Mountain Nature and Culture Podcast
About This Show
This podcast explores the natural and human history of the Canadian Rockies as well as its attractions and culture. We'll look at the ecology and wildlife as well as the unique plants and birds that make the Canadian Rockies home. Looking back through our history we will share the stories behind the scenery. This is the place for all things Rockies.
Most Recent Episode
048 Pikas struggling with warming climates, Neanderthal medicine, and mining gravel river beds
3 days ago
Pika in a time of Climate Change The Rocky Mountains are known around the world as a great place to spot wildlife. Although most visitors to the area are looking for iconic animals like elk, bighorn sheep and bears, some of our tinier residents can be equally exciting. One of the more fascinating alpine animals is the pika. If you’ve never seen a pika —relax, you’re not alone. I remember my first sighting. I was nearing the summit of Nigel Pass in Banff Park, when all of a sudden I started hearing some strange sounds. They could only be described as a sort of bleating ‘Eeenk’. I would have quickly discounted them as a ground squirrel or marmot had they not come from the middle of a large, seemingly lifeless rock slide. Somewhere within this maze of boulders was an invisible animal. The problem was only compounded when I moved in for a closer look. That single ‘Eeenk’ suddenly became several —I was surrounded. I assured myself that I wasn't going crazy and became determined to discover the maker of these strange noises. As I watched and listened, I was astounded at how the sound of a single call seemed to come from all directions—almost like a ventriloquist throwing his voice. This must work very well to confuse predators; after all, it confused me. After about ten minutes, I resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to find my strange beast. I struggled on with my pack and was about to continue down the trail when a flash of movement caught my eye. About thirty metres away was a small gray animal. It resembled a guinea pig and blended in so well with the limestone that I almost lost it in the rocks. Out came the binoculars for a closer look. It was hunched on a rock and I could see that it was about 20 cm long with short rounded ears and no visible tail. When I finally returned home to my field guides, I flipped through the pages until, right after the rabbits, I found him. He was a pika and was part of the order Lagomorpha. This meant that they weren’t rodents, as I had suspected, but were more closely related to the snowshoe hare (who is also a member of this group). Unlike most other small members of the alpine community, the pika does not hibernate. It spends most of the summer months collecting plants and building large hay piles (some of which may be as large as a bushel) and leaving them to season, much like a farmer leaving out his bales. It will be these stores that will get it through th