Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pika Boo

Grizzly Creek - Kananaskis

eep-eep-eep, The sound was coming from somewhere to my right in amongst the boulders part of the Rock Glacier trail located just off of highway 40 and 2 kilometers north of the Highwood Pass at 7300 ft in Kananaskis Country. I knew that there were Pika's near me as I could see the little haystacks of grass drying in the morning sun that the pika's were gathering up to feed on throughout the cold winter months ahead. Most of us know many wild animals, insects, and reptiles. Some more obscure and seldom seen. Some are cute, others are threatening or scary, and others are grand and majestic. Pika's actually remain active throughout the year and survive through the long winter by feeding on the haystacks dried and stored from harvesting grasses throughout the summer. These small relatives of rabbits make their homes in the boulders and scree of talus fields of the Rockies near timberline. As a defense against any and all predators, the pikas have a colonial warning system. In any colony, one or more pikas will usually be sitting on the peak of some large rock, just resting and soaking up the sunshine. While doing so, they are also on guard duty. Everything, anything, that moves within their range of vision, which is excellent, is spotted and the alarm chirps are given. In fact, you will probably hear the pikas long before you see them.

Once you have located a pika, taking its photo is comparatively easy; all it takes is time. When the pika knows it has been discovered, it will dash off and be gone in a blink of an eye and that's quicker than a click of a shutter. As I went about the business of photographing Pika's, something out the corner of my eye caught my attention. Looking up from my viewfinder I found myself eye to eye with a what at first glance appeared to be a chipmunk on steroids. However I realized it was a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel. Both have black stripes running down their back and both can be downright brazen in their attempts to get food from hikers. The biggest physical difference between the two is size. A chipmunk runs about 8 inches long and weighs around 2 ounces, while a golden-mantled ground squirrel is 9 to 12 inches long and weighs between 4 and 14 ounces. The squirrel’s back is brownish gray, with one white stripe bordered by black stripes running down each side. Unlike the chipmunk, the squirrel’s stripes don’t extend up to its face. The squirrel’s name comes from the golden brown or russet mantle over its head and shoulders. Whitish fur rings circle the eyes. I suspect hikers had been feeding him as he would approach and sit on a boulder looking for a handout.

I finally had my fill of shooting photo's of Pika's and headed back down the scree slope to my truck parked below on the shoulder of highway 40. I had only proceeded a short distance when I spotted a Grizzly Bear in the distance near the road where he was feeding on Buffalo Berries growing along highway 40. Upon hearing my truck start up, he headed off into the bush that bordered the road. I drove down the road a piece where I pulled over and shut my truck off. I thought there was a outside chance that he would re-emerge to continue feeding on the Buffalo berries. After a few minutes, sure enough, he re-appeared from the trees about a hundred meters further down the road from me. The problem was that he was not close enough for a decent photo so I started my truck and drove down the road before shutting off the engine and coasting towards him. Once more he moved off into the trees nearby and re-appeared a hundred meters behind me. I decided at that point to quite annoying him and leave him to feed in peace, while I continued on down the road knowing that I would be back to the high country of Kananskis on another day.

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