Friday, September 27, 2013

Pika Poo and More

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA
I’m sitting on a boulder sketching and waiting  ... and waiting.  This looks like good pika habitat -- high country, rocks, and some vegetation. 
After sketching for a while I can’t resist taking a peek in the darkness under a rock near me.  It is hard to get close.  With my eyes I thought there was just littered dirt under the boulder; but then I set my camera for flash and shoot the hole.  Sure enough!  A fresh mix of forbs and grass stems is spread out -- drying.  I’ve found where a pika is storing food for winter.  Often their haystack is big enough to fill a bushel basket. I’ve read they often harvest plants that are toxic when fresh, but become edible after drying.  Are these some of those plants?  

Where are the little guys? After about an hour in one spot I move to another and start a new sketch.  Ah hah!  I hear the wheezy call of a pika .... first one near the toe of the slope and then one to my left, but nothing close.  I sketch.  So pleasant sitting on my very hard boulder.  Cotton-ball clouds float in the blue sky; a flicker calls off in the distance.  Shadows grow long early at this time of year.  Soon I’m sitting in the shade ... but I hear one sorta close.  He calls from the spot I left half an hour ago.  

There he is.  Cute little fella!  He sits on a rock and scolds me for a moment, then off he goes.  

I walk over to Dale, who is also is in wait and watch mode.  He is content to stay a little longer, so I go back to my second spot, back to sketching. 

“WHEEZE!”  Geez Louise, that was close!  I spin my head around to locate the pika who has the audacity to scold me from such close range.  Bad idea.  No pika.  Did I spook him, or is he just so well camouflaged I can’t see him?  In any case it is time to put my paint away and pick up my camera.  

I slowly get to a standing position and wait, camera in hand.  .... “WHEEZE!”  Another blast.  This time I can just see the top of his head.  He is close.  Wonderfully close.  But I want to see more.  Will he let me move?  I slowly plant the toe of my mono pod about three feet to my left, then I start to ease over.  Drat!  The dry grass is way too crunchy.  I feel like an elephant in a hen house.  
Slowly I move the necessary three feet.  There he sits.  He must know I’m only ten feet away.  I suspect he thinks by freezing I might not spot him.  Ha!  No hiding from me this time.  I get a picture!  

Poof!  he is gone.  Soon I spot him again on the far side of a tiny meadow, a meadow the size of my bedroom.  He is having his evening meal.  My pika eats his grass backwards, the best part first.  I can slurp spagette faster than he ingest his grass ... but he’d win a grass eating contest if I couldn’t use my hands.  For about five minutes I get little peeks of him foraging and then off he goes to a less settled spot.
Before I end this, I must tell you about pika poo (feces).  I get on my hands and knees to look under a boulder near me.  Have I been standing right next to another haystack?  No.  It’s a pika latrine.  I looks as if someone has spilled a quart or more of little dark peppercorns under the boulder!  Hundreds of them, probably thousands. The little round turds really do look like peppercorn but smaller.  Pikas, like other mammals in the order Lagomorphs, (which includes rabbits and hares), eat their feces twice.  The first batch of pika poo is soft and dark -- and still full of nutrition.  The second time around the poo comes out like little peppercorns.  How tidy of them to do so much of their pooing in one place.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In the Fog

A coast guard vessel heads out to the open sea.
Charleston Harbor, Oregon, USA

I was in a fog a couple of days ago ..... but the right kind of fog.  Cool, damp fog.  There was a breeze to go with it.  Enough of a breeze to stir the pot of fog, sometimes making it thicker, sometimes making it thinner.  Mostly it was the coolness I appreciated.  It had turned hot inland again and we came to the coast for some coolness.  It felt wonderful standing outside letting the chill seep in.  

When we arrived at the end of the little dike road in Charleston Harbor there were about a hundred gulls clustered on the small sandy beach and two big terns, probably Caspian terns.  It was too foggy to see the terns all that well, and they left soon anyway.  Dale and I sat in the car and munched on our traditional coast lunch:  a nice big shrimp cocktail, veggies, cheese, and crackers.  Yum.  A foghorn droned softly in the distance.  Various boats emerged and then disappeared back into the fog.

Then a brown pelican flew in and another.  The two landed on the sand just a few feet from the gently lapping waves.  Charleston Harbor is far enough up the Coquille River to eliminate any ocean swell, but the water still rises and sinks with the tides. The tide was near high and not much beach left.  One of the pelicans popped back up into the air and splashed down only about ten feet from its starting point.  Success.  He quickly gulped down a small fish and then returned to the sand.  
Soon more pelicans arrived, until we had 6 juveniles an one adult.  One by one they rose up and floated about forty feet above the water.  A pelican’s bill points forward when he is traveling, and mostly down when he is searching for fish.  These had their bills downwards.   It took just one plunge for me to hop out of the car with my camera.  I picked a spot to stand where I was partially hidden by rip rap and long beach grasses.  Mostly I think the fog help to soften my silhouette.  I stood about 50 yards from shoreline, and the pelicans were fishing just off the shoreline.  

Young pelicans are mostly grey brown, the fog just made them look a little duller.  The one adult has white on its head, also softened by the fog.  I watched one and then another soar by, bill down,  and suddenly turn and flare.  When he first spots a fish, he looks rather ungainly, but then the wings go back, the neck stretches out, and he plunges in, almost disappearing.  A quick little gulp when he comes up tells me he was successful.  Sometimes when a pelican fishes they seem to come up with a gallon of water in their pouch, but not these.  Maybe little fishes mean little gulps.