The Pika Project, II

Jay Ryser

Lakewood, United States

Artist's Description

As summer starts to fade and winter starts to take over in the high country, I’ve spent my weekends trying to get the shots I have in mind to complete The Pika Project (similar to the Coyote Project).

I’ve been trying to get a good, close-up shot of a full EEENK, and I’m getting closer. Pikas let out a warning call to alert their neighbors of potential danger (see below), and since this little pika isn’t real familiar with me, she’s been *EEENK*ing regularly.

I’m always sensitive to any signs of stress in wildlife that I’m trying to photograph, and generally the warning call could be considered a sign of stress. I’d back off immediately if I thought she was stressed, but after she *EEENK*s at me, she runs between my legs and even perched on my shoe briefly. I don’t think she feels THAT threatened by me.

This is close to a full EEENK; I have several in side view (all available on my web site), and another frontal EEENK I’ll post later this week.

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

ISO200, 1/800sec, f/2.8

Artwork Comments

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