This is obviously a labor of love, or I wouldn’t spend so much time in bad weather to not get images.
Allow me to set the stage: Awake at 0445, load the car, and drive to Mt Evans before the sun comes up. Keep an eye out for marmots on the way up, and discover they have better sense than to get up this early. Arrive at the summit (14,000ft) – mid-30’s with about a 30-40mph wind. Wearing soft shell pants and an insulated soft shell jacket, windproof balaclava and windproof wool gloves – it’s mid-August and I’m freezing. Carry heavy tripod/camera/lens through a talus field. Set up tripod. Locate pika.
Pika found – it’s not Larry, but she’s in the same talus field. She’s making the same short, fast trips to gather food for the rapidly approaching winter.
Larry is accustomed to my presence, and he rarely lets out a warning EEENK when I’m around. This little pika is not familiar with me and is *EEENK*ing regularly – an opportunity to get some action shots!
You have to image all this happening with a frigid blast of wind shoving me around . . .
*Me: “C’mon, EEENK for me . . .”
Me: "OK, that was good, do it again!
Me: “OK, give me a little warning-”
Me: “OK, I’m getting the timing now-”
Me: “OK, OK, I’ve got it now . . .”
Now, imagine this going on for the next 30 minutes, with the constant blast of frigid wind. That’s how my day went. On the other hand, it’s a better way to spend a day than just about any other way I can imagine.
This is the closest I could get to capturing an EEENK – about half a second too late.
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
Sigma 300mm f/2.8+1.4TC
Jobu gimbal, Giottos tripod
ISO200, 1/640sec, f/4