Desert bighorn sheep – Part 2

The obvious feature of the desert bighorn sheep is its big horns.  Rams have the largest horns, which are curled and weigh up to 30 pounds (including the skull, according to Mark Jorgensen, in his book and slideshow, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon*), and become especially important in dominance rituals* during mating season.

DSC_0259 Resting ram & annular rings)

DSC_0263 Resting ram (2)

The ewes have smaller, spike-like horns that help protect themselves from predators such as coyotes.

DSC_0244 Ram and ewe

DSC_0290 Desert bighorn ewes

Mark writes (page 73) that ewes use their horns to strike other ewes in competition for food and water, and that they also use their horns to expose the fleshy fruit of cactus, which is then picked out by their lips.

DSC_0140 Cactus chewed by bighorn sheep

Agua Caliente Regional Park was once occupied by residents that planted oleander for its durability, flowers, windbreak and privacy features.  Unfortunately, this non-native plant is toxic and one oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can be deadly (page 116).  Efforts are underway by the State of California to eradicate oleander from Agua Caliente County Park within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The plants were cut down and chemicals applied to the stumps, but last month we spotted an oleander regrowing at Agua Caliente site #80.

DSC_0068 Oleander poisonous to bighhorn sheep

Peninsular bighorn sheep were listed as an endangered species in 1998 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife now monitors their recovery* by briefly capturing, testing, counting, radio-collaring and tagging sheep.

DSC_0301 Desert bighorn sheep close-up

While the sheep socialized, I imagined them “talking” to each other, but according to Mark, the lip curl (seen below) is actually the ram’s testing of the hormonal levels and receptivity of the ewe (page 77).

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep lip curl

DSC_0302 Large horns on rams

Not only did the sheep appear contented, I was definitely contented and feelin’ groovy* with our special time together and am looking forward to the next meeting when our camping season in the desert resumes next fall.

DSC_0284 Contented ram

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert bighorn sheep – Part 1

Ancestors of the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) once roamed the mountains and valleys of Iran, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, and Siberia before crossing on ice and land bridges during interglacial periods across what is now the Bering Sea into the Western Hemisphere, says Marc Jorgensen* in his comprehensive book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon.  My first close-up encounter and photo shoot with the desert bighorn sheep occurred five years ago and is documented in my posts, “Peninsular Bighorn Sheep” and “Bighorn Sheep revisited.”  My second close encounter occurred last month and is seen below and in a following post.

Coming out of the restroom in Agua Caliente Regional Park in the Anza-Borrego Desert region, I spotted desert bighorn sheep on a nearby hill just above the campsites.  Their color and size blends in well with the landscape.

DSC_0163 Distant view desert bighorn sheep

This herd consisted of 14 sheep that often positioned themselves in different positions to look for danger such as mountain lions, coyotes, and humans that have been seen here.  I slowly and quietly hiked in their direction as they moved down the slope to the lush greenery around the campsites.

DSC_0168 Sheep coming down to eat

They first had a good look at me on the road just as they were about to cross into the campground and had to make a decision on proceeding to food or to safety.

DSC_0177_2 Decision time

I believe some recognized me from the previous encounter and others perceived I was not a threat, so they continued on toward their brunch.

DSC_0182 Crossing into campground

They enjoyed their picnic by the campsites…

DSC_0204 Campsite sheep picnic

until oblivious and noisy campers cut through the sites on their way to soak in the nearby spa and pools.*

DSC_0207 sheep wrapped up picnic

So the sheep crossed back to relax in their own “day use area”…

DSC_0211 Sheep on way to "day use" area

DSC_0223 Sheep in "day use" area

where they posed for me…

DSC_0251_2 Desert bighorn sheep

and then settled down to relax and sunbathe.

DSC_0237 Bighorn sheep group 2


DSC_0235 Ram smiling while sunbathing

I shared in the warmth and happiness of the moment and heard “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy“.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert dreams of rain and flowers

I woke up from my dreams to grab my Nikon camera to catch the sun before it bore down on the Airstream Safari trailer, flowers, and bighorn sheep, as a heat wave broke over the San Diego area.

DSC_0307 Heat before sunrise

It was already warm even before the sun pierced the horizon of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0321 Burning desert sunrise

Ocotillo leaves and flowers were shriveling up while back at camp, the trailer was making a valiant effort to keep cool by flying its sails and having all windows and vents open and numerous fans running. (See “Desert heat“)

DSC_0149 Airstream sails flying

By early morning an important decision was made to close up the Safari and turn on the air conditioning for our and our corgis’ safety and comfort.  Dogs can get hyperthermia easily as we found out when our corgi Tasha vomited several times late one afternoon, but quickly recovered the next day (See signs of heat exhaustion).

DSC_0010 Larry acesses desert heat

Before it got too hot, we chatted with our neighbors, Bev and George, who were thrilled to see a mother quail and four chicks again this spring (as they had in previous years).

DSC_0446 Quail and 4 chicks

George delighted in showing me the Desert Willow,* Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata, flowers frequented by hummingbirds.

DSC_0015 George & Desert Willow

DSC_0083 Desert Willow flower

The spring desert wildflower season is now winding down, but the Desert Agave, Agave deserti, looked triumphant with its yellow flowers on tall spikes, as I hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail.*

DSC_0051 Desert Agave flowers

Although bighorn sheep are known to eat agave and other cacti such as hedgehog cactus, they seem to prefer to eat softer textured plants when available.  As the desert vegetation begins to dry up, the bighorn sheep have been seen coming down off the nearby protective mountains and hills in search of food near the campsites.

