Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Fieldtrip 02-12-16

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Bighorn Sheep
The Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep population is estimated at about 600 and spread mostly along the crest of the Sierra from north Yosemite to Olancha Peak in the south.  In an area this large a sighting of Bighorn Sheep is almost always accidental. Dr. John Wehausen, long associated with the SNBSF is often quoted as saying, “Look for rocks with legs.” There is no better way to portray the sheep blending in with their alpine habitat.

As someone who spent many hours actually looking for the sheep, I can honestly say that only trained eyes using spotting scopes or binoculars will reveal their whereabouts. I accidently encountered two sheep on the trail to 60-Lake Basin but was not able to photograph them before they were gone.

I had an opportunity to spend time with John again as a part of a field trip jointly sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday February 12th. It was a perfect winter morning in Bishop CA as we gathered below the offices of the CDFW for a briefing. There were about 20 individuals in all who were briefed by John and SNBSF board member Virginia Chadwick. John stated, “This time of year, the sheep come to us in February and March. They come down to avoid the mountain snow and to eat the emergent vegetation. It is also this time of year that the sheep are most vulnerable to mountain lion predation.”

The day before the field trip, I drove the observation route along Pine Creek Road above Rovana CA. This road dead-ends at a trailhead and tungsten mine. If deer were sheep, I could have gone home with plenty of wonderful photographs the following morning. I looked as I drove which is a fool’s errand.

Two Bucks
 Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep
We arrived and parked off the road about 10:00am at the area the CDFW folks had located via a GPS tracking collar on the sheep. Even when we were directly below the sheep, it was quite difficult to actually spot them, although the trained unaided eyes of John Wehausen were able to spot them. The rest of us used high-powered camera lenses and spotting scopes. I used a 400mm telephoto lens on a tripod. Unfortunately they were too far above us for even a 400mm lens, which is equal to 8X binoculars and even a cropped photograph barely showed the sheep that blended so well with their surroundings. I think if I had used this lens last fall near Mt. Langley, my photographs of sheep there would have been much better than the 200mm lens I backpacked in with. John and I were closer there. I think when it comes to lenses for photographing sheep, go big or go home.

The White Mountain Range To Our East

I Think This Is Four Gables Above Us Looking Up Pine Creek Road

It was a long trip back to Fresno following this but a rewarding experience non the less.The other folks were cordial, helpful and fully committed to the restoration of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. Thanks again to the SNBSF and the CDFW. If you are interested in finding out more or joining the SNBSF clink this link.

*Note: I have permission from each of the participants to use photographs that include their faces. [It was much easier to get their photograph than the sheep].  

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