Christmas break – bighorn prelude

The best time to watch the bighorn sheep is sometime after Thanksgiving, when they just seem to be starting into the rut, and before Christmas.  They are past the heavy rutting and butting days by now, but there is still a little bit of action.  Of course, bighorn sheep are one of my many favorites, so I enjoy watching them any time of the year.

It was cloudy and low light with a little snow and wind by the time I got over to the North Fork Shoshone above Cody.  It did not lend itself to great photography weather, but I was able to get a preview of what the next 2 days would hold.  By the afternoon, many of the sheep have move down to graze in the flats.

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There wasn’t much butting going on, but there were a few half-butts, shoves and leg-egging.  In leg-egging, which is not a real term but one I invented 2 minutes ago, the rams walk up to each other and use a stiff front leg to tap/nudge another ram on the underside.

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A few ewes were still coming in-and-out of estrus over my time there.  I could see the rams get agitated or start gathering in one area.  The tongues would come out to test the air.

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I would then see a ram or two follow one of the ewes with their head cocked and low.

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I could also see the head-back lip-curl position as the rams tested to see if the ewe was ready to be bred.

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Usually the ewes weren’t, so the rams would chase them around and harass them without any breeding going on.  I think I only saw a successful ram twice over the 3 days.  Most of the time it was annoyed ewes running and doing their best not to be bothered.

This little one is just cute.

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I liked the snow around this one.

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Late evening through the mornings the rams move to the rocky ledges to sleep in a safer location.  I did not get any great jumping/climbing shots on this trip, but I always love seeing them on the rocks. Tuesday morning I watched a few around the Fishhawk Trail area.

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The 2 spots in the sky tell me that I have some dust on my sensor to clean

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 After leaving those sheep, I noticed some tracks on the ice that were covered with snow from the night before, but that I hoped might be otter tracks.  I was patiently waiting and watching the river when I looked on the far hill and noticed some elk.  I also think the rock formation in the middle looks like a man in a robe petting a dog.

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I waited quite a while along the river, and was torn on whether I should stay for a large chunk of the day and hope for otters, or move to the South Fork.  I chose to move on, but didn’t get too far before I found entertainment for the next few hours…

Side notes:  I did see some bison, although maybe only a dozen total over the 2 days on the North Fork.

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While watching the ram with the brown eye patch, I noticed an eagle flying along the cliffs and then land.  I watched it, and another that was there, eating at something. I couldn’t get close because of where it was, and it was snowing Sunday night and still darker Monday morning, but I would have loved to have found a way to get up to the top of the ridge and then taken some pictures of these eagles eating on another predator that had somehow died.  It leaves me wondering what happened to it.  Could the eagles have done it? Or carried it from somewhere else?  Did someone shoot it? (Although the location would lead me to say no).

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Christmas Break – BHCNRA

With some time off of school, I was able to do some camping over the first part of Christmas break.  With the restrictions on what you are allowed to do with a dog in Yellowstone, I decided it was best for Malaki if we went to Bighorn Canyon NRA and the Cody area.  It had also been a long time since I had been over to see the Pryor herd, so I wanted to see how they were doing.

At the base of the bighorns was support of the claim that “not as many elk can be found during gun season because they are on the private ranches”.    A large herd was sprawled across a ridge on what I believe is the Horseshoe Ranch.  While this is well after season, I have seen large herds there as early as middle school football season in late September.

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It wasn’t too late when I got to Lovell, but with the clouds and the shortest day of the year, I knew I wouldn’t have time to do any hiking until the next day.  I decided to run out to the dryhead first.  I did not encounter the greeters any of the 3 days I was there, but I was fortunate to run across Fiero a little before the Devil Canyon Overlook Road.  He did not have anyone with him, but looked good.

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I stopped to glass the area around Sullivan’s Knob (The little one way loop just past the overlook). I thought that I could hear some sheep butting heads, so I decided to hike over the knob.  While I did not find multiple rams, I did find one ram that came in to escort a small band of ewes/lambs.

