Marmots on Niwot Ridge

Two marmots, left, near their den.
Two marmots, left, near their den. Click for larger image.

I’ve spent a lot of time using the controllable TundraCam, up on Niwot Ridge near Nederland, CO (17 miles west of Boulder). It’s at 11,600 feet, in the middle of an area of research projects, with great views of surrounding meadows, trails, mountains, and the research station itself. There’s always something to see, even if only the passing clouds. I’ve watched hikers, elk, sunsets, blizzards, etc.

This afternoon I was met with a close-up view of a nearby slope. Presumably the person before me had zoomed in to see something at that spot. At first I saw only rocks and vegetation. Then some movement caught my eye. Marmots! I saw as many as three at a time, busily darting around doing whatever marmots do on a sunny summer day. Or if not running around, then just catching rays while standing guard. At times when I moved the camera I’d swear they were watching me. Maybe they could hear the camera mechanism.

Marmots are bold little scavengers when hikers are around. More than once I’ve rested beside a trail munching gorp or a sandwich and turned to discover a marmot brazenly rifling my pack for goodies. They are about the size of squirrels or small house cats and I’ve not known them to be aggressive. Still, they have incisors that I wouldn’t argue with.

In the upper photo I’ve circled two marmots (look closely), both sitting on their haunches like prairie dogs, and the entrance to their den. In the long shot below, I’ve marked the den so you can find it for yourself if you’re interested in spectating. That’s my point, actually, because this is a live streaming cam.

Marmot den location in relation to camera mount.
Marmot den location in relation to camera mount.

9 thoughts on “Marmots on Niwot Ridge

  1. Marmots are some of my favorite animals. I swear they are little fur people. There’s a huge boulder on one of the meadow trails near Lily Lake where they always camp out for tourists – you’re right, set down stuff while trying to get that really good closeup and you’re likely to find another one going through your pack. I think they are organized.
    Cool camera stream!

    1. They do seem like fat little furry people. So comical and impossible to dislike. I hate to think of the ones around Lily Lake getting too dependent on tourists, though.

  2. I must plead ignorance here; I’d never heard of these animals before, well not that I can recall.

    Naturally I went to the ever dependable Google and Wikipedia. What gorgeous little creatures they are, Large squirrels of the Marmot genus.

    There are a great number of photographs of these little charmers, one in particular caught my eye, a young boy sitting with 3 obviously very friendly little fellows.

    I hope they are a protected species in the US I doubt they are in Pakistan India and the Eurasian Steppes

  3. …as i use a tablet, quality and size of images are oh so inferior to real lap or desktops. But as an experiment, dial the cam in as far as possible and search for tundra flowers… those tiny blue ones. The NP (or a photographer) said they were blooming at 11,000 feet along the Longs trail. Granted, could already be past, but 600 additional feet higher might cancel out the lateral distance? Marmots are special — i keep telling their groundhog cousins around here that i would happily take them for a family reunion. So far no takers, darn it!

    1. Forget-me-nots bloom all summer, so there might well be some within sight of this camera. However, it’s clumsy to operate and tight zooms can be tricky.

      It would be fun having some around outdoors. I don’t know about groundhogs, but in the mountains I certainly enjoy the friendly chirps of marmots and picas (even though it’s more likely alarm calls than greetings).

  4. On the Canadian prairies, where I grew up, we had gophers, which are a lot like marmots. They were wild, and would never come up to people. They were also considered pests, since they dug holes (many, many holes!), which were a danger to horses and cattle. I haven’t given those creatures a thought for many decades—thanks for prompting a memory!

    1. We had prairie dogs in Oklahoma, and also here in prairie regions, and yes, their burrows are a danger to livestock. That may also be the problem with marmots, although I can’t imagine much livestock in the rocky mountain areas that marmots seem to prefer.

      Much of our Denver-area growth is into prairie areas and there are frequent battles between developers who want to exterminate existing prairie dogs and conservationists who want to move them safely to other areas.

... and that's my two cents