Monday, July 24, 2017

Ewe and Lamb: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Traffic slow downs are not always a bad deal. Take yesterday afternoon for example.  I was driving down the two lane road of American Fork Canyon in Utah County, Utah when traffic suddenly began to slow. Slowing transitioned to a complete stop and a realization that the hold up was courtesy of a ewe Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and her lamb. Both were lazily moving along the road at the base of a rocky hillside. While I have seen bighorn sheep in other areas of Utah, this was only my second, and best, encounter with this species in all the years I've been driving up and down American Fork Canyon. The first time I encountered them was about a year ago as a few of them were running up a tree-covered hillside. Perhaps these are signs that we'll see them more often in the future.

Thanks to a habit I have of taking my camera gear along when I head into the mountains I was able to pull off to a shoulder and capture some images of the ewe and her lamb.

The lamb eventually made its way to a resting spot about 20 yards up the hillside. The ewe remained by the road where she began to forage on available vegetation. The ewe eventually moved up the hillside to forage closer to her lamb. The lamb moved down the hillside to meet her.

The ewe was definitely aware that I and others were watching her and her lamb. I knew because she would periodically stare in our direction. However, she would soon return to foraging. I don't know their behavior all that well, but I suspected that she would not hesitate to protect her little lamb so I stayed on the far side of the road to avoid the possibility of

I would have enjoyed seeing a ram with his "big" curved horns yesterday, but those guys don't stick around after breeding. They separate from the ewes after mating and leave the ewes to tend to their individual lambs. The big boys show up to clash horns and "ram" their way up a dominance hierarchy just before and during the rut, or mating season. The gestation period for bighorns is about six months. Rocky Mountain bighorns are larger than other bighorns. The rams stand about 4 tall and can weigh from 200 to more than 400 pounds.  The ewes are a few inches shorter and weigh around 200 pounds, give or take depending upon their health. The horns of a ram can weigh up to 30 pounds, which I've read is about the equivalent of the weight of the rest of the bones in the ram's body.

Here's a phone video I captured when I first came upon the ewe and the lamb yesterday.