Bighorn Sheep Count
The California Department of Fish and Game, US Forest Service, and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep have conducted annual surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains since 1979. The mountain range once held an estimated 740 bighorns, which made this the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California. The population declined through the 1980’s but appears to be on the increase, with recent estimates being approximately 300 bighorn sheep.
Every year they hold a volunteer bighorn sheep count and this year I decided to help out. But, despite being out there for many hours scanning the hillsides, I didn't see any sheep :( But others in our group saw a couple dozen or so :) And I enjoyed learning about how to identify sheep (males vs. females, age, class of ram, etc.) at the meeting Saturday evening and of course I enjoyed the hike on Sunday.
I hiked up the Middle Fork Lytle Creek Trail into the Cucamonga Wilderness with about 25 other people. Other groups went up the South Fork, Cucamonga Canyon, and other canyons further west on the Angeles National Forest. Along with the groups on the ground a helicopter would be flying overhead, one canyon at a time, to do a count from the air.
The further you go up the Middle Fork trail and into the Cucamonga Wilderness the more beautiful it is. And it was so amazingly sunny and warm on Sunday, t-shirt and shorts weather! Often when they hold the count it is the opposite, cold and rainy and snowy, but we got lucky. The trail is a steady climb uphill and it gets narrow in spots with a steep-drop off on one side and vertical rocky cliffs on the other. These cliffs are perfect sheep habitat being the natural mountaineers that they are.
There is a side trail that goes down to Stone House Camp but we stayed on the trail that traverses higher along the ridgeline. The footing here can be loose and the vegetation is sparse. A few groups of people stayed along the lower part of the trail on knolls that offered good viewing points of the cliffs above. But most of the group went up the side drainage north of Stone House to scramble up to two high vantage points. I started up with them but decided to stay low near the mouth of the drainage with one other guy who
wasn't feeling up to more scrambling. I could've gone further but I was also excited to stop and start looking for sheep! We found a good spot to sit and eat lunch, him a level spot beneath a tree and me a higher flat rock in the sun.
Then we got our our binoculars and looked... and looked... and looked... but didn't see any sheep. I saw lots of rocks shaped like sheep butts and logs shaped like sheep horns. After three hours in the sun I started to see all sorts of things, lol But if these sheep-shaped objects didn't move I decided they weren't sheep and just my mind playing tricks on me. What we did see were lots of birds and lizards and bobcat prints in the wash which was cool in and of itself. And I think I needed some relaxation time and a litle practice in patience and quiet observation of the world around me. I, and I'm guessing most people who frequent this board, don't often just sit in the wild and do nothing but it is something we should all do now and then. You really begin to appreciate the beauty and complexity of a place when you are still and observe it for a longer period of time.
At about 3:20 pm the helicopter flew over and circled low looking for sheep themselves. Often times the helicopter will startle some sheep and that's when you will finally see them so we readied our binoculars. But no such luck for me. After the helicopter left we hiked on out down the canyon. On the way down we heard on the radio that the two groups that had scrambled up another 1,000' higher had seen some sheep from afar. So our efforts as a group did pay off. Soon all the volunteers will be mailed a report on the total numbers seen in all the canyons and I will be sure to update this page letting you know what the population estimate is as of this year.
External LinksMore about the Bighorn Sheep Count
Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep