Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 10, 2011

Picking up poop pellets

— Continued from previous post –

Oh, see how shiny and dark and plump these are? Still tacky enough to have sand stick to them? That means they are fresh. (Ovis canadensis)

Lots of things leave small dark pellets in the desert; rabbits and mule deer come to mind. Bill’s search, however, was for the leavings of Ovis canadensis — desert bighorn sheep. One could walk purposefully around in places they hang out and look for droppings, or one could find an individual and trail it until it defecated and then go pick up the necessary pellets. The latter is more reliable.

We had followed the radio-collared beeps as far as we could, and were in a canyon with semi-circular walls; the only place she could go is straight up. Pulling out our binocs, we settled onto the rock for some good elbows-on-knees scanning. “How high up should I be looking?” “Probably pretty low.” We each started on one edge.

Eight pellets go into the envelope.

I must say, it feels like looking for needles in haystacks. The sheep are the same color as their surroundings and it is only movement that gives them away to beginners. Bill could probably find them by their nostrils if they’re bedded down, but I need the whole animal, in motion. Which is what appeared in my field of vision after only five minutes of searching. NINE of them! Six ewes (led by Mrs Radio Collar) and three amusing lambs decorated the cliff.

No guardrails. No shoulders. Hundreds of feet straight down. (Shafer Trail, Canyonlands NP)

Our mission almost accomplished, Bill found and collected the necessary specimens and we made it back to the truck just as a cloudburst dampened everything, including the scary switchbacks ascending to the canyon rim.

Next time you are asked if you want to come along, try answering in the affirmative. I’m so glad I did.

Red-Spotted Toad (Bufo punctatus) found in a wash

Dinosaur bone! Embedded in sandstone on Shafer Trail.

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