Friday, October 3, 2014

Where are the Pikas?

Crater Lake National Park: Sept 9, 2014. 

Pika are little mammals closely related to rabbits.  They are only about 6 inches long and have funny little rounded ears rather than long rabbit ears.  They live only in the high country where temperatures are cooler.  They are famous for harvesting large piles of grasses and forbes and drying their ‘haystack’ for winter food.  For more about Crater Lake’s pikas see my blog post:

I am in wait and watch mode, sitting on a sunny log, waiting for a pika.  I’m sure at least one sees me but I can’t see him.  I feel as though I’m hunting, but with a sketchbook and camera rather than a gun.  Sketching the scene helps me to sit still.  Last year I also came in September and sat nearby and sketched.  I suddenly heard a loud “Wheeeze” about ten feet from me.  Up popped a pika to inspect me.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I hope it happens again. 

I’ve heard some far off pika calls when I first arrived, but they seem subdued.  In the meantime it’s a beautiful day to be sitting on a log, far up the outer slope of Crater Lake’s caldera.   The afternoon is pleasantly warm, maybe a little warm for my furry friends.  They are seldom active when it is warmer than 70 degrees.  Biologists are already worrying about the effects of global warming on pikas.  Their range has always been limited to high elevations and now they’ll get pushed into a smaller and smaller area.

A chickaree scolded when I first arrived and now two noisy ravens fly by, paralleling the rim of the steep cliff above me.  They are enjoying the updraft that bounces into the rock wall.  Yellow-rumped warblers flit through the hemlocks near me.  I even have a yellow jacket (wasp) land on my hand; fortunately the wasp isn’t aggressive.

I paint for about an hour.  Still no pika.  I think I’ll go check on where Dale is and see if he wants to try another place.  Since I’m not hearing the little beasties, I doubt he is seeing any. 

Dale never just tells me when he was seen something good.  When I find something I just blab it out right away.  He hates to commit, but he isn’t as noncommittal as he thinks.  There is an extra twinkle in his eye as he hands me his camera so I can examine the digital screen on the back.  …… and here is what I saw!
It's a badger!
Oh my gosh!  He is beautiful!  What is a badger doing way up here?  I’ve never seen a badger in Oregon although I know they are in the high desert east of here.  Dale was walking down the road and caught sight of the badger out of the corner of his eye. 

Now that I’ve joined Dale, the badger is gone.  We wait and watch.  I catch a quick glimpse and then wait some more.  About forty minutes pass.  The pikas are quiet.  Shadows are long.  This tumbled slope has lost all sunlight but sunset is still two hours away. 
Then, there, in the greyness of a field of tumbled boulders and shadows, wanders a badger.  He is farther away, far enough that he pays no attention to us. He pokes around one boulder and under another, inspecting.  He appears to be hunting pika. 
Badger are one of my favorite animals: beautiful markings on their face; a long furry coat that makes him look like a mobile mop; and short legs encased in black stockings.  When I see one, they are usually on a mission, often busily digging a hole to China.

With a badger poking around their tumbled rock pile, no wonder the pika have been so quiet.