Pika With Wildflowers

Jay Ryser

Lakewood, United States

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I know – I’ve gone a little nuts over pikas lately. They’re my new summer project.

I initially headed out to find my foxes, but with the big storm with high winds we had lately, the big trees in the park have been blown over, making the whole place a mess. The trails were closed this weekend to do some work. I did manage to find a couple of relatively cooperative cormorants there and a couple of wily coyotes in the high grass at Crown Hill while walking the dog.

Sometimes you have to be flexible in your goals.

This is Larry the Pika. he’s out in his talus field gathering food to last the winter.. And when he gathers food, it’s a labor intensive activity. He’s not out there gently harvesting flowers – it’s a full-body yanking to dislodge some of these alpine plants. His little 6-ounce body is heaving and straining to gather his food.

You’ll notice lots of tiny little wildflowers and plants in the talus. It’s a remarkable little macrocosm. Even at 14,000+ feet, there are delicate, tiny little flowers growing very close to the ground. They have to be close to the ground to prevent being blasted off the mountain by almost constant high winds. It can also be 5-8 degrees F warmer close to the ground compared to just a few inches above it. Every little bit helps survive the harsh alpine environment.

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, 1/800sec, f/5

Artwork Comments

  • Marvin Collins
  • Jay Ryser
  • DonDavisUK
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