Thursday, May 5, 2016

Viewing The Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Once Again

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
I can't Imagine Trying To Walk Through This

Well, if you have followed the articles I’ve written over time and more frequently recently, you might be asking yourself, “Has he gone from veneration to worship?” Steve Yeager calls it, “Sheep Fever”.

Sharon accompanied me to the east side of the Sierra Nevada this week and it was less burdensome to have her along sharing the 6-hour drive from Fresno to Bishop via Tehachapi Pass.


Our plan was to look near Mt. Whitney where I had previously gotten some wonderful close photographs of a group of sheep. We then would look near Black Canyon south of Aberdeen and finally head up to Bishop for an overnight. We were scheduled to meet Steve Yeager at his place the following morning and look for sheep along Pine Creek Road. Here is a previous article on Steve.

I had high hopes for the site near Whitney but as we walked up the trail, it was obvious that there were no fresh tracks or scat to indicate recent sheep activity. It is a steep trail up and down but as we left, we remained hopeful that the site south of Aberdeen would have sheep. We used our binoculars for quite some time, moved further north and eventually crossed a creek and climbed about 700’. There was still no recent evidence of sheep there either. This was my third attempt with no sightings at this location. It doesn't mean the sheep weren't there. We once saw a herd of about 50 deer in that area. The CDFW places transmitter collars on some sheep, which helps them locate the sheep, but we only have our eyes aided by binoculars, which are not nearly as attuned as Steve or Dr. Wehausen.

 Inyo Mountains To The East

Can You See A Sheep? We Couldn't Either

After an overnight stay and breakfast, we headed to Steve’s place to meet up with him for the trip up Pine Creek Road above Rovana. We had two stops along the road as we climbed. Steve spotted four juvenile sheep at the third stop. There was also a young ram above them. I got plenty of photographs with my Tamron 150-600mm lens adapted to a Sony A7R2.

Steve claimed the four juveniles were on their own because their mothers were preoccupied with new lambs that they had birthed higher up. By going very high, the mothers protect the new lambs, which have also no scent, by making them less vulnerable to predators. In the meantime, these four juveniles were footloose and fancy free with deeds of “derring do”. We watched one jump off a 30’ cliff and of course, the others followed suit. Steve thinks that some of the young mortality is connected to this kind of risk taking.

Steve Guestimated That This Was About A Thirty Foot Jump

We continued to drive higher in hopes of getting closer but the young sheep seemed uncustomary wary at this distance and moved higher also, keeping us far apart. In all Steve and Sharon saw four juveniles, two ewes and two young rams. I never did see the ewes in the willows.

White Mountain Peak To The East

 Young Ram One
 Young Ram Two
Skyline Shot Of Barely Visable Sheep

We walked above the gate toward the mine taking more photographs with me getting a shot of a second young ram. I included a skyline shot that should indicate just how difficult is to see these sheep unless the background rocks contrast with their coats. These sheep all had white coats.

Sharon's Photograph Of Steve And I Walking
The Captivating Beauty Of Sheep Country
And Of Course Mighty Mount Whitney

We talked to the tungsten mine maintenance men and they noted that they had several mountain lion and bobcat sightings and the group of nineteen had scattered after that. This was Sharon’s first time to see the sheep and she was able to spot one on her own. It was so rewarding once again to see these wonderful endangered animals and I wish the mountain lions and bobcats would stick to a diet of mule deer.

We stopped back at Steve’s place and my Sharon met his Sharon. Homebound, we stopped near Mt. Whitney again but saw no fresh evidence of sheep. My gusher from the week before had become a dry hole so to speak.

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