The Best of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley

Photographer Carla Hunt of Vernon, B.C., showcases the incredible diversity of wildlife and stunning natural beauty of the Okanagan.

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Sunset over Kalamalka Lake, Coldstream, B.C.
Photo: Carla Hunt

Welcome to the Okanagan Valley, B.C.

There are many features that make B.C.’s Okanagan Valley a beautiful vacation destination and place to call home. From the rolling hills and mountains to the gorgeous lakes, it truly takes your breath away. The diverse wildlife contributes to this beauty and their habitat must be protected.

The Okanagan has four distinct seasons, with summer being a wonderful time for camping, swimming and days spent in the sun. Vernon, B.C. has been my home since 1998 and the North Okanagan region has provided me with a blank canvas upon which to create beauty by photographing local wildlife and nature.

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A stunning swallowtail butterfly
Photo: Carla Hunt

Okanagan’s diverse environment

I like to head up into the mountains quite often to check out the wildlife and take time to relax and unwind. With the ongoing decline of wildlife globally, I feel it’s important to photograph as many species as possible to show their significance and importance in balancing the environment.

The Okanagan has a diverse environment including wetlands and lakes, the two most popular lakes being Kalamalka and Okanagan. Kalamalka Lake in particular, known as the lake of colours, can really put on an amazing display. When the lake warms in summer, limestone forms crystals that reflect sunlight and create distinctive blue and green colours.

Check out more mind-blowing facts about Canada’s geography.

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Flowering arrowleaf balsamroot
Photo: Carla Hunt

Wildflowers of the Okanagan Valley

There is also an abundance of wildflowers that bloom from early spring to fall each year; they are so colourful and bring much joy after the winter season. My favourite wildflower is the arrowleaf balsamroot (above), characterized by its bright yellow colour that stands out on the mountainside. In my opinion, it’s worth your time to visit SilverStar Mountain Resort and enjoy the 16 kilometres of trails to view the extensive flora and fauna in the area. (Check out more great hikes in Canada.)

I often see bears in my travels. One day, I came across a little black bear in Enderby who was playing in an alfalfa field. The bear looked as though he was having a blast. I managed to capture his photo just as he looked up at me, then he spotted me and ran away.

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Coyote hiding in the grass
Photo: Carla Hunt

Close encounters with Okanagan Valley wildlife

Another commonly seen creature in my travels are coyotes. They always bring a smile to my face, as they remind me of the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote. One particular coyote (above) appeared as if he was hiding in the grass, laughing at me.

There are also quite a few moose in our area, although they are a little harder to find. I remember the first moose I saw—I was so intimidated by its size and unpredictability.

Other species in the area include skunks, deer, bighorn sheep and western painted turtles, as well as many varieties of birds and other mammals and critters.

Check out the best wildlife experience in every province.

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An osprey brings fish back to its nest during a “wildfire” sunset
Photo: Carla Hunt

Picture-perfect moments

Unfortunately, living in a hot, dry environment in the summer season, wildfires are a real danger. The smoke often fills the valley from fires in surrounding areas, sometimes from as far away as California. The air quality varies throughout the summer, which makes the clear days that much more enjoyable. The smoke does add some drama to photographs, though. (Read up on the worst forest fire in Canadian history.)

One particular photo I captured depicts an osprey (above) bringing fish home during a wildfire sunset. I aligned the sun with the nest and suddenly, the chicks started chirping like crazy and I knew the adult was nearby with their dinner. Being pretty much blinded by the sun, I just had to hope this photo worked out, luckily it did.

Find out how to take stunning silhouette photos in the wild.

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A majestic bighorn sheep
Photo: Carla Hunt

Conserving and protecting water

Many people visit the Okanagan in summer to enjoy the numerous lakes, tourist attractions and activities. Often, when I’m at the lakes photographing birds, people will stop and chat and ask about the subject. I love talking to people about the birds and wildlife and they enjoy learning the few facts I know. And I’m learning more every day.

Having so much wildlife around us, it’s important to keep a balance in our environment. Here in Vernon alone, the city is expanding quickly, and building further and further out, which affects important natural habitats. This is something to consider in future development projects—building more sustainably, and conserving and protecting water.

Discover more hidden gems in BC.

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Brightly coloured western painted turtles basking in the sun
Photo: Carla Hunt

Arrival of the new season

Capturing the summer beauty of my home gives me the opportunity to make a connection with the wildlife and the land we share. I try to capture the animal’s spirit, character and soul. Photography is meaningful to me because it reminds me of the importance that the environment plays in our everyday lives.

At the end of summer, after the kids have returned to school and vacationers have returned home, we get to enjoy the beautiful fall colours as the arrival of the new season transforms the landscape.

Next, check out our guide to the birds of the Okanagan.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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