Holy cow, a visiting vole!

The other night I was wakened from a peaceful sleep by a crinkling sound. It’s not the first time this has ever happened, but it’s been a while. I replayed the sound in my head, and figured it wasn’t a human intruder—the sound was too small. It could be a pack rat, I thought, remembering that there is an unwanted pack rat living under the house at the moment. It might have come in the cat door…

But the sound seemed even smaller than that. Maybe it’s a little mouse that found its way in through a tiny hole, I thought. Donald was on the bed beside me, also listening. But he didn’t seem inclined to get up and go investigate. I decided I didn’t want to either, and hoped that maybe Donald would go catch it later. Then I promptly fell back asleep.

The next morning I went to investigate the little package of poisoned bait that I keep behind a bin in the loft. That seemed to be where the sound was coming from. There were a few loose kibbles around the package. Sweeping the floor downstairs I found some more clues: a kibble on the living room floor, and  a few tiny droppings near the bait behind the stereo. Hmm…Western heather vole

Then I heard Donald playing in the bathroom. That can only mean one thing. He has found a playmate. Sometimes he finds them outside and brings them into the bathroom to play with. Other times, as in this case (I do believe) he found one inside the house. The downstairs bathroom is black, because all the bathrooms and showers in the house are painted the colours of the medicine wheel: red shower, yellow shower, black bathroom, white bathroom. Donald likes the black bathroom as the place to play with his prey. And there he was, grabbing something in his mouth and flopping it around and letting it drop. He did that a few times, but the poor creature seemed dead, so I left him to it.

When I went back later to investigage, I found the corpse of a tiny little vole in the bathroom. Thinking I was being somewhat morbid, I brought Mammals of British Columbia into the bathroom and made an identification—definitely a vole, with its tiny size and short tail, and the shape of its nose. But what kind of vole? I went to get my tape measure, and measured the tiny creature. It was about 11.5 cm long, including a tail about 2.5 cm long. It looked like a lot of the voles in the book, brown with lighter underside, but the only vole whose size can be under 12 cm in length is the Western Heather Vole. I learned it feeds on green vegetation, grasses, lichens, berries, seeds, and fungi. Lots of those things around here. And it likes the inner bark of various shrubs from the heather family.

White mountain-heatherThat led, of course, to a consultation with Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia. Is there really heather around here? I learned that there are two kinds, white mountain-heather and pink mountain-heather. They are tiny shrubs, only 30 cm and 10-40 cm tall, respectively. They have blue-bell shaped flowers, and the pink ones do look familiar to me. But I am not certain if I’ve seen them. Clark, quoted in the guide, wrote “These cheerful bells ring an invitation to high places above the timber line, to those serene and lofty slopes where peace and quiet enter our Pink mountain heathersouls.”

And so the cycle is complete, from crinkling in the night to peace and quiet entering our souls. I took the dear little vole and put her body under a young fir tree that grows near the house, and wished that her spirit may be at peace.

If you are interested in reading about other visitors to Monkey Valley, see these posts: