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Pikas and Prairie Smoke

June 20, 2017

Our day began at Hellroaring Trailhead where we met Youth Conservation Corps Educator and Yellowstone Park Ranger Matt Ohlen. He led our group in a citizen science survey of pikas at Floating Island Lake. Pikas are members of the rabbit family and are tailless, small, grey mammals with short round ears. Their habitat is rocky talus slopes at higher elevations.

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Conducting a pika survey – we were stationed around the base of a large talus slope.

One way to know pikas are present is by finding their small, spherical scat, which sticks together to form “towers,” and haystacks, which are piles of vegetation that they make as a means of saving food for winter. Studying pikas is important because they are indicators of climate change. Pikas have a normal body temperature near 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and only a few degrees increase in their body heat can be lethal for them, so they are particularly sensitive to increasing environmental temperatures.

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A pika “haystack” – a pile of grasses and plant material stashed for later use.

After a picnic lunch at Yellowstone River Picnic Trail, the group hiked up to a mountainside field of wildflowers to investigate the native flora. We studied the sticky geranium, death camas, arrowleaf balsamroot, and prairie smoke. During the 3.5-mile hike we observed a red fox, marmots, an osprey in a nest on a rock spire, a badger, and several native bird species. At the ridgeline above the Yellowstone River, we took time to reflect on a sense of purpose and a connection to our classrooms.

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Observing wildflowers

A Yellowstone acrostic poem:

Yet another day
Exploring the park
Looking at land features
Leaving the daily grind behind
Observing wildlife by
Wandering off the beaten path
Seeing creatures small on the
Talus slope (Where pikas live)
Oh, the humanity distracting from it all
Never wanting to leave this place behind
Endlessly grabbing hearts and minds

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Charlotte Heinze permalink
    June 20, 2017 11:25 am

    Just watched a program on the delicate plight of the pikas. Such a need to do something about our climate change! Did you feel the earthquake?

  2. Melissa Zerbs permalink
    June 20, 2017 10:10 pm

    Looks like you are having a great time, Ms. Sy. Looking forward to hearing all about this epic adventure when you return! Take care and be safe!

  3. Barbara Carson permalink
    June 21, 2017 9:18 am

    Wow..that blue sky in the wildflower picture is amazing. Beautiful landscape!!! Have a great day!!

  4. June 21, 2017 3:08 pm

    Just beautiful!

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