Sunday, January 2, 2011

HOOFED MAMMALS: Bighorn Sheep Stories

I am moving on to Bighorn Sheep. Hopefully, they will all be stories I haven't written about before. Bighorn Sheep had been classified into seven subspecies, but DNA testing now shows there to be just three: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep found in the Canadian and US Rocky Mountains and throughout the northern parts of the US; the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains; and the Desert Bighorn Sheep found in the Southwest Mountain Ranges. Between 150 to 200 the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep live on Clemon Mountain, part of the Washington Cascades. Each winter they come down to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area near Naches (on the Eastern side of the Cascades). Grasses and hay are put out for them each morning around 9:00. If you get there around 7:30 or so you can watch as small bands of 7 to 10  appear on the top of the mountain and start the long trek down. It might take them an hour or so but they end up waiting -- a hundred or so yards away -- for the hay to arrive. There is a parking lot for 15 cars or so, and then a fence to keep people from getting too close. As the Bighorns arrive they become restless and playful:

Young males practice being tough:

Even older males have a go at it:

Occasionally, they will notice you:

When the food comes they gather much closer.

This ram came walking up to the fence where I was. Hence the eye contact in the last photo: 

The Bighorns are around for an hour or so, then start back up and over the mountain, each band following the route they came down. Wonderful sight. And, wonderful way to see these magnificent animals in the wild.

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