A Hoary Tale

July 2017 – Shot of the Month

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0823)

A young marmot in search of a snack.

The tallest mountain in Washington state, Mt. Rainier, is famous for its glorious summer wildflower blooms.  In 2016, with our first summer in the state approaching, we decided that we should make the pilgrimage to catch Mother Nature’s wonderful show. Such a trip however would push me out of my comfort zone on several fronts — first, I am not a fan of mountain hiking (at least not with many pounds of camera gear); and second, I rarely shoot landscape photography so I tend to struggle to “find the the shot.”

So we cobbled together two long weekends to toil up and down mountain trails in search of colorful flora.  I lumbered under the weight of my gear and generally grumbled most of the way.  Lots of work for little reward.

However, on the next-to-last day we found a mother marmot with two youngin’s right by a popular trail.  These Hoary Marmots (HMs) were very comfortable with humans and we could readily watch them as they came and went from their burrow and explored the stream and hills nearby.  As an “Easterner” I was quite excited by my first marmot encounter.  I ran back to the car to get my big lens to allow me to photograph these guys properly.

Photographing critters, “ahhhh…back in my element.”   I love this shot in that it gives a nice view of the marmot and offers a small hint of the bouquet of flowers that were beginning to cover the meadows and surrounding hills.

I have since learned that marmots were actually not that exotic to me — in fact I had grown up around marmots my whole live while in Pennsylvania.  How so?  Turns out that what we call ground hogs (aka woodchucks) in the east are also a type of marmot.  There are 15 marmot species, classified as large ground squirrels by scientists,  and they are spread far and wide across the Northern Hemisphere in places that include Canada, the US, Europe and across parts of Asia.  Most of these species prefer Alpine habits but some can be found at lower elevations.

The hoary marmot, as photographed here, can be found in the mountains of much of Alaska, western Canada, and the extreme northwest of the United States.  The HM is a social creature that can live in colonies of up to 36 individuals — a colony can be spread across 35 acres and includes a dominant male. This group living is quite different than that of my childhood woodchucks who live solitary lives.

These cute rodents are vegetarian and live on leaves, grasses, sedges, and these rascals will devour the gorgeous wild flowers before your eyes with no shame.

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0607)Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (0432)

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier (1069)









Though, in their defense, while the sign says “Stay off the flowers,” it actually says nothing about not eating them.


Until next month….m


Nikon D4s, Nikon 600 mm, f/8, 1/640 s, ISO 800, +0.5 EV