Yellowstone: Bighorn Sheep

This is the first in a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

As we drove through the canyon of the Gardiner River nearing our Yellowstone lodging in Gardiner, many cars were stopped along the road, with people with long lenses pointed up the cliff above us. Tired at the end of the transit day from Grand Teton National Park, we saw a vacant spot and parked.

I got out and looked up at the cliffs but didn’t see anything special. A couple in the next car peered up at the cliff through a spotting scope and a camera with a large prime lens. When they took a break, I asked what they were looking at.

“Bighorn sheep”, they said.

“Really? Where?”

They described the spot and said there’s a male and a female. With their repeated help, I finally spotted the bighorn sheep. They’re high above us and the same color as the rocky cliff. Near the center of the photo below, the ram is walking to the right, and the ewe is moving to the left. All photos are taken at 400 mm.

ram and ewe bighorn sheep
ram and ewe bighorn sheep (click to enlarge)

This crop from the above photo shows the ram’s horns and coat. His coat looks scruffy. We were later told that animals are shedding their (longer) winter coat, and they look scruffy in the transition.

crop of ram and ewe bighorn sheep
crop of ram and ewe bighorn sheep (click to enlarge)

Here the ewe has settled in behind the shrub, and a second ewe is standing above her. After spotting the second ewe, I returned the favor and told the couple where to look for the second ewe.

two ewes
two ewes (click to enlarge)

In the meanwhile, the ram was headed for a bush.

ram munching on a bush
ram munching on a bush  (click to enlarge)

And a crop from that photo.

crop of ram munching on a bush
crop of ram munching on a bush (click to enlarge)

Seeing me take these photos handheld, the couple asked me if I wanted to use their tripod. I declined with thanks, saying that I have a tripod that I didn’t use. I hadn’t used a tripod much, and I did what was familiar when taking these pictures. However, after reviewing these photos on a laptop, I discovered that some photos weren’t totally sharp. To get a higher rate of keepers, I started using a tripod for long-distance shots. By the end of the trip, I became much more comfortable with setting up and using a tripod.

Bighorn sheep seek steep slopes for protection from predators. The population of North American bighorn sheep plummeted from millions to several thousand due to disease and overhunting. Thirty years ago, an epidemic of pinkeye left hundreds of sheep blinded, and many died. Today a few hundred bighorns live in and around Yellowstone.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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