Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Grab a stump, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. You can tell stories; discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever floats your boat.

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Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby cgundersen on Sun Oct 02, 2011 1:40 pm

In thinking about how relatively unchanging the Sierra have been over the years, it reminded me that there have been some changes since I took my introductory hike on the High Sierra trail in the early '70s. For instance, I seldom see eagles in the Sierra. They appear to have been replaced by ravens and crows (which I've encountered in Kaweah Basin and all the way up to Yosemite). Pika were uncommon, but now they're downright rare. Years ago, there were a few pika on Piute Pass, but the last couple times over Piute, I've seen no pika. Where did they go (I know they tend only to be at high elevation, but Piute pass is certainly high enough, maybe they're tired of visitors)?

And, in the last couple years, I've started to run across more dried up lakes/tarns. For instance, the ~12000 ft plateau above Royce Lakes (to the east/northeast) has a couple tarns on the topo maps and both were dry the last time I visited (a couple years ago). And, last year, the lake that is supposed to sit at ~3700 meters a bit northwest of Shepherd Pass was dry. But, maybe last year's snow helped?

Certainly, there are signs of vegetation changes in places (Doyle's trip to the Lyell Fork of the Merced documented some), and I've seen lakes that used to have fish be taken over by frogs. And, I'm sure others have noted substantive changes (besides the vanishing peak registers). What next?
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby Hobbes on Sun Oct 02, 2011 2:12 pm

cgundersen wrote:I seldom see eagles in the Sierra.


Back in August, during our return to LA, we stopped by Reds where I fished Sotcher lake for an hour so in my kayak. It was a quiet, mid-week day, so there was only me and a couple of guys fishing from shore.

When I heard one guy call out "look at that!", I turned around just in time to see a Bald eagle swoop down, pluck out a rainbow, and then fly right over my head at no more than 25 feet with the trout firmly gripped between his talons.

It's the ultimate irony to have that kind of experience down in a "city" lake, rather than be rewarded for one's dedication up in the mountain cathedrals. LOL
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby rlown on Sun Oct 02, 2011 2:30 pm

In July at Davis Lk (yes the reservoir), the Osprey and Bald Eagles were duking it out over the fish. Saw a fish floating off about 400 yds; The Osprey dove from about 200' up, hit the fish, picked it up and decided it was too big for him. The bald eagle pair came in next to try. The male (I presume) hit the fish first; He was lame at his technique. With a screech of disgust, the female came down, and did the perfect pick. What was most amazing is how she re-positioned the fish, and then circled up to about 10,000', and flew into a head wind, west over the peaks.

Saw lots of Pika this Sept over Piute pass. They're still there. It's the Golden eagles I'm not seeing at altitude anymore. They used to be in almost every pic I took in the '90s..
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby Carne_DelMuerto on Sun Oct 02, 2011 10:38 pm

Saw a pair of Bald Eagles this July at Pingree Lake in Emigrant Wilderness. The circled for a while over the north end of the lake then disappeared from view.
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby AlmostThere on Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:36 am

Saw an Osprey yesterday, saw some Goldens - one flying over rural Fresno County roads, several more at a low elevation lake in the Kings drainage - last year. We see Ospreys in Yosemite every year.

Pika, I've seen traces and heard them more often than seen them - the ones on Donahue Pass were bold, the ones in other areas were more shy.

Bald eagles have closed down a local trail by nesting too close to it every year - the rangers don't want us to disturb them by hiking out there.
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby SSSdave on Mon Oct 03, 2011 8:32 pm

I haven't noticed any changes in rodents including pika. But then I'm often offtrail moving though talus. The best places to find either pika, marmots, or long tailed weasels is in talus that reaches down into meadows. Although they often squeek when anyone ventures near their zone, sometimes they just quietly hide. I enjoy finding a good place to sit about talus in such places and then watch and watch. I will often be surprised of how much movement occurs after 10 to 15 minutes.

We saw an osprey feeding at Kibbie Lake, early July 2010 and that included carrying off a nice sized trout. There are certainly a lot less waters that hold trout now than 4 decades ago when planting was more widespread. That would certainly reduce numbers of eagles flying into the high country except for those lakes where they have consistent found good fishin.
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby cgundersen on Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:32 am

Hi Everyone,
OK, I guess it's been my bad luck with eagles, but I still feel (like others) that golden eagles are WAY down relative to the end of the last century.

