Packing tape, check. GPS, check. Food, water, check. Time to set off on the trail to our first sampling site. We selected sites based on a number of criteria, accessibility being one of them but not necessarily top on the list. This means that we generally had to do a lot of bombing through the backcountry, but the upside was lots of great scenery.
Once we get to the talus patch, it’s time to start looking for signs of pika. We can’t just put our snares anywhere in the talus, so it’s best to look for locations of recent pika activity. Pika are territorial creatures, so if you snare at a site that they use and have claimed as their own, your odds of getting a sample are far higher. If you look close enough in occupied talus, you’ll see signs of pika, such as haypiles, pika pellets, and sometimes you’ll even see the pika calling. These are all good spots to snare.
When we find signs of pika we need to set up snares. The snares we set up are “hair” snares, meaning we don’t want to catch and actual pika, just its hair. To do this we use plain old ordinary packing tape! Constructing a hair snare is a lot like making a Lego structure. Some people more dexterous than I are able to roll the tape by hand; When I tried this, I usually ended up just getting the tape stuck to my arm hair, ouch.
I found rolling the tape is far easier if you use a wooden dowel for the center. You just roll it sticky side out on the dowel and it’ll pull right off, then just cut the tape tube to the desired length. Now it’s just a matter of building a snare that is tight enough that pika hair will get caught, but subtle enough that the pika will still run into it. This takes a lot of practice and time, each snare takes about 45 minutes to set up. We’d try and setup about 20 of these snares for each site and hope that at least 12 get hit.
Okay, several rolls of packing tape later (not to mention countless hours) you’ve got your snares set up. Now, it’s time to wait and hope for the best. We’d leave the snares set for a night or two before we check them. I’m not gonna lie, checking hair snares is an emotional roller coaster! You feel awesome when you get a hair sample. It’s the coolest thing in the world when your snare worked out. But when you check three or four snares in a row and get nothing, you feel like clubbing the closest pika! At any rate, we check all the snares and hope for 12 samples. Got ‘em great, clean up all the tape and go home. No luck, time to set more snares and do it all over again.
All in all, this was some of the best fieldwork I have gotten to do. The scenery was great, company was wonderful, and best of all, after some trial, and error the methods worked! We got over 200 samples from the Northern Cascade Mountains over the summer!