I've been photographing a book on pika. Like our first book, it will be written by Dorothy Patent and published by Walker Books. Even though I started the project last August, this is really my summer with the pika, which now I dedicate to Brian.
I thought you might like to take this journey with me.
Basically I leave the cabin between 5:00 A.M and 6:30 A.M then drive the thirty-five miles through forested foothills to eventually climb up 11,000 foot Beartooth Pass. Along the way I pass by beaver ponds, meadows with grazing elk and deer. Aspen groves alive with nesting birds. Now and then a bear crosses in front of me or a moose acknowledges me from the marshes.
Well, here goes. Day 1
I spotted elk and moose on my way up. The road was icy in spots. On the pass the snow was deep with only a few rocks protruding out of the white. I got a fine shot of a pika feeding on lichen. The Pass would close for a week because of bad weather.
Finally the weather broke. Mostly clear skies. In a meadow just past the gravel pit I spotted a great gray owl. Cassie had one here two years ago but I couldn't locate it again. As much as I wanted to get to the Pass, I decided to sit tight and see if this big owl might catch something then lead me to its nest.
Time passed and the gret gray caught nothing. But not because it wasn't trying. Time after time it hit the ground. The owl must have changed perches a dozen times. Finally I gave up. It was now 7:45. I had been watching him since 6:30 A.M.
On to the Pass.
What a day! The clouds were just right for scenics. I watched the pika for a time to figure out their patterns, then set up my camera trap on a snow burrow.
As usual, the pika seemed to race everywhere but where my camera sat. While I waited I was capturing great shots of them chasing around through the snow covered rocks. Since I have to turn in my photos by October, this may be my only chance of pika/snow shots.
The great gray owl kept entering my mind. Maybe I should have stayed longer.
More than an hour passed. Finally a female pika, (I had seen her gathering grass for her den earlier), approached my trap. For the nest thirty seconds I took shot after shot with my remote. The mountains in the distance were perfect.
I waited a while longer, then retrieved my camera. Anxiously I scanned my shots. The pika was sharp and the settings were perfect. But to my dismay, the camera had sunk into the snow tilting it up and cuting off the lower part of the pika!
The light was harsh so I headed home. It was 10:30 A.M.
Cassie and I, along with our good friend, Mike Dunn, went after the great gray that night. Cassie soon spotted it and we moved out across the meadow to watch it, being careful to allow it plenty of room to hunt. Mike volunteered to watch the owl, while Cassie and I searched the nearby timber for sign. What we really hoped was we might hear sounds from the nest.
Well, we didn't. And the great gray again unsuccessful in its hunting. Presently I got a good shot of the owl. Cassie zoomed in on the image and pointed out the pointed tail feathers. She was right. Juvenile! We were looking for a nest that didn't exist. This owl was just too young.
Bull elk along the way. I'm amazed at how many elk I'm seeing. I tried to recreate my camera trap shot, but was unsuccessful. Did get some good calling from the burrow entrance. Two mountain goats far away.
I stayed away for the weekend and was amazed at how much snow had melted. I set up my other camera. A marmont lay sunning below me. Suddenly a pika appeared beside him. For a time they just sat there ignoring each other, when the pika appeared to suddenly nip the marmont on the rump. The marmont whirled around but the pika was gone! Later that same marmont climbed up to where I stood and approached a female. They sat together for a bit then started a short vicious and loud fight. They separated then and glared at each other from atop boulders.