Sierra bighorn inhabit some of the most glorious wild landscapes in all the Range of Light. Here, on an immense plateau swept clean of snow by violent winds, or where a tall peak crumbles into scree above a hidden meadow, bighorn pick their way along precipitous slopes with the ease of the practiced mountaineer.
A Day in the Life of a Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Sheep tend to bed in groups together, sleeping tucked away in steep terrain where they will be safe from predators through the night. During the daylight hours sheep move downslope toward gentler terrain, where they spend hours alternately foraging and resting. Ewes, yearlings, and lambs usually stay together, while rams travel separately. Sheep prefer open habitats where they can detect predators from far away and flee to the refuge of nearby rocky chutes. They avoid deep snow whenever possible. Sierra bighorn travel light: sometimes the faint rumble of a falling rock is the only clue that they’re nearby.
The High Sierra undergoes a dramatic change during the winter months. Few animals can eke out a living in this harsh environment fraught with gale-force winds, avalanches, and extremes of temperature. Most Sierra bighorn herds occupy lower-elevation, south-facing slopes during the winter and spring, benefiting from the milder climate and early plant growth. In the summer they follow the growing season back up to higher elevations. Yet some herds in the Sierra, notably the Mount Warren and Mount Langley units, exhibit year-round use of high-elevation range. Even during the fiercest midwinter storms, groups of sheep inhabit the Diaz Plateau and Excelsior Mountain, windswept areas well above 12,000 feet.
Because of the rough terrain in which they travel, and because their coats often blend in with the rocks, bighorn sheep can be extremely difficult to spot without binoculars. Can you find the sheep in this picture?