Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bighorn Sheep!

 It's estimated that only 100 - 200 desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) live in Joshua Tree National Park. That's a really tiny population when you realize that JTNP is approximately 800,000 acres! They prefer steep, rocky, and inaccessible terrain, and they blend in perfectly with their background. If you hike in JTNP, it's very unlikely you will see one. I've done hundreds of hike in the park, but my one and only sighting was in 2016. A big male (they are called rams) jumped across the trail right in front of me just as it was getting dark and scared the heck out of me! I posted about it here. So you can imagine my surprise and shock when my friend and I rounded a rocky outcropping on a recent hike and came face to face with a female bighorn (called a ewe).
She didn't seem too upset by our presence. I think we were more surprised than she was! After I got over my initial shock, I decided to take a chance and, quietly as possible, open my backpack and change lenses. I had a wide angle lens on my camera, which makes everything look smaller and further away. Exactly the wrong lens for wildlife photography. But the risk was she might be long gone by the time I changes lenses.
This was my lucky day. She stood still, patiently waiting for me to change lenses, and posed politely on the rocks. How cool is that! Even luckier, a bighorn ram stood about 15 yards behind her, a little further back on the rocks.
A big, handsome ram. But look at his right horn (or where his right horn should be). Other than a nub, it appears to be totally missing!
I checked with a friend of mine, who's something of an expert on bighorn sheep. He said it's pretty common for rams to break off small pieces from their horn, but he had never seen anything like this. By the time a ram is 7-8 years old, their horns can weigh as much as 30 pounds, and they can actually weigh more than all the other bones in their body combined. So this poor guy is seriously out of balance, with 15 lbs on the left side of his head and nothing on the right. And yet he looks big and healthy. Talk about overcoming adversity!! I think we could all learn a little something from this guy.
When they don't move, they can be tough to see!
She must not have been too upset by our presence because she decided to have a bite to eat!

Did I mention that they are world-class climbers??
This sighting occurred in the early part of our hike, so we have pretty much our entire hike in front of us. But I was totally elated having spotted and photographed these bighorn sheep! And to think, I very nearly left my telephoto lens at home. I never would have forgiven myself!! I'll share the main hike at another time, but let's fast forward about 5-6 hours to the end of the hike.
As we followed this desert road back to our car, I spotted what looked like three people way up on the rocks. I took out my telephoto lens, and guess what? MORE BIGHORN SHEEP!
It looks like two ewes on either side of a lamb. And even at a great distance (this was taken through a 300mm lens), all three appear to be looking right at us!
A big crop shows them looking right at us and holding perfectly still. Probably trying to evaluate if we are a threat. I like the floppy ears of the little one in the middle!
After hiking a little further down the road, I scanned the rocks and could only see one sheep. I wonder where the other two went??
Another big crop... ahh, there they are!!

Wow, this turned out to be an epic hike, and one I will never forget! It's been over 5 years, and many many hikes, since my last bighorn sheep sighting. To see 5 in one day is amazing!! 
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by.
Stay safe and stay healthy!


  1. the sheep are beautiful and the skies are extraordinary too - thanks for a beautiful trip today!

  2. Wow, the photos are awesome so I can only imagine how it was to see it all live! Thanks for not leaving your telephoto lens at home :)

  3. Dearest Peter,
    Wow, that was indeed an incredible day. What a thrill for being able to change lenses and then capture them perfectly. Love the end of your hike encounter with the one lamb in-between two ewes.

  4. ...I have only seen them on PBS nature shows. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow, that's amazing. You were lucky.

  6. Amazing shots of the sheep! And the sky pictures were gorgeous!

  7. Congratulations on spotting again. I like their evaluation of threat :-). Even birds also stare in same way :-). The crepuscular rays at the end is fascinating.

  8. The two ewes with lamb reminded me of scenes from a John Ford movie... And two ewes goes the best picture prize!

  9. What a great way to "bookend" your hike. Not much wildlife waits while you change lenses; you must have had a very lucky day.