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I carefully proceeded to Mustang Flats, and could not find any horses or tracks.  I did not see anyone out there the next 2 days, either.  I decided to drive over to Lower Sykes and out toward Burnt Timber to scan Turkey Flats before it got dark.  On the way back through I did stop and watch Fiero a little more, and did run across a lot of doe deer.

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I did not find any tracks or horses in the lower sykes area, but I did not go much off of the main road to the guzzler because of the snow.  My trip to BT was more fruitful as I was able to view some horses out on the upper end of Turkey Flats and in the bottom just past it.

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It was too dark to hike out to them, but at least I knew there were some there for the next day, although my plan was to drive a little ways up Burnt Timber and hike back to where many of the horses hang out in the winter.

When I awoke the next day, it had snowed a few inches over night.  Not finding any fresh track in the park, I decided I would go out to Turkey Flats.  I parked at the turn-off up Burnt Timber and knew that I could not drive any further up it as would have been possible the evening before.  The good news is that I had seen 1 band on the lower turkey flats terrace, 1 in the valley below it and 1 between the road and the flats.  Hiking always seems to go a little quicker when you have a target and you are sure you are going to find someone.

The band between Turkey Flats and the road just happened to be my favorite.  It was Garcia, Greta, Millicent and Norma Jean!  They all looked healthy and the snow didn’t seem to be bothering them much.  I watched them for a little, but left after a shorter time than I may have stayed in the summer because I don’t like to be around the horses for too long in the winter.  They seemed fine with me there, but I know this is a group that likes left alone more than most others.

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I could still see the horses on the lower TF terrace, and the best way to get there seemed to be following a canyon down to just below them.  With the snow on the trees and the  red rocks, the canyons were very pretty.

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When I finally got to the lower terrace, the first horse I recognized was Isadora.  While Blue Moon and Amethyst were a little further away to begin, I was able to view his group fairly close as they were curious and came in to check me out.

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From the terrace, I made my way to look down into the bottom where I had seen the last group.  It was Bolder’s band. It is amazing how dry and weed-like much of what they eat is and yet that it sustains them through the winter.

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While I kept Malaki on his leash at heal position for most of our hike, I let him “mush” without his harness going back up the canyon wash.  He was on his own to avoid the yucca and cactus, which is easier in the wash than in a lot of the lower sykes/turkey flat area.

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By the time we got back to the car, we only had time to make another run through the park.  We did see some bucks this time, but they were pretty small.

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I made one last sweep through the park before leaving for the Cody area on Monday.  They finally had a plow going through around 9:30, although I was a little surprised because I didn’t think they plowed in the park at all.  While scanning from Sullivan’s Knob, I was able to find 3 horses high on a ridge above the power lines.

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I watched for a while, hoping they would come down.  They were keeping about the same height and if anything moving a little higher.  Without really looking for markings, I hypothesized that it was Kemmerer, Chief Joseph and Johnston.  It was windy and the hill is fairly steep.  Was it really worth it to hike up and see them closer.  I told myself that if they stopped moving up and there was a place to park below the ridge leading to them, I would make the hike.  Things worked out nicely and I did end up going up for a quick 2-3 minute peak at them before leaving them to enjoy the wind.  I was not 100% correct, but as Meatloaf said, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. The dun was Kemmerer, but the black was actually Hawk.  I am pretty sure the grullo is Johnston, but he is one I have not seen near as often as most of the others on the range so I could be wrong.  These were the last horses I saw before leaving for the Shoshone River forks.

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Giving season

At this time of year, more attention is paid to giving and helping others than at any other time of the year.  Odds are you have heard or passed a bell ringer for the salvation army within the last week.  Schools run food drives, and coat/hat/glove collections.  This year, our church also participated in something new where we helped with gifts for children who’s parents are in jail and could not have given one easily on their own.  There are a multitude of other programs that gather gifts for children.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons that people, including myself, love this time of year so much, because it is refreshing to see the generosity and compassionate side of humanity that either isn’t as present at other times or it isn’t promoted and brought to the forefront as much.  

