The Mount Shasta Pika Project :  Devil's Garden Pika Locality Commentary

On Sunday, January 8, 2012, a clear, cool day I visited the Devil's Garden lava flow on foot from Weed, California (see route map). I approached the head of the lava flow from the north as I had taken the road heading north across the face of the hill which seemingly sits at the source of the lava for the flow.  As I got onto the basalt rocks I noticed that the rocks were more or less of uniform size (~1-2 m across) and formed an enormous rock pile with lots of room between rocks and very deep crevices. The pika sites on Mount Shasta, at higher elevations, are talus slopes with soil and plants mixed between the rocks. The rocks at Devil's Garden provide deep habitats compared to the upper elevation sites. The photos demonstrate the appearance of the habitat which is very similar to Lava Beds National Monument. Although moss and lichen were abundant in the lower crevices, few flowering plants were visible on the surface, but I did notice some Penstemon, a common associate of pikas on Mount Shasta. No scat was found on the flow at all, although fox and bear scat was abundant off the lava flow. After reaching a suitable spot near the "head wall" of the flow, I spent an hour watching and listening for activity without results.

I decided to continue to move south across the top of the flow. The traverse was easier than expected as the lava blocks were stable, of uniform size and lacked the vicious quality of the more glassy lava found in some parts of our region. After moving slowly for about an hour without hearing or seeing any activity, I was approaching the southern end of the top part of the flow. I thought I heard pika bleats coming from behind me, to the north, where I had just been -- but as a train was moving through at the same time and the distance away was great, I just wasn't sure. As I was reflecting on this, and my lack of certainty -- I heard the characteristic bleats of a pika about 20 m away in front of me. Several "eh - ehs" and it was over. I couldn't see the animal, but I moved closer to the rock pile where the sound had come. It was at about 2:30 pm. I waited at the spot hoping for another appearance, but without luck. At ~3:30 pm I decided I had better think about getting off the flow and to be back before dark (see commentary on the route to see why I didn't make it by dark). Topo map showing location is available here.

I count this as a "hearing." I definitely believe that pika are living at Devil's Garden at 4514' but given the very low elevation I will need to verify this datum with other trips and, hopefully, either with recorded evidence and/or other biologists.

I have been exploring pika habitats between 7,500'-9,500' but until I learned about the Johnson notes, I hadn't given too much thought to the lava flows on the north side of Shastina, the parasitic cone to Shasta. Of course I knew about them and I knew about the pikas in the lava at the Lava Beds, but my time was spent in the higher elevations. In light of this development, it would appear that there is a very large job to answer the questions of pikas at low elevations on Mount Shasta -- just look at the context of the Devil's Garden site to get a sense of the magnitude of the project.

Update to Devil's Garden Pika

On the 21st and 22nd of April, 2012, I returned to Devil's Garden to confirm the pika hearing. I heard pika during the night ~9 pm and again in the morning around 7:30 am. I didn't get a glimpse of any, but the terrain is very rough. The lowest of my three pika GPS recordings is 4,481'. On the 3-D map is the elevation of the 1/8/2012 site, 4,514'. The 1/8/2012 site is about 100 yards north and slightly downslope from the 4/21/2012 site.

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