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.

Agua Caliente stars

Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night* and a wild new year,” I thought as we returned to Agua Caliente at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, to enjoy clear, cool nights under the desert stars and to discover new stars!  Howdy Doody was already celebrating* while sitting on the picnic table next to publication stars, Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith), and behind the mask, a Buddha’s hand (fingered citron) symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune.

DSC_0021 Mardi Gras stars

Good fortune came to our early morning wildlife stars, first the white-winged doves, followed by Purple finches, as they feasted from wild bird seed held by our vintage, rustic feeder from home.

DSC_0115 House finch & rustic feeder

Our local roadrunner passed by, so we threw out some breadcrumbs, but the roadrunner disappeared, probably because a hungry, young coyote was lurking nearby and soon made its bold appearance.  (Its mother made her appearance last month, resulting in the permanent disappearance of a chihuahua!)

DSC_0028 Agua Caliente coyote

Driven by hunger, this coyote came into our campsite, while keeping an eye on us and our dogs!  (Larry held corgi Tasha while I crouched and photographed by the rear of our truck.)

DSC_0038_2 Coyote eating crumbs

While hiking, I came across a more natural food for coyotes, a 3-inch Coyote melon, Curcurbita palmata, which when ripe, yields seeds that have been found in coyote scat.

DSC_0060 Coyote melon

At the beginning of my hike, I saw a new sign warning of recent mountain lion activity.  The rangers told me that around Christmas, a bighorn sheep carcass was found with marks and covered with sand consistent with a mountain lion attack near the seep area of Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Cameras were set up around the carcass for four nights, which turned this puma into a poster star!

DSC50 Moonlight Canyon mountain lion

More wildlife drama occurred the following day at camp when Larry spotted a white-winged dove dangling by its foot attached to the top of a  20-25-foot Agave deserti dead flower stalk by entangling string.

DSC106 White-winged dove entangled

DSC107 White-winged dove & familyLarry notified Camp Host Dan and Ranger Melinda.  Dan quickly arrived in his utility cart, assessed the situation, and returned with appropriate tools, such as a saw, large lopping shears, chainsaw chaps, and needle nose scissors and tweezers.  Since the stalk had already bloomed and died, it was permissible to cut it down in order to rescue this bird.  Dan donned the chaps to protect from nearby thorns and sawed three quarters into the trunk, while I supported it with the reacher.  He then supported the trunk as I made the final cut with the lopping shears.  We rested the stalk on the utility cart and Dan folded back the dove’s wings and calmed it while I cut the many threads that were wrapped around the foot, toes and branch.  Photos were then taken and the dove was released and flew off to our delight.  Camp Host Dan saved this bird’s life and is a star in my eyes!

DSC111 Camp Host Dan & dove

Larry and I celebrated the season each evening by turning on a string of LED light bulbs that Larry had covered with Mixed Pepper Light Covers, which was wrapped around a wreath of homegrown red trumpet vine encircling enameled laser-cut steel in the shape of the sun – our star given to us by friends!

DSC101 Holiday wreath, Mardis Gras colors

A wild beginning of the new year, yes, but I think everything will be OK because here comes the sun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Polar Safari Holiday Express

DSC_0043 Polar Safari Express arrives

The corgis and I were cozy and enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun rays streaming into our Airstream Safari trailer as Larry, bundled in a parka, was mesmerized by birds feeding by the Palo Verde tree and the changing glowing colors bathing Whale Mountain.  A windy, cold storm had just passed through and brought ice to our dogs’ water bowls.  (Baby, it was cold outside.)*

DSC_0107 Sunrise & wildlife gazing

I ventured outside just in time to hear Larry say in a low voice, “Bill… a coyote!”  I looked across the park road and saw a very healthy, well-fed looking, beautiful adult coyote staring at Larry.

DSC_0110 Adult coyote, Agua Caliente

The coyote then took a look at me and went down through the creosote bushes followed by an adolescent and two pups.  The next morning, word spread throughout the campground that someone’s Chihuahua was off leash, chased something near the Nature Trail, yelped and then disappeared, which illustrates why San Diego County Parks require dogs to be closely attended and on 6-foot leashes!

As the sun rose, our campsite warmed and more wildlife emerged, such as the Hairy woodpecker pecking on our Palo Verde.

DSC_0178 Hairy woodpecker on Palo Verde

We brought along our birdseed feeder, but forgot to bring the hummingbird feeder, so we made our own, a wire-suspended glass tumbler filled with nectar (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of water) and topped with plastic flowers and a red piece of plastic that attracted the Anna’s hummingbird.

DSC_0361 Anna's hummingbird, rock tumbler

By late morning, the festive sun lit up our holiday table display.

DSC_0311 Winter holiday table

One of the items in this display is an Airstream-shaped pillow covered with a metallic silver lamé fabric that is now eight years old and shedding tiny silver particles that can be seen on the beaded palm tree trunk in the above and last photo of this post.  One of these silver specks landed in Larry’s eye, which resulted in a 4-hour visit to our local emergency room for removal upon our return to San Diego.  The pillow has now been retired!

Agua Caliente County Park had its own seasonal display in the form of Sweet Acacia, Acacia farnesiana, yellow flower puffs.

DSC_0293 Sweet Acacia, Agua Caliente

The days are now short and the nights have grown long but brightly lit up with our holiday lights.

DSC_0279 Camp night decorations

I especially enjoyed gazing in awe at the peaceful beauty of our hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah)…*

DSC_0255 Hanukkiah

… and thinking about what’s really important and beautiful in this world (real love).*  At this time of year, I also like to revisit the words and last sentence in Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Polar Express,* “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

DSC_0303 "the bell still rings for me"

*This is a link to a YouTube video.