Archive from August, 2014
Aug 27, 2014 - Colorado    No Comments

The Breakfast Club

Our study sites at the Brainard Lakes Recreational Area are beautiful. Add a couple of moose into the picture and it’s absolutely breath taking. We have had numerous moose sightings throughout the summer. The moose love eating breakfast just as we happen to arrive at the parking lot. I was able to snap a picture driving by! I always seem to notice the same three adult males, all eating together. I would expect there to be one male accompanied by a female, possibly two. Wierd, huh! I have seen two females in the area as well. One adult and one calf. These moose sightings have become part of the Colorado pika team’s routine.


If you have never seen a moose, it is a great experience. In the picture above, the shrubs are just shy of five feet tall. The moose is standing roughly six feet tall at shoulder height! The average weight for a male moose varies from 600 – 1000 pounds. A female moose can weigh from 500 – 700 pounds. It is incredible seeing such a big mammal, especially when you’re close to them. The moose tend to eat breakfast right by the road. I have been within 25 feet of this big guy above (of course with the comfort of my Jeep behind me). All in all if you happen to stumble into one of these guys while recreating at the Brainard Lakes area snap a picture. There will be plenty of tourists joining your photo!

~Christian Prince

Meet Grumps, the cantankerous pika

The only capture I had all day was a big slimy slug that set off the trap. Ever since I accidently rubbed my arm all over a slug at one trap, I’ve hated them. I am still washing the slug slime off that shirt; I don’t know what they make the stuff out of but someone needs to patent it. I was on the last trap of the day and I was about to get skunked. But, lo and behold, the trap was shut and I saw a fuzzy creature in it. It was an adult pika and, man, was he itching to get out of that trap. He was big with notched ears and missing fur probably from territorial disputes with neighbors. After he tried to bite me for the third time I decided two things: first, that I would call him Grumps, and second, that I really liked this pika. Life as a pika is tough, there are all sorts of predators that would like nothing better than to make dinner of you. We’ve seen several short-tailed weasels hunting around the talus for pika. On top of vicious predators, you have a harsh winter to survive, kilos of vegetation to gather, parasites to endure, and always invading pikas trying to steal your territory and hay. Grumps had the tenacity to endure this all and prosper and I had to respect him for that.


Meet Muffins, the super cute pika.


Not many animals have a super power but let me tell you about one that does. Muffins is his name and making hay is his game. We were getting desperate to catch more pika at one of our sites and thus decided to do an early, early morning. Let me tell you waking up at 3 am to hike in the dark is an adventure in will power and we had a crazy day planned out. First we set out traps at a lower site, then hiked to a high site to set more traps, then back down to the low site to check traps, back up to the high site to check those traps, and once we were all done with that we got to pack yet more traps up the mountain! After setting and checking a lot of our traps that morning our spirits could use a boost and that is when we met Muffins. All the way at the top of a site we caught arguably the cutest pika in the history of pika-kind. Just a mere 90 grams of fluff he sat in our trap calmly eating an apple. Muffins was one of this years juveniles and had recently been told to hit the road by his parents. While in the search for a new territory he had stumbled across one of our traps and decided our bait would make a nice snack. His adorable presence was exactly what we needed to get through the rest of what turned out to be a 14 hour day.


Traps, traps, and more traps…Welcome to the 2014 North Cascades pika project!

With the snow gone in the Cascades, it’s time to start our field season. Last year’s hair snares worked surprisingly well; however, to gain the depth of genetic information we require for our analysis we’ll need more DNA. This means that Ashley and I will have to live trap the animals and take a small tissue sample using an ear hole punch. We’ll focus on two transects since applying this labor intensive sampling method will take a lot longer than hair snares. Each trap weights about a pound and a half and we need to deploy about 20 to each of our 8 sites to effectively trap our animals. This means that we’ll be doing a lot of backpacking with very heavy packs. Since we’ll be in such great shape at the end of the season, I signed up to run a marathon in the fall because hey why not?


Aug 6, 2014 - Colorado    No Comments

Sit Still, Get Ready, Observe

You will be amazed at what you see, well most of the time. Hi everyone, my name is Max Plichta and I am a junior at The University of Colorado in Boulder. This summer I am working with pikas, with Chris Ray and the amazing pika team. My project for this summer is to conduct observations on pika behaviors in their natural habitat. I take a seat and watch a pika for about 45 minutes writing down everything that he or she does. Whether that’s grabbing a comically large amount of plants in their mouths and scurrying back to their haypile or hiding from me underneath the talus. Regardless what my pika is doing, after sitting still for awhile I usually see something new, sometimes it’s a new activity from a pika that I have never seen before, just this last week I identified a cheek rubbing behavior that I was mistaking for licking rocks. Other times I get to see some other alpine animals like marmots, weasels or even a hawk moth, my new favorite insect you should definitely google an image. Other times I don’t see anything at all, but I get a spectacular view.


I love working out in the field because I get to be outside all day and see things that some people are not able to see. I get to work with other people that appreciate the open space and all the things you can see in the field. If you enjoy the outdoors and are interested in the sciences I suggest spending a summer in the field, not only will it be an enjoyable experience but I guarantee that you will see things you have never seen.

~ Maxwell Plichta, Pika Team-Colorado