The rich biodiversity of the South Okanagan includes nearly 200 species of breeding birds – one of the highest for any area of a similar size in North America. Many of these species are at risk – almost one-third of BC’s Red-listed and almost half of BC’s Blue-listed wildlife species are from the South Okanagan. While habitat loss and fragmentation pose the greatest threat to local species, the trappings of modern living – window and road kill – are also a visible reminder of that fragility.
For Okanagan College biology professor Sharon Mansiere this tragedy has inspired her to develop of the Okanagan College Research Museum at the Penticton campus.
“We live in a birder’s paradise,” says Mansiere. “As a biologist I feel we should be taking an active role in educating and engaging our community and doing what we can to document and protect our local avian species,” she says.
To that end, when Mansiere comes across a local species that has met with an unfortunate end, such as the snowy owl that was hit by a car on HWY 97, she collects its tissue for BioBanking, and preserves the exterior in such a way that they can be studied and easily stored.
“The province has other collections, including the Royal B.C. Museum and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, but none come close to representing the magical biodiversity of the South Okanagan,” says Mansiere.
In fact, Mansiere does not just collect birds, but also local vertebrates and invertebrates as well as plants.
“Specimens in the research collection can be used to document species diversity, health of populations, diet, and migration. Today’s natural history museums are also hotbeds of DNA investigations,” says Mansiere.
“We need baseline data to allow researchers to monitor how populations, species, or communities of animals change over time in response to things like climate change.”
Developing the museum will be an ongoing project for Mansiere, who teaches biology at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus. As a research facility, the collection is not open to visitors, but the public can get a birds-eye view of Mansiere’s specimens at the Meadowlark Nature Festival on Sunday, May 18, where she will be presenting two talks at the Okanagan College Penticton campus lecture theatre.
The first, A Bird in the Hand takes place at 7 p.m. and features samples of the collection. Attendees will be able to explore many the zany patterns, textures, shapes, and colours of bird feathers and learn why blue feathers are not blue. Ildiko Szabo, Assistant Curator of the Cowan Tetrapod Collection at UBC Beaty Biodiversity Museum will be co-presenting at this event.
The second, Death Trapped: Birds in the Land of Artificial Light begins at 8 p.m. after Bird in the Hand. It explores why the biological adaptations and strategies that have served birds so well in the natural world are now causing them to fly to their doom in a world now cluttered by manmade light. Sharon will be co-presenting with Roland Dechesne, a member of the Calgary Chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society and Dark Sky Advocate.
Tickets for each event are $10, with all proceeds going to the Meadowlark Nature Festival. Log on to www.meadowlarkfestival.bc.ca for order details. The festival, running from May 15-19, is one of Canada’s premier outdoor nature celebrations offering 90-plus environmental tours and events led by prominent naturalists, educators, artists, experienced guides and scientists.
To contact Mansiere about a potential donation, email her at [email protected]. Only rare species will be considered and unsolicited donations are prohibited.