Archive from July, 2015
Jul 27, 2015 - Colorado    No Comments

Test Your Pika Knowledge!



“Heya! My name is Hilary, and I’m a rising junior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Being a New England girl, I’d never seen a pika before this summer and I hardly know anything about this amazing species. I’m studying the microclimate that pikas live in, down under the rocks. Over the past couple months, I’ve learned a great deal about pika. Take my quiz to test your pika knowledge. For the record, I probably would’ve failed if I’d taken this quiz two months ago.”

Take Our Quiz!

Jul 22, 2015 - Colorado    No Comments

The Life and Times of a Research Assistant

This is “Max 3” reporting for blog duty. You’ve already heard from “Max 2” (Max Plichta), and “Max 1” is exempt on account of being 7 years old. I am headed into my sophomore year at CU, studying biology and anything else I can cram into my schedule. It’s certainly been an exciting and busy summer for me working both at the Mountain Research Station and maintaining trails in Jefferson County.

LongUnoccupiedPikaHaypileSite_NWTLTERI’m from Wyoming, and anyone who is familiar with that state has encountered hurricane-force winds on a biweekly basis. I really thought I could relax and enjoy the mild Colorado weather I had escaped to…until today. With winds clocked at 50 mph, on several occasions we were nearly kited off the West Knoll by the tarps we were carrying. But while dodging flying clipboards and crouching low to the ground, we managed to get a whole lot done. I used a GPS unit to map out about a dozen pika haypiles, when I wasn’t checking traps. Here you see me and an old  pika haypile site on Niwot Ridge.


Pika survival was poor last winter, and wind keeps the pikas under cover, so we found a lot of empty traps today. The only pikas we trapped today were the ones trapped yesterday, and those pikas were pretty irritated. Patience was running thin, until the end of the day when. . .we caught a new pika! Unlike Pikachu, the pika is sensitive and must be handled with great care. It takes a whole team to anesthetize, tag, sample blood, tissue and hair, weigh and then release a pika. Fortunately we have been working together for this first half of the summer and the capture, sampling and liberation of this pika went very smoothly, resulting in exciting new experiences for me and Jasmine. Jasmine (another member of #teamPika15) named him Poncho Libre. Here I am communing with Poncho.


For Poncho, the experience might have been exciting but it was probably not so fun. I’ll ponder that while I take this next week to backpack through Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks for reading.

Jul 7, 2015 - Colorado    No Comments

It’s All About The Data

Hi everyone, my name is Jasmine Vidrio and I’m a senior at the University of Colorado. This summer I’m having the wonderful opportunity to work with pikas. I also get to spend my summer with some amazing scientists! Below are my pika peeps from left to right: Hilary Brumberg, Drew Eline (she actually works with marmots), my advisor’s son Max, Max Wasser (yep, another Max), Jasmine Vidrio (me), and Max Plichta. (Yes, there are a lot of Maxes!)


This has been one of my first opportunities to work in the field with wild animals, and I’ve spent a lot of time hiking up to Niwot Ridge looking for signs of pika. Being in the field is amazing; I get to spend all day surrounded by beauty. But last week I was reminded that although fieldwork is spectacular, it also needs to be productive.

Before last week, I had never had to enter my field data–or anyone else’s–into a spreadsheet. In college we are often given data sets to work with, but I never understood how much work goes into transferring written notes into an Excel sheet. Let me tell you right now, neat handwriting is IMPORTANT! I had to transfer some of my own field notes into Excel and that was a bit of a struggle. But when i had to transfer someone else’s field notes, it was actually scary. Here’s a shot of a GOOD page in the notebook I was reading; but even this had missing data and strange entries!  I don’t dare show the BAD pages–wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Maybe the person who wrote those notes knew exactly what they were trying to say on that day, a year ago, when they scribbled across those pages, but I had NO clue what some of the words were or what that person’s original intent was! Although this may seem silly to an outsider, it made me realize that a whole day of observations could be wasted if I take horrible, messy field notes.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of fieldwork because, as you can see in the picture below, fieldwork can involve some otherworldly conditions.

Endless Snow

It’s not like working in a lab, and it can get a little messy. It’s easy to forget that at the end of the day the dataset is the most important thing. Data are the tools that scientists use to validate their findings. As a scientist, I want someone to read my notebook and extract critical information with ease. So I’ve made my goal this summer to be neat, precise, and detailed in my observations.

Wish me luck–my advisor just asked me to enter some more data!