A Surprise Visit From an Old Friend

An American pika peeks out from a moss-covered rock in a talus field near Upper Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

I left early this morning to hike in one of my favorite spots, the short trail in the Columbia River Gorge from Horsetail Falls to Upper Horsetail Falls and on to Oneonta Falls. I was mostly interested in shooting video of the waterfalls, with some photos too, but stopped to shoot this moss-covered rock in a talus field. My heart filled with joy when I noticed a familiar face looking back at me, an American pika that I hadn’t seen when I stopped (it’s on the far left edge of the frame in the middle, looking straight at me). The location might seem surprising if you know much about pikas, as I was close to sea level and pikas normally live high in the mountains. But there is a population here in the Gorge, they live at the lowest elevation of any pikas in the United States.

I had seen them in the Gorge several times before, once near Multnomah Falls and a couple of times on the way to Angel’s Rest, but I had passed by this spot a number of times and never seen (or heard) them. I always look when I pass a talus field, I can’t help myself, pikas are always a treat to watch. I hadn’t even brought my 100-400mm lens on this hike as I don’t usually see much wildlife on this trail and I was just taking a quick hike while it was still cool (it was unusually hot today and is going to bake tomorrow). I wouldn’t have had time to get out the lens anyway, I didn’t see the pika for long, but I did hear it calling out several times as it moved about invisibly under the rocks.

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