DSC_0195 Bighorn sheep grazing in campground

After their campground picnic,* they retreated to a nearby hill to rest and talk.

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep resting

As I gently, quietly, and slowly approached, some of them seemed to recognize me from my first closeup encounter with them five years ago.  The 14 sheep in this herd, positioned themselves to detect danger from any direction, yet seemed perfectly relaxed during my 40-minute photo shoot.

Agua Caliente Bighorn sheep herd (14)

For me, it was like a dream… and a fitting way to say “Goodbye” until we return next season when the cooler air, rains, and flowers return.  I waved to them as I left them to dream of rain and flowers in the desert sand.*

DSC_0111 Red Torch Cactus

Red Torch Cactus, Echinopsis huascha  (Near Agua Caliente Regional Park Entrance Station)

*This is a YouTube video.

Happiness in the blooming desert

Happiness is spreading in the Anza-Borrego Desert along with the wildflowers*, so we returned to our desert home away from home and were greeted by abundant sunshine, flowers and friends, such as Ann from historic Julian, California,* who gave us a beautiful display of poet’s daffodils,* Narcissus poeticus in a mason jar before returning home.  Julian’s daffodil lady, Sally Snipes, began planting bulbs to honor her father in 1990, and now millions bloom every March.  We’ll return here with our Airstream Safari in May.

DSC_0284:3 Narcissus poeticus

We arrived in Agua Caliente County Park* on the first day of spring, the spring equinox,* and enjoyed the longer daylight to set up camp, while bathed with warm, early evening breezes and a waxing moon.  Three evenings later, the Full Worm Moon* rose, along with a penumbral eclipse.*

DSC_0198 Full Worm Moon 2016

A happy sun looked down upon hamantaschen* that I made and brought from home to celebrate Purim.*

DSC_0016 Hamantaschen for Purim

Like all days of celebration, Purim is a wonderful time to get together with friends, so we visited Bert and Janie (and their Classic Airstream trailer) in Borrego Springs and shared cha siu bao* and hamantaschen.

DSC_0192 Bert, Janie, Larry & Bill

Most of our time in the desert was spent exploring and admiring the Anza-Borrego spring flowers.  Larry found a coyote gourd.*

DSC_0021 Larry & coyote gourd

A nearby palo verde tree, Parkinsonia florida, was exploding with yellow flowers that peaked during our stay!

DSC_0131 Flowering palo verde

Also nearby, was a wash where Larry was thrilled to find a large mound of Krameria bicolor, aka Krameria grayi, in full bloom.  The close-up shows the flowers and its barbed fruit.

DSC_0114 Krameria grayi bush

DSC_0116 Krameria grayi flowers

Nearby this Krameria were two clumps of strawberry hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, with profuse blooms that closed at night and opened during the day. (See Bert Gildart’s “Botanical Adaptions to the Desert“.)

DSC_0100 Hedgehog cactus cluster

DSC_0147 Hedgehog cactus flowers

Also making the point in the area is Gander’s Cholla, Cilindropuntia ganderi.

DSC_0157 Gander cholla

And when the sun set, the moon bloomed and the stars danced with happiness!*

DSC_0216 Night stars and moonlight

*This is a YouTube video.

Monkey business under the Hunger Moon

The Hunger Moon* was rising as we unhitched our Airstream Safari in the California desert, which marked the conclusion of the 15-day celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey.*

DSC_0038 Hunger Moon 2016

This moon is also called the Snow Moon* because it usually occurs during the snowiest month of the year, but in San Diego, we just had the hottest February since records began in 1874.  Here in the desert, we experienced comfortably warm, sunny days, and cool, clear nights that were perfect for celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival* as we did last year at this site, except this time, we suspended a large paper Chinese lantern with string attached to a long bamboo stick from our garden.

DSC_0049 Chinese Lantern Festival Full Moon

Evening breezes made low light photography of this large paper Chinese lantern challenging until I held on to it…

DSC_0079 Lantern festival celebrator

while our Chinese lucky lion* looked on and laughed (perhaps regarding the Year of the Monkey political predictions)!

DSC_0065 Chinese lantern festival lion

The Chinese New Year* is also known as the Spring Festival,* and this year, it felt like spring arrived early at our campsite, especially with freshly cut Freesia flowers that Larry brought from home.

DSC_0007 Spring Year of the Monkey

Larry also brought a pork and mushroom mixture that was placed in dumpling wrappers to make siu mai,* which were then steamed.

DSC_0121 Larry making siu mai

DSC_0131 Pork mushroom siu mai

Recent rain and warmer temperatures have brought new growth and flowers to Agua Caliente’s Moonlight Canyon flora.

DSC_0097 Moonlight Canyon

Swaths of red were seen across the desert due to prolific chuparosa, Justicia californica, blooms.

DSC_0106 Agua Caliente chuparosa

And a beautiful and fragrant Cattleya bloom greeted us upon arrival home and seemed to announce the arrival of spring!

DSC_0191 Cattleya (at home)

“Winter is gone, the mountains are clear, and water sparkles… Spring comes, birds sing, and flowers fragrant.” (A Chinese Spring Festival – New Year’s couplet,* Chun lian.)

*This is a link to a YouTube video.