divers. If you watch a duck you will likely be able to figure out which one it is. 

Dabblers feed in the shallow water near the edge of the pond. You will notice that they either skim food off the surface of the water or tip their tails into the air to graze along the pond bottom or among the submerged plants. These ducks are high precision fliers. They can lift off from and land into small areas. Dabblers frequently sighted at Carney Pond include green-winged teal, mallard, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, northern shoveler and gadwall. 

Look for divers in the middle of the pond where the water is deeper. You will see them plunge into the water looking for food. Count the seconds until they remerge on the water’s surface. Agile in the water and awkward on the land, these ducks prefer to stay in open water where they have a long enough runway to become airborne. Notice them running on the water, as they gain the speed they need to take flight. The resident divers at Carney Pond include the redhead, ring-neck duck, lesser scaup, ruddy duck and American wigeon.

Western Painted Turtle

Carney Pond offers almost everything a western painted turtle could want. In the warmer months, you will witness them basking on floating logs and foraging for food in the cattails. Here, they are protected from disruptive and dangerous encounters with humans, dogs, raccoons, and skunks by the dense vegetation surrounding the pond. In the winter, they hibernate in the muddy pond-bottom where they stop breathing and can miraculously survive a season under 50cm of ice.

For turtles, basking is as important as eating. Without sunning themselves for hours at a time, they would not be able to regulate their body temperature, digest their food, keep themselves clean of parasites or get in the mood for love.

Western painted turtles are well-known for the striking red patterns on the undersides of their shells. In fact, it is these bright markings that inspired people to call these turtles “painted”. Each turtle’s markings are unique, which is useful to researchers who need to identify individuals in their field studies.

The invasive red-eared slider threatens the health of western painted turtle populations in the Okanagan. Red-eared sliders are turtles commonly kept by people as house pets. This species became invasive in the Okanagan when people started releasing their pet turtles into local wetlands. Western painted turtles and red-eared sliders are similar in size and shape, although red-eared sliders can be easily identified by the red streaks on either side of their heads.

Hundreds to thousands of western painted turtles in the Central Okanagan are killed crossing roads each year when they leave their wetlands in search of nesting sites, mates, and new wetlands to colonize. Our road network is a treacherous obstacle course for turtles, fragmenting and eliminating the wetlands they call home.

The western painted turtle is the last surviving native pond turtle species in BC. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has classified the status of this species in the Okanagan to be of “Special Concern”. Existing populations continue to feel the impact of human activities that either destroy or degrade the environments they require for life. We must commit to preserving places like Carney Pond, and finding ways for them to cross roads safely.

Vanishing Wetlands

Wetlands provide rare and valuable habitat in the arid Okanagan. Over 80% of our wildlife is either directly dependant on wetlands and riparian ecosystems or use them more frequently than other habitats. We depend on wetlands to support biodiversity, purify water, offer flood protection, manage storm water, recharge ground water and control erosion. Recognizing the importance of wetlands is long overdue; until recently, wetlands were frequently filled for land development or because they were considered hazards to human health. To date, we have lost nearly 85% of the low elevation wetlands and riparian ecosystems in the Okanagan. This loss continues at a rate of 1.4% a year. Threats to wetlands include development pressure, agriculture, habitat alteration, invasive species, changes in hydraulic regimes, climate change, fragmentation, and contamination.

Like most urban wetlands, Carney Pond is separated from neighbouring habitat by human development. Academy Way fragments Carney Pond from adjoining upland habitat between Roberts Lake to the north and Alki Lake at the landfill. The natural movement corridors required by species like the western painted turtle to reach nearby wetlands are blocked, and this isolation compromises the local turtle population’s genetic diversity. Carney Pond is an island of sensitive habitat and rare ecological communities that continues to offer essential habitat for a diversity of wildlife to forage, nest, drink and breed. It also provides important wetland services such as storing water and maintaining water quality by filtering sediment and toxins before it flows into Mill Creek.