Back on the saddle again

I was back on the saddle again and turned to look back down the trail that curved around and down into the Moonlight Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert where I had my first wonderful encounter with Peninsular bighorn sheep in January, 2011. My second encounter occurred when Bert and I hiked this trail last December.  After Bert and Janie’s visit two weeks ago, I was fired up and ready to go again on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.

I got on the trail at it’s eastern side, which allows for a gradual increase in elevation to get to the Moonlight Canyon, and hiked through the canyon without spotting any sheep.  On its western side, the trail meanders sharply up and over the saddle where I spotted a hopeful sign, bighorn sheep scat!

I few more paces onward and I abruptly stopped in my tracks.  Straight ahead of me was a large ewe acting as lookout on a ledge as younger ewes were eating.

Ewes (female sheep) have shorter horns with less curvature than rams (male sheep).  While stopped in my tracks, I quietly set down my walking stick and made adjustments on my Nikon D40 camera with 18-200mm lens.  I then started taking photos and walked slowly towards them.  They disappeared around a bend in the trail and, when I got to where they were first spotted, they were nowhere is sight as I looked down the sloping trail.  But as I looked up the steep slope to my right, I was happy to see that a total of 4 ewes had just gone a bit higher for safety and continued eating.

According to the San Diego Zoo’s “Desert Bighorn Sheep Fact Sheet“, Ovis canadensis are opportunistic herbivores and ruminants, and one of their favorite foods is the Encelia (Brittlebush) seen on this slope.

According to the Bighorn Institute, most ewes have a 6 month gestation period and give birth to one lamb per year, usually between February and April.  The young ewe seen below appeared to be about 8 months old.

According to Wikipedia, Desert bighorn sheep have keen eyesight and “are able to climb the steep, rocky terrain of the desert mountains with speed and agility.”

I spent about twenty minutes with these ewes and I sensed that all, except for the youngest one, recognized me from previous visits, and seemed to accept me, smile, and move about comfortably as they focused on eating.  The youngest one, however, fixed her gaze on me and seemed curious and fascinated by my presence, and I was pleased to meet and photograph her.

I was thrilled to be back on the saddle again of the Moonlight Canyon Trail and see such beautiful and precious creatures…

May we be good shepherds to all wildlife and all of nature.*

*See Author’s note in Comments section below.


  1. Bill D. says

    Author’s note:

    While I was composing my first draft of this posting, I savored the aroma of turkey with Bell’s Seasoning roasting nearby, and I eventually sat down for a delicious Thanksgiving Eve dinner. After dinner, we watched the PBS Nature program, “My Life as a Turkey”… and my own life seemed to change a bit.

    The irony quickly struck me that I had just been writing about appreciating animals in nature and I had just eaten turkey, and now I was mesmerized by naturalist and wildlife artist Joe Hutto’s heart touching story of raising a group of wild turkey hatchlings to adulthood.

    Based on his book, Illumination in the Flatwoods — A Season Living Among the Wild Turkey, this fascinating, inspiring, and awesome program helped to remind me of the intelligence in nature and of the importance of respecting and appreciating nature, and living the moment.

    This PBS Nature program might just change your perspective of nature and human’s relationship to nature, and can be viewed online:

    My Life as a Turkey

    You might also enjoy reading a related poem by Denise Levertov:

    Come into Animal Presence

  2. says

    I am always amazed when I see bighorn sheep wandering so casually among the forests of cholla, which they seem to make home with impunity. Of course to photograph these guys, you’ve got to be out there, and I think you’ve done a wonderful job recording Ovis Canadensis in its desert habitat. Wish, Bill, I’d been with you!