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Yosemite cony, “squeaking.”
The Yosemite cony, or pika, is a dweller in the high-country rock slides above the fir forest belt. One of its other names, “rock rabbit,” gives a clue to the nature of the little animal. However, it is only about one-third the size of our smallest rabbit; the ears and eyes are comparatively small; and the hind legs are but little longer than the front ones. The tail is so diminutive as not even to be visible through the rabbit-like fur.
The traveler on our high-country trails will have little difficulty discovering the cony, if he will remain quiet while observing a suitable rock slide. Presently, the little fellows will begin their loud, squeaking calls from various parts of the slide. The observer will still need to look a while before the animals are sighted, because there is a ventriloquistic quality to the call, which seemingly comes from where the animal “isn’t.”
From Kodachrome by M. V. Hood
Patience will be rewarded by the sight of the conies clambering nimbly over the tallest and steepest of the boulders, or perched on top of one of them, “bleating” away. While they are active mainly in the daytime, it is not impossible to see or hear them abroad on the brilliant moonlit nights for which the High Sierra is noted.
This little animal literally “makes hay while the sun shines.” Grass, sedges, and other vegetation are gathered and placed in piles among the rocks to cure in the alpine sun. Apparently this is done in anticipation of the long winter in those altitudes, when the rock slide may lie under eight to fifteen feet of snow. At that season, the cony has a store of food placed “high and dry” to carry it over the winter. These piles seem to belong to individuals, which defend them vigorously against other pikas, although evidence cited in Animal Life in the Yosemite (Grinnell and Storer) indicates that a female and her young may make a group cache.
Rocks used as observation posts usually contain many droppings about 1/8 inch in diameter and resembling shot in appearance. These signs, together with hay piles when present, will indicate whether a particular slide is occupied by conies.
The sheltering rocks protect conies from most predatory enemies, except for three members of the weasel family who “use” the same territory—the Sierra pine marten, the Sierra least weasel, and the mountain weasel. They hunt for conies and are undoubtedly successful on occasion, for when one of these potential enemies appears, the pikas become quite excited and “bleat” for all they are worth, indicating that an enemy is recognized. Marmots and bushy-tailed wood rats also inhabit the same slides, but there is no evidence to indicate that they do not get along with the conies.
The white-tailed jackrabbit is another denizen of our high country. It seems to prefer rather flat, sparsely wooded terrain having some bushes present for thick cover, but ranges up to old plateaus over 12,000 feet in elevation. In the Yosemite Museum is a specimen from Merced Lake, 7200 feet. Rangers report white-tails along the Glacier Point Road in winter at about the same elevation.
In this region it is commonly called “snowshoe rabbit,” but that name apparently belongs to a much smaller hare which ranges in the north, no race of which has been recorded closer than 17 air miles from the north boundary of the park.
The white-tail is enormous as rabbits go, being about one and one-half times the size of the common black-tailed jackrabbit that is known so well in the lowlands. I remember once starting one up from under a willow bush in Tuolumne Meadows. My first thought was that it was a fox, so large did it appear. The tail and feet are always white, no matter what the season of the year. During the winter months it has a white coat, although the pale brown or black markings of the summer coat may persist on certain points, such as the tips of the ears or nose.
The white-tailed jackrabbit is more active in the late evening or at night, usually foraging where a fairly unobstructed view is afforded. This means, of course, that approaching enemies can readily be seen while yet at some distance. The droppings, flattened spheres about one-half inch in diameter, are to be found scattered about on the flat-topped areas where the animals have frequented the high country for many generations.
The black-tailed jackrabbit, or one of its races, is the commonest jack seen in the West. In recent years, it has entered the extreme western part of the park, near Crane Flat and Mather. It can easily be distinguished here by the black upper surface of the tail and very slender body.
The Mariposa brush rabbit is similar in appearance to the well-known cottontail, but with very much less “cotton.” It is about half the size of the black-tailed jackrabbit, but with ears shorter in comparison to the body. It is common in the chaparral of the foothills along the west boundary of the park, but has been recorded only once inside the park line.
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