The Pika Project

Jay Ryser

Lakewood, United States

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Artist's Description

The more uncooperative my mountain goats become, the more I look to my smaller critters for inspiration. I had my COYOTE PROJECT in the winter, and now I have my PIKA PROJECT for the rest of the summer.

Since I have way too many pika perched on a rock images, I decided to focus (pun intended) on behavioral shots of pikas – something a little different and a little more dynamic. And, of course, my go-to pika is Larry the Pika.

Those of you familiar with Larry know that he lives in a talus field around 14,000ft. Larry has been a family friend for years – my son even gave him the nickname Larry.

In this image, Larry has collected a mouthful of plant matter and is on his way back to his burrow – he stopped briefly on a rock (where I had pre-focused the lens in hopes that he would do just that), and just as quickly resumed his dash back to the burrow. It helps to have fast reflexes if you want to photograph pikas.

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, 1/500sec, f/6.3

Artwork Comments

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