Photo Journal, Issue 18, March 2016

It was a cool and rainy weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of the Los Angeles Basin. About one hundred volunteers had gathered to help conduct the annual bighorn sheep survey. Since the bighorn sheep is an endangered species (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), the National Forest Service, California Fish & Wildlife Service, and some other agencies and conservation groups had organized the survey on the ground, and the helicopter survey had been done the day before to avoid cloudy weather. Some of the local streams were running high as a result of the overnight storm, so a number of survey teams moved up into the steep terrain early on March 6.

Over the last twenty years, bighorns have been making a comeback from the previous thin populations. Diseases from domestic sheep, predation by mountain lions, and limited range have kept the population numbers low. But the annual survey is necessary to gather actual counts of the wooly animals. Our team of nine people moved out carrying long lens cameras, spotting scopes, and binoculars.

The first sheep group had spent the stormy night at lower elevation, but then to avoid predators they were moving quickly up through the higher escape terrain to the safety of the mountain tops. Three animals started crossing our trail, so we were busy with cameras and lenses as they paused on one cliff. One ewe ran on ahead, while the second ewe paused halfway. The ram came up and stood beside the ewe until she was ready to continue. It’s always nice to see altruistic behavior in animals.

A couple of hours later, the second sheep group with a lamb was observed, and it was also moving up into the higher cliffs. By noon, we had surveyed what we came for, so the observation data was completed.

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