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What Did I Step In? by Jay Ryser

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Larry the Pika again. This was part of his post-yawn, pre-nap grooming ritual.

Standard Pika Boilerplate
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. Despite weighing only about 6 ounces themselves, pikas must gather in excess of 50 pounds of plant matter for the coming winter. That’s a LOT of plant matter for a little critter to gather.

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.

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
Jobu gimbal, Giottos tripod

ISO400, 1/250sec, f/4.5

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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  • Gina Ruttle  (Whalegeek)
    Gina Ruttle (...over 5 years ago

    Love your Larry the Pika series, Jay. He’s a handsome little fellow.

  • Isn’t he the cutest little guy?

    – Jay Ryser

  • main1
    main1over 5 years ago

    Larry has the cutest little foot I have ever seen!! :>)

  • It’s bigger than I thought, considering his body size

    – Jay Ryser

  • deb cole
    deb coleover 5 years ago

    You must have either gained his trust or been “down wind” to get such an amazing capture of Larry. Beautiful little critter!

  • We’ve been establishing a working relationship for years, but only get to visit in the summer. He’s comfortable enough that he runs between my tripod legs and even uses my shoe as a launching point to scramble across the talus.

    – Jay Ryser

  • Marvin Collins
    Marvin Collinsover 5 years ago

    Great shot Jay, Larry is a cute little guy!!

  • The cutest little guy above tree-line

    – Jay Ryser

  • Robert Elliott
    Robert Elliottover 5 years ago

    superb shot jay, great title

  • He was sniffing and inspecting his foot for quite a while

    – Jay Ryser

  • John Hooton
    John Hootonover 5 years ago

    A lovely picture with some beautifully blending tones.

  • Thanks John. They’re tough little critters to spot in the rocks since they blend in so well.

    – Jay Ryser

    HEATHSEover 5 years ago

    Great picture, great title. I had never heard of a Pika before so thanks for the info as well!

  • They’re uncommon but completely fascinating

    – Jay Ryser

  • Gary Lengyel
    Gary Lengyelover 5 years ago

    Good one Jay!

  • You sure didn’t miss anything today – the wind was roaring at 14,000ft – I mean literally roaring. I had to post this one as I got nothing today.

    – Jay Ryser

  • Jim Sugrue
    Jim Sugrueover 5 years ago

    Great shot jay and perfect title! LOL

  • Thanks Jim

    – Jay Ryser

  • Deborah  Benoit
    Deborah Benoitover 5 years ago

    What a cute capture and Pika!!!

  • He is a cutie

    – Jay Ryser

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