Small mammals of the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area

Western harvest mouse, the real life Pikachu!  (Photo by Andy Teucher)

Western harvest mouse, the real life Pikachu! (Photo by Andy Teucher)

June 19, 2014 | by Andrew Harcombe

In the early 1990s, esteemed entomologist Geoff Scudder spent time in the South Okanagan creating an inventory of the insects that lived in this near-desert landscape. In a happy accident, the traps set out for insects ended up catching a couple other creatures that had never before been documented in the area. Two species of shrew — small, mouse-like, insect-eating mammals that are seldom seen and difficult to inventory — had inadvertently wandered into Scudder’s traps, becoming the first Canadian recordings of Merriam’s and Preble’s shrews. At the time, the closest site of similar shrew findings was more than 100 kilometres south in Washington State.

Scudder’s accidental discovery suggested there may be many more rare species hiding out in the grasslands of the South Okanagan. He shared his discovery with Dave Nagorsen, a mammologist who at the time was working at the Royal BC Museum. Together the two published their findings, and Nagorsen went on to discover two more rare species in the same area: a western harvest mouse and Great Basin pocket mouse.

These important small mammal discoveries occurred on and around lands that are now the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC's) Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area. Today, NCC is working in partnership with the BC Conservation Data Centre (BC Ministry of Environment) to conduct inventories for rare species on the Sage and Sparrow lands.

Nagorsen, now a consulting biologist, has returned to the area with NCC staff to set up further traps in the hopes of repeating his and Scudder’s earlier successes. So far the inventory project has captured another Merriam’s shrew (now the second record for Canada) and several more western harvest and Great Basin pocket mice.

NCC knew these new lands were a special hotspot for biodiversity. The continuing work of these biologists just adds icing to the cake. Incidentally, one of Scudder’s Preble shrew captures happened only metres from the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area, so chances are good that the story is not yet complete.

Andrew Harcombe and his granddaughter, Felicity (Photo courtesy of Andrew Harcombe)

About the Author

Andrew Harcombe is the BC Region’s special advisor for stewardship.

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