Pika: A small, haystack building. rabbit

A Pika (also known as a Cony) could be mistaken for a large mouse or a baby rabbit. Actually it is a rabbit – a small short-eared one – a rock rabbit. These are fascinating little “guys”. They live on talus slopes, rocky banks, or steep boulder strewn hillsides at elevations between 8,000 to 13,500 feet. This very vocal rodent makes small squeaky noises, or noises that sound like a bleat of a goat, as they scurry over their rocky habitat.

The Pika is a small (6 3/8”) mammal that has dug its den deep inside the rocks. It mates in early spring and has 2 to 6 offspring per litter and usually has two litters a year. It doesn’t hibernate. Therefore, the gathering of a supply of winter food is necessary. The greenery in close proximity to the den is either eaten on the spot or gathered and spread on the rocks to dry. Like a farmer, the dried vegetation is gathered into the den and piled in little haystacks. These haystacks may have as much as a bushel of grasses, mosses, herbs, etc. stored in them.

Much time is spent sunning on a favorite rock which also serves as a lookout for their main predator – the Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine). The weasel’s slender body allows it to follow into the Pika’s tunnels. It has been observed that Pikas will take turns leading a weasel on a chase. When one starts to tire, another will cross between chaser and fleer. This is done until the predator decides to hunt for easier prey.

These little rock rabbits are extremely cute and lovable. We have seen them in the Colorado Rockies, Yellowstone Park, Central Idaho, Craters of the Moon, and Alaska to name a few sites. On a June trip to Denali Park, my wife and I had driven into the park as far as vehicles are permitted. We started hiking and I proposed to “go this way, we might see a Pika”. Within 15 yards on the trail – sure enough, they were all around us – how exciting!

Wherever there are high elevation talus slopes with vegetation close by, you have a good chance to find them. Just look very carefully and listen – perhaps you’ll get lucky.

A Pika Amid the lichen covered rocks

Amid the lichen covered rocks

A Spring Mountain Greeting

GLACIAL LILY, also sometimes called Dogtooth Violet, is the flower pictured. It is one off the very first blooms to show itself after the covering of snow melts from its mountain home. Whenever we’ve chanced to be on the Idaho-Montana continental divide, or in the Colorado Rockies, just after the snows of winter have permitted it, this flower, in full bloom, has always been there to greet us. It’s such a delightful and graceful flower that it’s difficult to pass it by without photographing it.

This inviting species consists of a beautiful yellow, nodding inflorescence connected to a 6 to 15”, slender stem. There are 3 petals and 3 sepals that curl back and upward and six stamens hanging down. The anthers are large and prominent. They range in color from yellow to red to white or purple. Other variations of this bud may be reddish. Two or three large, long, broad, lanceolate, basal, lily leaves extend from the plant’s base.

The plant sprouts from a long, starchy corm. Indians often used the bulb as a food source. The bulb is also a favorite of Grizzlies, who dig for it with their well-equipped claws. High in calories, the energy derived is important for the bear’s summer body weight increase.

As we often frequent high and wild areas, we come upon this plant frequently. It is usually found in dense patches of many individuals – an enticement to a bear. As it is usually cool after snow-melt, coming upon this flower will warm your heart with its charming design and bright color.

Glacial Lily

Glacial Lily