Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hanging out With the Pikas

My last full day in Colorado was spent high up in the Rockies. I left my rented room well before dawn and headed up to reach the top of the pass just after sunrise. I parked the car and grabbed my hat, gloves, some water and my camera gear. Hiking upward above 12,000 feet isn't easy for a close to sea level guy like me. I would climb twenty or thirty steps and then stop to catch my breath. I repeated this process over and over until I was high up a talus slope where the Pika live. American Pika are typically found in western North America from British Columbia in Canada to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, California and New Mexico. They are usually found at higher elevations from 8,000 to 14,000 feet, though there are two lower elevation populations; one along the Columbia River and one in North Eastern California. Their preferred habitat is in rock slides and talus rock covered slopes between the timberline and down into subalpine forest. Pikas are related to rabbits hence the nickname of "rock rabbits" is sometimes used. They definitely have the cuteness factor going for them. Pikas have a small, round body, peppery brown fur, large round ears. They are typically six to eight inches long and weigh in at about about six ounces. One of the coolest things about them is, like Polar Bears, they have black skin underneath their coats. The most amazing thing about them is that they don't hibernate. Instead, during the short window of summer, they gather a wide variety of flowers, grasses and plants and dry them in little hay stacks. These are then stored in their dens to eat during the long winter. At present many populations of Pika are in decline. It is believed to be linked to global warming. Pika are now missing at many historical sites that they used to live in. Whether this is due to drought or global warming, this has yet to be determined. Status as an endangered species has been applied for, but it was found that there was a lack of research to attain that status and research is ongoing. I had a fantastic time photographing them. It was great just sitting there in the rocks watching them running to and fro building up their hay piles. They would periodically stop to take a break and sun themselves. I photographed them until the light started getting too harsh. As I stood up to go I spotted a weasel above me that was also in search of Pikas. I don't think it wanted to be their friend! Alarm calls were sounding all over the Pika colony. I moved cross slope trying to get ahead of it, but I never sighted the weasel again. By then I was pretty tired, and I lay down on the tundra looking up at the blue sky and a few clouds floating by. Before long I nodded off to sleep. What a great nap I had! The Pikas were one of the highlights of my trip, and I look forward to photographing them in the future. God's love and blessings to all of you, Chris All images were created with a Canon 7DmkII and a Tamron 150-600m lens on a Me foto tripod. Exposures varied and it still amazes me that the Tamron lens that was damaged when it fell out of my backpack onto the concrete was able to produce such fantastic images.


  1. They are just adorable. Wish I had known about them before I went a couple years ago. I bet I saw them as I saw some type of animal scurrying about in the same general area.

  2. Hi Shelly, they are really quick and when they do stop they blend in with the rocks really well. If you saw Marmots it's quite possible there may have been some Pika nearby as they often live in the same areas.