Just like I go Fox Crazy in the Winter, I go a little Pika Crazy in the Summer.
I’ve been spending most of my summer weekends at 14,000ft trying to get some decent pika images. I spent most of last summer doing the same thing. My project last summer was to get an image of a pika barking. I managed to get half a dozen in a 5 minute period a couple of weeks ago; it’s all about putting in the time with the subject.
For this image, I was up a few hours before the sun, setting up at 14,000ft just after the sun was up, tolerating frigid blasts of wind, sitting on a boulder in a talus field, tripod legs at different lengths and angles, waiting for my subject. I was in the talus field for about 4 hours, and almost got blown off my boulder a couple of times by the heavy wind.
It took about her 30 minutes before she made her first appearance (putting on make-up and checking hair, no doubt), but once she was up, she was active. It’s late summer, and she’s well aware she needs to gather all the food she can to last the long, cold winter.
She was in almost constant motion, running into the talus, grabbing mouthfuls of plants, and running back to store them in her under-the-talus home. Back and forth, back and forth, she was a blur of motion.
It’s almost impossible to track at that speed and get decent images, so you have to know a trick: Pikas have established routes in the talus, and tend to follow those routes over and over. Spend some time with your subject and you can learn those routes. Pre-focus on a spot on that route and wait for them to hit their mark.
This is a spot on the route where she pauses very briefly to check for predators before she resumes her sprint. I had to keep the shutter speed between 1/1250 and 1/2000 seconds to get sharps images.
Pikas are considered at at-risk species due to climate change – they’re very vulnerable to warm weather. It’s estimated they can only survive a few hours if temps get above 75F. That makes it difficult for them to migrate to different areas, and there’s only so far they can move up a mountain until they run out of mountain.
Pika (Ochotona princeps)
Mt Evans Wilderness Area, CO
Jobu gimbal, Feisol tripod
ISO 320, f/6.3, 400mm, 1/1250sec
I have a LOT more images on my WEB SITE