Pika Hunt :  Suggested Localities for spotting Pikas on Mount Shasta

Acutally seeing a pika on Mount Shasta can be a challenge. There are several reasons for this, but primarily because the pikas are not above "ground" very much, are not very noisy and are not out during warm days or rainy days.

I have found, consistent with the notes from the C. Hart Merriam expedition, that the best times for spotting them are at dawn and the ensuing hours and the hours before sunset. This crepuscular (dawn/dusk) behavior is largely due to the pikas avoiding the daytime heat of the talus slope. Also, during the latter summer months, August and September, they seem to be a little more active collecting plants for the winter. In my observations, they take these plants into the rocks where I presume they have  "haystacks."

I position myself in front of the slide and sit, listen and watch. Usually, if pika are present, I will catch a glimpse or hear one within an hour or two. If you hear one, you can get a "fix" on where it is and then, usually, be able to spot one. I should  mention that on some occasions, I will hear a "warning bleat" as I approach a slide. So keep your ears open as you walk up to any potential talus slope. Since I "find" pikas simply by watching and waiting for them to show, I find a packable camp chair to be a necessity.

I do need to add that I've had the following experience twice: I arrive at a likely looking talus slope in the afternoon. I wait, watch and listen. I set up camp. I wait, watch and listen. No bleats, no movement on the rocks, apparently no pikas. I sleep (listening as best I can--I will often wake up if I hear one at night). In the morning, I wait, watch and listen. Nothing. I pack up my camp to find another likely slide. I have my pack on my back and I'm walking away, when --- "eh eh" -- I hear some bleats, I turn around and spot the pika right where I was intently watching. My conspiratorial circuits whisper in my ear that they know what they are doing and they are playing with my mind.

Also, recognizing the habitat is absolutely crucial if you are looking for them in places that are not on my maps. For all my coordinates, they should be plus or minus 20 feet from the actual spot, but in each case if you go to the coordinates I've given, you will be very near a (usually) rather large talus field. It will be obvious that they live "there."

Also, it is known that pika sometimes abandon slides only to have those slides occupied at a later date. For this reason, and the secretive nature of their existence I cannot promise anyone that they will actually see a pika on any particular trip to any particular slide. The two pika hikes I mention below involve pika that have been seen in the summer of 2011.

    PIka Hunt : West Gray Butte

   Pika Hunt : South Gate Trail

Note on alpine vegetation: If you do venture off trail in alpine areas, please be aware that the alpine vegetation is extremely fragile. It is suspected that some of the mountain heather (Phyllodoce) are over a hundred years old. Hiking boots can do alot of damage to an area, and obviously, the more people off-trail the more potential damage. I was taught, as a botanist, to not step on alpine plants at all. I'm "cursed" to walk around on the larger rocks and/or sandy, plant-less dirt. I also don't wear hiking boots once I get to a slope. And, since most of the sites in this study are in the designated wilderness areas, remember that dogs are not allowed. The locality on the south side of Green Butte, in the Old Ski Bowl, is not in the wilderness and so if you want to hike with your dog and look for pika, I would suggest that locality. The same is true for the West Gray Butte locality.

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