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Marten Hunting Pika

Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains (Montana / Wyoming)

The Talus Games: A Hilarious (and Slightly Terrifying) Look at Pine Martens and Pikas

High atop the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains, a drama unfolds as old as time itself – a playful David versus Goliath showdown, only cuter and way more high-altitude. In one corner, we have the American Pika, a tiny ball of fluff resembling a living stress ball with oversized ears. In the other corner (well, more like lurking in the shadows) is the American Marten, a house-cat-sized hunter with a permanent case of the zoomies.

For a whole week, I'd been chilling with the pikas, observing their adorable routine. Every morning, as the sun's kiss warmed the talus slopes (think giant piles of rocky rubble), these little furballs would emerge from their rocky hideouts, looking like they just rolled out of bed (which, let's be honest, they probably did).  Their mission? To become the world's fluffiest chefs, gathering every juicy leaf and tasty wildflower they could find to add to their impressive haystacks.

But then, one crisp September morning, things took a turn faster than a pika on a treadmill.  One minute, the talus was a symphony of happy squeaks and munching.  The next?  Radio silence.  The pikas vanished like tiny edible ninjas, leaving behind an unsettling emptiness.

Then, a blur of brown fur shot across the scene.  It was the marten, our resident hunter with all the grace of a caffeinated ferret on roller skates.  This furry flash zipped and zagged across the talus, disappearing into rock crevices like a furry Houdini on a mission.  He popped out here, he squeezed in there, a whirlwind of twitchy whiskers and steely determination.  You could practically hear the "Yakety Yak" music playing in his head.

Now, as much as I love a good chase scene (and let's face it, who doesn't?), there's a certain ethical dilemma when your favorite furry puffball is the main course.  Pikas are just so darn cute, with their button noses and perpetual wide-eyed wonder.  They're like living teddy bears built for high-altitude snuggles!

But nature, as they say, is red in tooth and claw.  The marten, despite his somewhat comical hunting style, is a skilled predator.  He's an opportunist, happy to snatch up a pika for lunch or settle for a juicy beetle if the opportunity arises.  It's a harsh reality, but hey, gotta survive somehow, right?

If you find yourself in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, hiking in the mountains, keep your eyes peeled for these fascinating creatures.  You might just see a pika, basking in the sun with a blissful ignorance of the tiny predator lurking in the shadows.  Or, you might catch a glimpse of the marten, a furry whirlwind on a never-ending quest for his next meal.  Just remember, the mountains may be beautiful, but the dramas that unfold there can be both hilarious and a touch terrifying.

By Jere Folgert

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