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This bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) was snacking on salt roadside and was unsure of my intentions as I drove by. A flash was needed as the morning was still waiting for night to loosen its grip. I was just west of the Highwood Pass on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country – likely my last drive over this spot before it is closed for the winter.
Just off Lake Minnewanka there was a small herd of Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) grazing along the side of the road. They were a mix of mothers, kids and young rams. All told there were less than fifteen animals stretched over a hundred or so meters. With the worsening weather, they looked to be a somber group and showed little interest beyond a few glances at much beyond the grass underfoot.
The rain had just turned to snow which bothered me more than these animals it seemed. I was hoping the storm might not be too heavy but this front edge had made me think that unlikely. For this encounter, I was happy to have the snow in the air to provide a bit of interest to the area around the sheep in some of the shots.
We watched one another for a few minutes before I headed off. The snow continued to pick up and almost a foot of snow (30cm) fell that night. This herd was smart to dine on the soon to be covered up grass along the road before the weather hit.
The ram resting in the deep snow while still early morning had distracted us away from the herd. While photographing the massive leader, his flock had sidled up to the vehicles and were licking the vehicles in hopes of finding salt. The roads in the park are only sanded as far as I know but there may have been salt still on some the cars that were from further afield. Either way even the ram eventually rose and joined in. He can be seen under the neck of sheep licking the back tire. The body position of the sheep on the left defines this image and provided the name for the photograph and this post.
Near the town of Exshaw, on the Bow Valley Trail, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) can often be seen on the cliffs and hillsides on either side. This morning my friend Jeff and I were out for a photo drive and we found a herd of about 25 ewes, lambs and adolescent rams.
They were moving across a rocky cliff face when we stopped and started photographing them. We watched them disappear over the ridgeline and then walked up and found them grazing in a wild grass meadow. As we hiked up, we could see a large group of adult rams higher up on the mountain but we didn’t continue up to them. Although it is the season for the rut so I may head back again before the end of the weekend to see if I can photograph some of the head butting that sorts out the mating season.
They kept moving across the mountain slopes but we had a lot of time to watch and shoot them before the cold wind got the better of us and we headed into Canmore for breakfast.
The lamb below was the last to leave the meadow and poked its head up over the grass for a quick look before running back to the herd.
A large group of ewes were walking along this ridge with a gang of frisky youngsters in tow. A bit further down the road were 12-15 rams that looked to have separated from this group as they were grazing on the south side of the highway. Maybe they were sneaking away for some guy time. This is around the time lambs are born but I didn’t see any really small ones here. Not sure if they will be born soon or if they have been already and their mothers are keeping them in more remote spots for now.
These two younger lambs did not have the sure-feet and confidence of their more mature brethren which made their traverse of this steep, jagged part of the rock below the ridge an interesting walk to follow.
There are a number of great locations to see Bighorn Sheep when heading into the Rocky Mountains from Calgary. The place where I made these pictures is one of the most accessible: it is a long stretch of the Bow Valley Trail between Exshaw and Canmore. The sheep can be frequently seen right beside the road, up the mountain slopes on the scree or, more dramatically, on the cliffs that loom 60′ above the road just north of Lac des Arcs.
This ram came up a few minutes after the herd of ewes and lambs had gone. He was a beautiful animal and we loved watching him stride across the rocks. This ended an incredible day on a fine note after having seen a herd of elk, a moose, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, a grebe, a mating pair of osprey, several hawks and a bald eagle between sunrise and sunset.