Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Salad bar

North of Spences Bridge, the highway, two lanes with narrow shoulders, winds along the dusty hillsides beside the Thompson River. In the summer, the river and the road are fringed with ribbons of greenery, in stark contrast to the brown slopes above.

Murray Creek waterfall, Spences Bridge.

A small herd of ten mountain sheep, (Ovis canadensis californiana) had come down from their heights to drink and to nibble on a bit of fresh salad. Traffic slowed, then stopped as they ambled across the road, one at a time, then seemingly dropped over the edge, down towards the river.

Bighorn, probably a young male. A full-grown male's horns make a full circle.

Female, on the river side of the road.

The tips of both horns are broken.

The first sheep above looks as if he had black patches on his face. These are open scent glands; in the other two sheep, they're closed but visible as indentations just below and in front of the eyes.

Caprids (dwarf antelope, such as the sheep, goats, muskox, serows, gorals, and several similar species) use their preorbital glands to establish social rank. For example, when competition arises between two grazing sheep (Ovis aries), they have been observed to nuzzle each other's preorbital glands. By sending and receiving olfactory cues, this behavior appears to be a means of establishing dominance and of avoiding a fight, which would otherwise involve potentially injurious butting or clashing with the forehead. (Wikipedia)

The last sheep, a youngster, paused for another bite or two of drying grass. Idling cars started to move forward; the lamb grabbed a mouthful and dawdled across the road, chewing as he went. We waited again until he had pushed through a clump of sagebrush and bounded down the hill after his family.


  1. This is fascinating. I would love to have to stop for sheep rather than the usual white tailed deer we get here. I didn't realize they were considered "dwarf antelopes" and knew nothing about scent glands.

  2. Really nice to see these sheep. Beautiful photos.


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