Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis)
San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
Canon 100-400mm lens @ 220mm
1/400 sec @ f5
© Teklanika Photography 2014
courtesy of The Denver Post
by Bruce Finley
A swath of Colorado’s most fire-ravaged forest last week became home to a band of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a species that has made the best of degraded land before.
State wildlife managers transplanted the nine rams and ewes as part of a new strategy that takes advantage of the 215-square-mile area southwest of Denver left charred and barren by the 2002 Hayman wildfire.
Busy week, too busy for daily reports… The golden eaglet has been hopping from the nest to nearby cliffs, trying to muster the courage to make that first flight – won’t be long until it’s soaring along with the other eagles. Bear viewing has been great, several sightings last week brought the total to 16 individual bears spotted in the park this year. My dad and I, along with Rob, Chris and Earl, had a very close encounter with a big boar (missing part of his right ear, I remember him from many sightings last year, dubbed him “Bruiser”) as he worked his way across a hill and crossed the road directly in front of us. The mule deer fawns are getting bigger, and along with that growth comes the danger of not being able to hide as well as before. Newborn fawns have no scent, but the older they get the more their scent increases, which makes it easier for predators to detect them. We watched a young bear take down a fawn high on the hogback this week – the mother deer attempted to charge the bear with the fawn in its jaws, then backed off when she realized that it was too late – a hard thing to watch but this is life in the wild, the way it should be and has been for thousands of years. I spent Friday around Hot Sulphur Springs, didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife but the wildflowers are in full bloom, awesome vistas as well. Made another trip to Mission:Wolf on Saturday – helped out a bit, spent the night and lucked out with some wolf and sunset/sunrise shots. The wolves greeted the morning sun with a wonderful group howl, and a family of coyotes somewhere in the mountains nearby responded with their own chatter – what a way to wake up! I was able to see the new additions to the sanctuary – two 11-week old wolf pups that look like tough little mini-wolves with gigantic paws, just adorable. They’re pretty skittish, I didn’t want to add to their already obviously high stress levels by clicking away at them with my camera, so no shots to share. These little guys, due to the age at which they’re beginning their human habituation, will no doubt make excellent ambassador wolves one day, travelling the world and enlightening kids and adults.
Plenty of fawn and bear action lately, but not a lot of photo opportunities. The grass is so high that the fawns are easily obscured, and the bears have been too far away for any decent shots. Sunsets have been excellent, so I’ve been spending most of my time on landscape photos.
The lack of new shots has given me a bit of time to work on some older ones…
It seems like May, one of my favorite months for photography, passed by so quickly this year… I spent a good portion of the month outdoors, and, with patience and luck, was able to see and photograph many of the wild creatures that call Colorado home: moose, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, lynx, coyote, fox, porcupine, beaver, yellow-bellied marmot, muskrat, black-tailed prairie dog, abert’s squirrel, american pika, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, spotted ground squirrel, golden mantel ground squirrel, vole, great blue heron, canada goose, cackling goose, bald eagle, golden eagle, great horned owl, night heron, glossy ibis, osprey, cormorant, snowy egret, raven, mallard, cinnamon teal, wood duck, ring-necked duck, common merganser, redhead, red-tailed hawk, cooper’s hawk, prairie falcon, magpie, crow, steller’s jay, avocet, killdeer, northern flicker, bullock’s oriole, kestrel, kingfisher, mountain bluebird, broad-tailed hummingbird, red-throated hummingbird and a ton of other small birds.
A few snapshots from last month:
Only a couple of weeks until Spring yields to the dry heat of Summer, bring on the bears!
In the latest twist of an ecological saga, non-native mountain goats are displacing the sheep along the road from Echo Lake Lodge to Mount Evans’ 14,264-foot summit. The nine goats that state wildlife managers transplanted to mountains near Salida multiplied to more than 1,500 and spread. About 140 live on Mount Evans. Some have crossed north of I-70. Researchers recently recorded an encounter between the species. A snow-white goat approached three bighorn sheep licking salt. The goat lowered its dark horns and charged. The sheep scattered, and the goat took over, savoring the salt…
The road to Mt. Evans finally opened on the 28th, so I was really excited to get up there in search of mountain goats. The trip up on the 30th presented some awesome vistas and a couple of marmots, but only one goat – a big billy on the run at about a million yards. Early morning on the 31st, however, made for some great goat shooting.
A couple of days on an alpine mountaintop with my wife and her mom, a great way to spend Memorial Day weekend, thanks guys!