  10. Congrats on your Bighorn Sheep sightings. Awesome landscapes and sky captures. Awesome photos.
    Have a great weekend!

  11. Wonderful shots of those bighorn sheep and that hole in the sky incredible. Was for sure one of your better hikes and lucky you take that tele with you.

  12. Greetings and Salutations! It is a miracle to see 5 (five) Big Horn Sheep when there are 800,000 thousand acres involved. Plus, the ewe waited patiently for you to change camera lenses. Lesson: Bring more than one lens. The ram sure has a hard time walking with those antlers heavy as they are. YIKE! Glad I am not him. LOL! You captured some incredible sky shots at the end of your blog post. So proud of you! What an adventure!!!!

  13. How cool! I love spotting wildlife on my hikes! I was at Badlands National park about a month ago, and a huge herd of bighorn sheep (ewes and lambs) were right next to the road. I got some amazing photos which I'll share on a future blog post.

  14. Wonderful hike and what an experience seeing big horn sheep, the last few photos are truly stunning

  15. Epic encounters, epic pictures, epic post. A (literally) once in a lifetime experience?

  16. I’ve only seen the sheep high up through binoculars. You are lucky to get those great shots so close.

  17. What beautiful photos again. An incredibly beautiful meeting with those bighorn sheep. You have made good use of that opportunity to make a nice series of it.
    Greetings from the Netherlands

  18. Great photos. I came across bighorn sheep once, two of them, standing beside the road in Zion National Park. They were causing traffic chaos as we all wanted to take photos!

  19. Wonderful pics.
    Thanks for the post.

  20. wow! amazing, so worth taking your telephoto lens and risking. rewarded big time. even the sky rewarded you - last photos are awesome.

  21. You had an amazing day! Beautiful bighorn sheep that gave you some great photos. You must have sighted a family of bighorn sheep. Wow! Rays shining down through the open sky! Breathtaking!

  22. WOW! What a fascinating post about the bighorn sheep! And such incredible photography!

  23. Congratulations on seeing 5 sheep in one day! And those sky shots are pretty special!

  24. I like the sunrays in #18. Like an ufo landing.

  25. Those big horn sheep are awesome! What a sight to see and photograph ~ you earned it!
    Great sky shots too ~ Xo

    Living in the moment,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  26. It was your lucky day! Spectacular photos.

  27. What a lucky day you had on this hike. You are so right about them being hard to spot. They blend in with their surroundings so well that it is incredibly hard to spot them. I've seen them only a few times and have always been in awe of their climbing abilities. They are expert climbers always living in what I'd call extreme surroundings.

  28. That's incredible. I don't think I've ever seen a bighorn sheep in the wild ever. Of course I am never hardly in a place where they live.

  29. Such Magical Creatures - And The Last Five Or Six Captures, Well Done


  30. Congratulations on being in the right place at the right time and on having the skill and equipment to capture these priceless moments.

  31. Oh I loved this so much! Just gorgeous pictures, stunning really to see so many. and to get such wonderful pictures is amazing. I guess they see so few people that it didn't occur to them to be afraid. And that's just great. We have been fortunate to spot some in the Colorado Rockies, because our son knew where to look, but my pictures were not anywhere near as good.

  32. Wow, what a very special day you had and awesome photos to boot. The sky at end of day was also spectacular with the rainfall and the sun peeking through clouds.

  33. Animal and bird sightings are always the best part of a hike. What a special treat. Mother nature's gift to you.

  34. Esos terrenos altos y escarpados viven más seguro y se encuentran más a salvo de los posibles depredadores. Supongo que será una especie protegida.

  35. The ewe looks surprised, too! Great, sweet model and wow to the ram. Interesting with the horn. Sweet family pic. Stunning ending with a dramatic sky.

  36. Oh how lucky you were SPP, what an amazing sight indeed. Loved the group shot, a family maybe? They certainly are sure footed climbing the rocks there. What a treat!

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