Oct 27, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Citizen Science and the Joy of Pikas

We’re Susan and Mike Molloy, volunteers for the Front Range Pika Project (FRPP) for the past 3 seasons, and we’re happy to share our thoughts about our involvement in this important research.

Unlike many of the guest bloggers and researchers here, we fit in a different demographic. We just entered into our sixties and have been retired for a few years. Neither of us have an educational background in the sciences, and nothing in our working careers prepared us for something like this.

Mike and Susan on the summit of Mt Ida (Inkwell Lake at back; Azure Lake front)

But for us, volunteering with FRPP was a natural fit with our various personal interests and passions — being outside, hiking, observing wildlife, photography, travel, technology, meeting interesting people, and in general, just satisfying our curiosity about the world we live in. And both of us value giving something back to our community and society.

We had often observed pikas in our many hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, but aside from seeing them as “cute” and entertaining to watch, we didn’t know that much about them beyond what you’d read in a national park brochure or nature guidebook. But at least we knew they weren’t rodents! :-)


For several years, our travel mascot has been Petey the Pika, a small stuffed pika we picked up at a National Forest Service visitor center gift shop. He travels on the dash of our car, and peeks out of Susan’s backpack when we hike.


So when Susan learned of the FRPP, we were excited to participate. Oh, and an opportunity to do more hiking? Yes, please.

During our classroom and field training, we were happy to meet other like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds. As we discovered from several years of birdwatching, the people you meet are the best!

It was cool to learn more about the pika and their habitat. Just the training alone gave us a much better understanding of these little mammals, and we couldn’t wait to do our first hike to our first pika location.

Pika Project training class near Loveland Pass

We took our role as citizen scientists very seriously. We’d been given training, knowledge, and field protocols and we wanted to bring back the best data we could.

And it was pretty cool to have a research permit in our pocket and to leave the busy hiking trails to get to more remote locations.

So we did a steep and strenuous bushwhack up Bighorn Mountain and successfully used our GPS to find the site where we immediately heard and saw a pika, found a fresh haypile, and collected fresh scat. We measured winds and temperatures, found the datalogger, and thoroughly documented the site. And we did all this in the best outdoor “office” anyone could ever hope to enjoy. We were hooked!

Looking mostly west from pika location talus slope

We had similarly wonderful and successful “pika hikes” at Trap Lake and Mt Audubon, but found no signs of pika at the Grand Lake site, and the Willow Park site. But no evidence of pika is data too, so we believe our efforts were useful.

Our appreciation and enjoyment of seeing pika when we aren’t doing citizen science has increased. We always build in extra time for our hikes in pika habitat. They’re just such a joy to watch and photograph.


We have become pika project “ambassadors” in our circle of friends, and with our families, especially our grandkids. It’s very possible that we overestimate the interest of others when it comes to the pika, but there are worse qualities to have. :-)

We are thrilled to be citizen science pika “researchers” and look forward to many more years of contributing as much as we can.


For more on Susan and Mike’s pika adventures check out their blog at:

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