I have just sent out the first edition of my email newsletter 'Nature Moments'. My goal is to provide you some behind-the-scenes stories of the animals, plants and landscapes that I photograph, including natural history, conservation issues, and an occasional look at the making of a final image ready to print and display on your wall. I can send out the newsletter only to those who volunteer their email, so if you are interested in receiving it (and future ones) please subscribe. For those who want to see a taste, I provide a copy of the first edition here:
Welcome to Nature Moments
I extend a quick apology for Friday’s mistaken newsletter – I thought I was sending a draft only to myself! This and the next couple of issues are devoted to animals in winter. As a child growing up in the suburbs, I was amazed that animals could survive in the wild without the many conveniences that humans require. One approach shared by humans and many other animals is to harvest food when it is common and store it for use during the lean months. A great example of this is one of my all-time favorite animals, American Pikas.
Animals in winter: part 1
American Pikas have a problem: they do not hibernate but stay active all year. What’s more, pikas live on rock-strewn mountainsides that are barren in winter. Pikas cannot find enough food to survive winter, so they spend the summers busily harvesting and drying vegetation (see photo). They gather the dried plants into ‘hay piles’, which you can see if look carefully between boulders. These hay piles are a critical resource for pikas – without them, they will not make it through the winter.
What is the second-best way to make a hay pile? Steal from your neighbor! To prevent stealing, pikas are fiercely territorial (see picture below). Short skirmishes are common if any pika gets too close to another’s hay pile. They may look cute, but pikas can be quite aggressive – older animals bear the scars of many fights: nicked ears and healed bite marks.
Sadly, pika populations are very vulnerable to climate change. Pikas do not venture out on warm days (over 75F or 24C). Prolonged heat spells in the summer really cut into their time to harvest plants for their hay piles. In the winter, low snow cover makes it easier for predators to invade their burrows and kill them. Combined with shifts in vegetation, these effects of warming temperatures can easily doom these high-elevation specialists to extinction, one mountain top at a time. Careful observers have seen such local disappearances in Montana. I hope we can prevent further climate warming before it is too late!
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. If you believe you have received it by mistake, or wish to unsubscribe, please use the links at the bottom of the page. If you know someone who would enjoy getting future newsletters, please forward the newsletter to them -- many thanks!