While I am writing this post at Christmas, it is a topic I wanted to write about last summer before school started and then just didn’t get around to.  It is about doing what you can to help the causes you believe in, not just at this time of year, but year round.  Most of the needs being addressed so prevalently now are present throughout the rest of the year.  Sure, the cold weather adds a little more urgent need for shelter and clothing in the winter, but food is something that is needed year round. Any charities searching for cures or trying to help children facing illness may see an uptick at this time of year, but have just as much need in June.  For the horse lover’s that I know follow my blog, groups like the Legacy Mustang Preserve or Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center are doing work that continually relies on the generosity of others.

While one point I want to make is to keep the giving spirit in your heart year round and see how you can help the people and organizations around you, the main focus I had in mind from this summer is that there are so many more ways that we can give of ourselves than just helping with money.  

At the end of July, I made a trip to the Fifteenmile HMA.  On my way in, I was fortunate enough to catch a rainbow from one of the many summer afternoon storms we had.

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I had already written the BLM that administers the area and knew that it was ok for me to cut and remove some tamarisk(or salt cedar).  Tamarisk is one of many plants that people thought was a good idea for landscaping, only to have it spread and cause problems.  One easy thing that I would ask all to do is try and plant vegetation that is native to your area.

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 It may look pretty when it is in bloom, but tamarisk is a water hog.  In an area like Fifteenmile that is already desert, the last thing that is needed is something like tamarisk growing in dense stands around the little water that is there and sucking it up.  As a result of the storm the previous night, I was unable to make it to the waterhole pictured above with the flowering tamarisk.  That didn’t stop me from my task, as there are plenty of other tamarisk pockets.  There was one that was fairly large along fifteenmile road right near where the Fenton Pass Road comes in.  It was hot work and in the dense section near the drainpipe that runs under the road for rain it was sometimes difficult to get to the plants base, but I was able to clear the section. I left the cut tamarisk in 3 piles and will need to go back next year to check for suckers.  There is a lot more in the piles than it looks like in the pictures.

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It was just a partial days worth of work, but something I plan on doing more of next year.  I will continue to support organizations that work for wildlife, but I can probably have just as much of an affect by helping physically improve the habitat in places where I am allowed.  In fifteenmile, the BLM even told me they can train me on how to use a herbicide after to prevent regrowth.  

There are so many ways to help out beyond giving money.  For example, many areas will be having their Christmas bird counts over the next 2 weeks.  It is an easy way to help out while also getting outside to enjoy nature.  If you want to see if there is one near you, check out the Audobon site here: http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

As the sponsor for Key Club (high school level Kiwanis) at my school, I get to be involved in many volunteer efforts.  I can say that more often than not, it is the time and personal connections that make a larger impact than the money we can sometimes provide.  A quick example, the money we raised for Unicef will help to prevent neonatal tetanus, but never had a very personal feel for the students. This fall an early, bad ice/snow storm moved through Wyoming and left branches and trees down all across the area.  A lady that lives just below the school in Big Horn called and asked if any group could help because her husband was out-of-town working as an outfitter at the time and she had just had some back problems.  I was able to get 3 girls to come in on a Friday afternoon ( 1 on a break from volunteering at a cat shelter).  We took a few hours to load the larger branches on a flatbed until it was full and got the rest piled along the road.  Just a little bit of labor and time for us, but it was obvious that it meant more than that to the woman that we had helped. I believe that the 3 girls left that task much more aware of what they had done than from the trick-or-treat for Unicef.

As you go through the next year, look for opportunities where you can help either those around you or support the causes that you believe in.  Maybe some of the opportunities will be financial support, but you might find the most rewarding work you can do is through volunteering your time and effort.

Before I go, a little more from the fifteenmile trip. I was rewarded with 2 special sightings while visiting.  The first were some baby short horned lizards.  

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While I was unable to locate the large herd, the second reward was a set of three bachelors that I was able to locate.  I had to hike out to them across the hot, desert floor.  One advantage of them being bachelors is that instead of them taking off without a chance for many pictures like often happens in fifteenmile with the large herd, they  were a little curious and ran in reasonably close to look at me, allowing some photos.

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I look forward to getting back to fifteenmile next year and doing what I can to help these beautiful animals, whether it be by taking pictures so that more are aware of them or by spending time removing invasive plants and improving their habitat.