March was another busy month for fieldwork as we documented around 25 more lambs in the mountains from Palm Springs to La Quinta bringing the total to just over 60 lambs born this year in our three study area! Many of these lambs were observed in the mountains south of La Quinta (far from the golf courses), which is great news. Lambs range in age from a couple weeks to 3 months old (as seen in this photo). Obviously, not all of these lambs will survive, but the good news is, the vegetation is lush and plentiful so these lambs and their mothers have a nutritious jump start before summer sets in.
Wildflowers and Festival
If you’ve been hiking or walking anywhere around the Coachella Valley the past couple of weeks you’ve seen the incredible display of wildflowers! This year has been exceptionally exquisite and many flowers are still blooming as we write this. The hillsides are covered in a sea of yellow brittlebush, which the sheep love to eat. (Flowers pictured left to right: Ghost Flower, Desert Monkeyflower, Beavertail Cactus, Brittlebush)
On Saturday, March 4th, Bighorn Institute participated in the annual Wildflower Festival at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitors Center in Palm Desert. The event had a record number of attendees and was a wonderful education and outreach opportunity!
Lambs in Canal
In March, there were two separate known incidents of lambs falling into the Coachella Canal at PGA West in a 10 day period. The first lamb was rescued by some visitors and the second lamb miraculously climbed out of the canal itself. These incidents could have certainly ended in death for these young lambs. Nine bighorn sheep have been reported falling into this canal in recent years, four have drowned (including a lamb) and the others were rescued or got out on their own. These preventable deaths and incidents accentuate the need for a fence around the golf courses in La Quinta to keep the bighorn safe in their native habitat.
In addition to these canal catastrophes, a yearling ram wandered out into the streets of La Quinta in mid-March and the Sheriff’s Department responded, but the ram got as far as 3 miles away from the nearest mountain on Avenue 54. This is a significant human safety issue because drivers must look for sheep where sheep shouldn’t be. Again, if a fence were installed, it would keep bighorn and people safe as they don’t mix well in the urban areas.
Please remember that Peninsular bighorn sheep are an endangered species. If you encounter a bighorn in distress or have any other emergency regarding the sheep, please call Bighorn Institute 760-346-7334 or CA Fish and Wildlife (Kevin Brennan) 760-861-3627.
If you’ve been hiking in the local mountains this month you’ve probably been hard pressed to not step on the plethora of caterpillars. These are primarily sphinx moth caterpillars and many are white-lined sphinx moths (Hyles lineata), and they have been devouring the abundant vegetation. They vary in color from black and yellow to bright green and have a horn on their hind end. They’ve been all over the Institute property and have made getting around a bit challenging as we try to avoid them. They are beginning to burrow in the ground where they will pupate for 2 to 3 weeks before hatching out as a moth. They will then help pollinate flowers. We’re not the only ones enjoying this explosion of caterpillars; the local fauna has been feasting on them, including birds and lizards. So, the circle of life continues, which is nature’s way in the great outdoors.
Want to see bighorn sheep in the wild?! Come out with our bighorn biologists and look for sheep on a local trail! Our next Member Hike will take place in La Quinta at 8:00am on Friday, April 7th. We would love to have you join us, but space is limited, no dogs, and you must RSVP for this first come first served hike. To sign up or for more information, please call us at 760-346-7334 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.