Last month, we reported three lambs died in a five day period at PGA West in La Quinta. Sadly, 3 more lambs died after that, 2 at PGA West and 1 north of Lake Cahuilla. All six lambs died within a month and all had signs of severe upper respiratory illness including weight loss, coughing, nasal discharge, rough coat and lethargy. The sheep that utilize the La Quinta golf courses (PGA West, Tradition and The Quarry) browse in abnormally large groups, which can facilitate the spread of disease. This is the 3rd summer that a number of sick lambs have died on or near these golf courses. There are only a handful of lambs left in this herd and until a fence is built to keep the sheep out of the urban areas, this cycle of disease and death will most likely continue.
The rut is on! Rams are back from their exploits in the backcountry and are busy pursuing the ewes making fieldwork exciting. Rams live in bachelor groups during the non-breeding/lambing season then find their way back to the ewes around July and August for the rut, or breeding season, which will continue through November. Rams perform their most well-known behavior, head-butting, to win breeding rights as the dominant rams do most of the breeding. They don’t intentionally try to injure another and typically the young challenge the old versus big animals picking on little ones. Bighorn sheep are polygamous so rams breed multiple ewes. Only one ram in our study area currently wears a functional radio-collar so when the rest of the rams join the ewes, we’re able to observe their health and better determine the herd’s population levels. Of course, it’s also pretty amazing to watch these magnificent males strut their stuff!
Anza-Borrego Sheep Count
The results are in from the annual water hole count in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the numbers are down with 207 sheep sighted. Overall, they had a good count, but last year they saw 296 sheep. Volunteers spend 3 consecutive days around July 4th at a pre-determined site and count the number of sheep that come in to water and determine their sex and age. Since bighorn sheep only rely on drinking water during summer, this is the best time to do a water hole count. This decrease in sheep numbers is consistent with the 2016 fall range-wide helicopter survey that estimated around 150 less sheep in the Peninsular Ranges with the current population at approximately 800 bighorn.
Bighorn Institute won 1st prize for the avian/wild/other category with our ewe and lamb photo entered in the 2017-2018 Pets on Parade photo contest! We are thrilled we won this special award; of course, bighorn are a beautiful species so our subject was the real winner! Pets on Parade works to support Loving All Animals and Pegasus Therapeutic Riding, both worthy local nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of all animals and helping those with special needs. To learn more about these great causes, please visit their websites at www.lovingallanimals.org and www.pegasusridingacademy.org
We have recently had some exciting gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) sightings while in the field! These beautiful, elusive mammals are typically not observed during the day as they usually don’t retreat from their dens until dawn, dusk or at night. Weighing only 4-5 pounds, gray foxes are the only member of the canine family in North America to climb trees to search for prey, escape predators or to sleep since they have hooked claws. As omnivores, they eat rodents, birds, fruit, insects and will raid your garbage if allowed. Count yourself lucky if you see them, but be prepared for a fleeting glance!