Archive from July, 2016
Jul 31, 2016 - Colorado    No Comments

Calling All Pikas!

Hi there! My name is Angela DeLuca and I am an incoming senior at CU-Boulder. I have spent this summer working with #teamPika16 in Colorado. Working as a field research assistant has been one of the most inspiring and eye-opening experiences I have had as a university student. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the team and I gear up (bright and early) to observe and/or trap pikas in various sites with breath-taking views.
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Each of us has been working on an individual project – mine is focused on identifying vegetation growing near pika habitats. These cute furry animals collect flowers and grasses during the late summer and store them to keep themselves fueled for long, snowy winters. To carry out this study I first try to find a “historical” pika hay pile (meaning a hay pile that pikas have been using for multiple years) by hiking up and down the talus slope. Then I find the most upslope path from the haypile and measure every half-meter. At every half-meter I stick a pin flag in the ground and try to identify all of the species of plants that are touching the flag. At first I had almost no idea what any of the names of alpine wildflowers and species were, but now I’m starting to get the hang of it! I continue to do this for 25 meters. After that’s done, I then do the same for the downslope, and to the left and right side of the haypile. One hay pile vegetation analysis can take me around two hours if I am working alone, but luckily I have the mountain views and wonderful teammates to help me! It really amazes me how different the species of vegetation are at the various sites – my personal favorite flowers are Alpine Avens (which pikas adore).
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As much as I love getting up close and personal with flowers and trees for hours, the highlight of this experience has been to really learn about the habitat and behavior of pikas and how sensitive they are to their surroundings. Getting to help trap and release them in the name of science is so wonderful!

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Jul 22, 2016 - Colorado    No Comments

On the Experience of a Pika Researcher

I remember the first time I encountered a wild pika. It was atop Piegan Pass in Glacier National Park, MT during the summer of 2006 and in that moment I remember with clarity promising to the pikas that I would return. A physical return to Glacier National Park is in the future hopefully, but my return to their rocky alpine habitat this summer has been far more rewarding than I could have hoped. Just look at Niwot Ridge where I work! Being an active part of the #teamPika16 has been, and continues to be a great way to give back to these amazing and emblematic animals of the fragile alpine environment.

JeremyReleasingPika

As a graduating environmental studies student, I can’t think of a better, and at the same time worse, way to end my studies. It’s the best because who can complain about working with a great crew in a beautiful environment with quite possibly the cutest animals on the planet? But it’s the worst because I now am faced with leaving for the real world knowing that had I been more vigilant like some of the younger team members, I could have lent myself to the cause longer and more thoroughly. Of course I can continue in the field, but who knows where life will take each of us. Still, I am filled with hope that everyone on the team, new or experienced, can help contribute to the science behind these alpine denizens.

JeremyPikaRelease

I’m studying the pika’s microclimate by burying temperature sensors in the rocky taluses where each pika lives. The sensors take data while I take a break…and while I learn to use computer programs to analyze all those data!

There are so many different projects being undertaken by #teamPika16 right now, from vegetation plotting, to microclimate studies, to pika behavior monitoring, and more! All of this being done mostly by us amateur-student scientists, just showing how much there is to learn still about the species and its challenging mountain environment. We have fun and do serious work at the same time, leaving us all with few complaints. We’ve been grounded for a few days, awaiting a new shipment of plague vaccine (that’s right, we vaccinate the pikas against bubonic plague, just in case). But when the vaccine comes in, we’ll be back in the alpine where we belong!

-Jeremy Bonnell