I only have a few more weeks access to my most accessible pikas before winter weather moves in to the high country and blocks my access until next summer. The weather was so different that day – mid-50’s and almost no wind, so all the animals were more active.
I didn’t see Larry at all, but this little female and another pika were very active, taking turns running out to gather food for the winter. Because the weather was so much nicer, they were less frantic and more willing to pose. I even had some nice light (sometimes too intense as the clouds parted).
There was little interaction between the pikas (not surprising – they’re pretty solitary little animals even though they live in colonies), except for one noisy little interaction that I heard but couldn’t see. I suspect one of them was stealing food from the other.
I’m still working on the perfect EEENK image in the mean time.
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, 1/500sec, f/5, -2/3EV