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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep at Anza-Borrego

On a very hot fall day in October 2016 my husband and I stopped at Anza-Borrego State Park, about 2 hours from Palm Desert.  It was our first visit, so we weren’t going to let the temperature stop us from trekking into the desert.

We began our 4 mile round trip hike along the Palm Canyon Trail, which leads to a palm oasis, in hopes of seeing the rare Peninsular Bighorn Sheep.  Most of the Peninsular Bighorn sheep live here, but some can be found as far away as the Mexican border.  They have been on the federal endangered species list since 1998, and only 296 were counted officially in the park on the July 4th weekend in 2016.

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

We started our hike with our binoculars strapped to us and cameras in hand.  As a bird watcher I’m always on the hunt for a new bird to add to my life list, and this wonderful trail through a vibrant arroyo didn’t disappoint.  It was alive with birds, many desert plants, and framed on both sides by colorful canyon walls, which rose hundreds of feet above the trail.

About a mile into our hike we came around a corner and looked up, seeing 5 Peninsular Big Horn Sheep high up on the steep canyon wall.  I excitedly snapped away with my camera trying to get as many shots off as possible of these rare animals, as they easily hopped from rock to rock on the perilous slope.  We were so happy that we had spotted the sheep, and even though they were hundreds of feet away we felt very lucky to have had a glimpse of the rare and stately creatures. 

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep High on the Mountain

We continued on our hike, resting in the shade of the beautiful oasis at the end of the trail.  Shortly after beginning the return trip to the trailhead I looked up, and staring right at me, only a few feet away, was this beautiful Ram, who by all appearances had decided to come down the mountain to check us out.  We then noticed that his ewe was a few feet further away, across the trail that we needed to traverse.  We were running very low on water and it was becoming a concern.  We waited around for a few minutes, not wanting to meet up with the angry end of those menacing horns, but finally decided that we must move on.

He came down the mountain to check us out!

"Since you are taking my picture, here's another angle"

At one point we were between the male and the female, and the only path to the female was through us.   Keith remained still, and I backed way off, giving the man room to get to his girl, not knowing what he might do if we were in his way.  To our surprise he didn’t mind at all that Keith was standing in his path.  He just trotted right by him! 

Yes, we know you want to go by us!

"At least one of them is out of the way, so I can get going"
"I'm waiting!"
"I'm coming!"

"Glad you finally decided to join me!"

We later read that the sheep, while disliking dogs a great deal, do not feel threatened by people, but at the time it was a little scary.

After the close encounter we continued back, still feeling the excitement of seeing and photographing the sheep.  It was a very hot day, but so worth it!

For my birding friends.....

Black-throated Sparrow

Cactus Wren

Verdin with nesting material

Verdin in the nest
California Towhee
Rock Wren

California Quail

This won’t be our last outing to this beautiful desert; maybe next time we can come in the spring for the beautiful desert flowers in bloom!  A final warning: when in the desert always bring MORE water than you think you will possibly need!

Happy Trails!