And SSSDave: do you have a photo of a long-tailed weasel? Not sure I've ever seen one of them. Or, I may have mistaken them for a ferret. At the same time, I was looking carefully at the huge aerial photo you took of southern King's Canyon looking into Sequoia, and it looked like the lake at ~3700 m NW of Shepherd Pass had water in it. By late September last year, it was dry, but if that indeed was water, then it did re-fill (at least, temporarily). That's somewhat comforting!
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby Ozark Flip on Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:27 am

Like Russ, I have recently seen lots of pika in the general area of Piute Pass.
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby markskor on Wed Oct 05, 2011 9:00 am

cgundersen wrote:In thinking about how relatively unchanging the Sierra have been over the years, it reminded me that there have been some changes since I took my introductory hike on the High Sierra trail in the early '70s... I've started to run across more dried up lakes/tarns.
I'm sure others have noted substantive changes. What next? cg


Interesting topic – Too complex to have but one answer. The physical changes mentioned: drying/filling in of lakes and such, seem to fall under the Sierra’s natural evolution process. (FYI, Yosemite’s Mirror Lake really was once a lake)…chit that is supposed to happen over time. These changes are inevitable. While other changes mentioned – the frogs – Obviously much discussion available as to why - many causes oft repeated: parasites, viruses, trout competition.

The Eagles vs. Ravens comment is compelling. This summer, at a Tuolumne campfire, a Ranger expert in residence explained that the raven’s primary diet is trash and road kill; seems they do not hunt live food. She also cited her own multi-year study saying that Ravens in Tuolumne do not winter there and interestingly, none are ever found at altitude until after the road opens for the season. She stated that this year, only one day after the opening date, multiple pairs were first observed, (same last year too) in the Meadows, obviously suggesting a link between cars and available food supply...Smart birds. She went on to suggest there is indeed competition with the eagles for food, but dismissed this as a major cause for not seeing the numbers of eagles today as in years past…seemingly to suggest that the eagles are still abundant. She reasoned that although Raven numbers are up, Eagle numbers remain high too, but have moved /prefer wilderness. The reason we see more Ravens is that they advantageously co-mingle among people (read trash) while Eagles prefer the less traffic areas - thus things may have changed a bit here.

In my travels this year was glad to observe a rebirth of the ground squirrels…Suggest the main cause of the recent Sierra scarcity of these small critters (Squirrels, chipmunk types, Pikas, etc) has to do with yearly water supply availability. For the past 5+ seasons the Sierra experienced somewhat of a drought; water was not available and thus little vegetation - nothing thrived. No grasses – no seeds – no critters. Perhaps biologically these foragers sense more water = more food = bigger litters. Where in recent years past there was a noticeable shortage of these campsite pests (BTW, Steller’s Jays too), this season, with all the water, all appears abundant again, as if they were in some sort of extended hibernation.
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby oldranger on Thu Oct 06, 2011 7:45 am

Maybe the golden eagles moved up to Oregon. In mid summer saw 5 on power poles in 3 miles about 30 miles e. of Bend along highway 20! Had never seen one before in that stretch of highway.

As sssdave says find a good location and sit and a friendly pika might just show up. Don't remember seeing any eagles in the backcountry this summer but did see a few osprey. Of course no big deal as they nest right here in Bend.

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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby cgundersen on Thu Oct 06, 2011 8:04 am

Hi Mark,
Yep, I agree with you that the abundant water this year may have been good for a lot of critters, as I do recall seeing more ground squirrels than over the preceding couple years. And, this may also account for the apparent profusion of Piute pass pika. But, I'm still a bit sanguine about the crow/raven issue. I'm not doubting the observations of the Yosemite ranger, but what I've found to be remarkable is that I've run into crows/ravens in places I consider to be pretty remote wilderness. This includes Kaweah Basin (in June, 2009!!!), the upper reaches of the Kern (where, about a decade ago I'd seen the largest golden eagle I'd ever encountered anywhere) and upper Second Recess (August, this year). Anyway, I've seen no eagles in places where the corvids have been and this implies either that the eagles have been laying low, or they headed elsewhere. I did hear an independent theory that the golden eagle population tracks the bunny population (which, apparently, has been in a downward trend), so maybe when bunnies come back, so will eagles. I hope so!
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Re: Where have the ------ gone? (Pika, Lakes, Eagles...)

Postby Ikan Mas on Sat Oct 15, 2011 8:26 pm

Eagles need certain things: Tall snags to nest in, fish to eat, and generally left alone by people. High lakes aren't that friendly, given the lack of big trees. Saw an adult bald at Gem and Waugh Lakes in early August who seemed to follow up these mid level lakes looking for stupid trout. Wouldn't expect to see them (and didn't) at 1000-Island or Garnet given the limited size of the trees, unless they were passing through. From my own personal observations, Balds seem to prefer reservoirs to natural lakes. I'm guessing that reservoirs are larger and are stocked, giving them a better food base. Come to think of it, most of my Bald sightings are at reservoirs.

I see a lot more Bald Eagles now than when I was a kid (I'm 50). Banning DDT was the best thing that ever happened to Bald Eagles and Ospreys. Also helped that people stopped shooting at them so much. I had a great Aunt that regaled in telling me how she had shot 17 hawks and one eagle one season, probably in the 1940s, near Oakridge, Oregon.
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