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Gathering by Jay Ryser

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Larry the Pika again.

I have a bunch of pika perched on a rock images, and wanted to get something a little different, so my new project for the summer is to get some pika action shots, some images of what makes these little guys unique.

Unlike their alpine cousins, the marmots (who hibernate away the winter months), pikas are awake and active all winter long – and at their altitude in the alpine zone, winter can be a long time. To survive their winters, pikas have to gather food to have enough to eat.

They start by running out into the talus field to gather mouthfuls of grass, plants, flowers, and thistles. They then pile all the plant matter into tiny little hay bales to dry in the sun. Once it’s dried, they carry the little hay bales into their burrows where they store it and use it for food, bedding, and insulation.

If they don’t gather enough food, they don’t survive the winter.

In pika communities, it’s not uncommon for pikas to try to make off with a neighbors hay bale. When caught, this can lead to a noisy little dispute between the pikas.

I tried some different positions in the talus field to get some better behavioral shots. I have most of Larry’s routes in the talus field memorized, and tried to position myself away from those routes to keep from stressing him too much. He didn’t seem to mind my presence too much – he ran under my tripod several times and used my shoe as a launch pad to leap to another rock.

In this shot he’s just yanked out some plant matter, hears the shutter firing, and peaked around a rock to make sure his return route is still open before he makes a high-speed run back to his burrow.

When they spot a predator or potential danger (or if you get too close to their little hay bales), they emit a surprisingly loud EEENK. They also keep themselves in harm’s way to alert their neighbors. It’s more common to hear pikas than see them.

Pikas, and marmots to a lesser extent, are considered at risk species due to climate change and global warming. They live on what is essentially a cold island. They are unable to migrate to different locations, as doing so would require them to cross long stretches of excessively hot ground. Their only alternative is to climb higher and higher up the mountain, and there’s only so much mountain to climb. Most pikas spend their entire lives in a half-mile radius. It’s estimated that pikas cannot survive in temps higher than 75F for more than a few hours.

Pika (Ochotona princeps)
Mt Evans Wilderness Area, CO
Sony a700
Sigma 300mm f/2.8+1.4TC

ISO400, 1/800sec, f/6.3

I’m primarily a nature photographer, usually wildlife, and I have lots of access to wildlife in Colorado. My main goal is to capture some of the individual personality of each of the animals I photograph – to document not just a fox, for instance, but to show something of that specific fox, something unique about that individual animal.

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  • kaotic-shell
    kaotic-shellover 5 years ago


  • justlinda
    justlindaover 5 years ago

    What clever little creatures, I’m loving learning about them………

  • Dawne Olson
    Dawne Olsonover 5 years ago

    Terrific! You definately succeeded in ‘something a little different’. The extra commentary is so well appreciated — Clearly you’ve spent hours studying them and the result is so rewarding (for you AND the viewer!)

  • AnnDixon
    AnnDixonover 5 years ago

    Awwwwwwwwwww fabulous shot, xx

  • main1
    main1over 5 years ago

    I love Larry!! Great write up too :) I find myself waiting for the next “Larry” chapter lol :)) Really great work!!

  • Themis
    Themisover 4 years ago

    My favourite portrait of Larry :-) Excellent catch, like all the others – you are a very patient man!

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