Mt. Evans, August 27, 2018 - Partly cloudy skies
Very windy. As I walked down the slope to get into position for a decent background for this shot of the mountain goats, I was a little worried about how much trouble I would have at this altitude (approximately 14,000 ft) getting back to where the car was parked. I should not have worried - the wind practically blew me back up the slope.
Most of the mountain goats we saw were feeding in small patches of vegetation near the top of a ridge.
I saw for the first time an American pika (Ochonta princeps), a small mammal (6 - 9 inches long) with short limbs, rounded ears, and no visible tail. Believed to have evolved from Siberian ancestors that crossed the former land bridge between Asia and Alaska, American Pikas now live above the tree line of high-elevation mountains west of and in the Rocky Mountains.
Pikas are herbivores but do not hibernate in the winters. With their extremely dense fur, they survive harsh winter conditions by staying in deep rocky burrows under the insulating snow where they have stored enough sun-dried wildflowers and grasses to make it through the winter.
I enjoyed watching the mountain goats moving through the rocky terrain and marvelled at their agility as they were doing so. Having spent 40 years studying how the brain controls movements, I decided that in my next life I will study the mountain goat's neural representation of external space. Are there separate sensory representations of the terrain for forelimbs and hindlimbs? If so, how is the hindlimb representation constructed apparently without visual updates as the animal moves. I never saw one of the goats look back to see where a hindlimb was located with respect to the specific place where the foot had to be placed to prevent a fall and maintain an upright posture.