Annual Bighorn Sheep Count Results Tallied

 

Last updated 11/9/2023 at 11:55am

Mild summer temperatures and an abundance of natural food for bighorn sheep resulted in a unique year for volunteers who participated in the annual Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Bighorn Sheep Count.

Results of the count were shared last week by Anza-Borrego Foundation that supports the annual wildlife census that began in 1971.

"As the official nonprofit partner of ABDSP, we are proud to support this important annual event, now in its 52nd year. In addition to holding the Bighorn Sheep Conservation Fund, created in partnership with Sycuan Casino and Resort, we support volunteer registration for the count," ABF said.

According to Anza-Borrego State Park Senior Environmental Scientist Dan McCamish, 30 volunteers participated at 11 different assigned waterholes within the park and bighorn sheep home range from July 6 – 9.

Volunteers monitored their assigned locations during the heat of the day from pre-sunup until around 5 p.m. each day. During this snap-shot survey, a total of 38 sheep were observed, including 15 ewes, five lambs, five yearling males, a single yearling female and 12 rams.


Not surprisingly, the highest number of animals were observed at the pond at the Palm Canyon trailhead and at the canyon's first palm grove.

Heavy winter rains may also have contributed to lower count numbers due to sheep being spread out because of more available water and food.

Temperatures during this year's census reached a maximum of 106 degrees, compared to some previous years where temperatures approached 120 degrees.

Historically, numbers have been higher, with 273 observed during the 2019 count, but COVID and a tragic heat related death that was not part of the annual census resulted in the count being suspended. This year, only 11 locations were monitored, compared with 20 before COVID.


According to McCamish, the count provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to be part of a citizen-science program. Volunteers receive training in desert safety, along with information to assist with identification of the federally endangered sheep.

McCamish said the main goal of the survey is to note any visual encounters with bighorn sheep at the waterhole, and to identify and record those observations.

"Volunteers use binoculars, spotting scopes and shade structures to sit for these long hours daily to record specific data points like, but not limited to, the number of sheep present, age estimation of individuals and time spent by sheep at the water source," McCamish said.

At the conclusion of the count, data is returned to state park staff to add to historical collected data.

McCamish said volunteers are being sought for the 2024 count.

If you are interested, contact him at danny.mccamish@parks.ca.gov. Include "2024 Bighorn Sheep Count" in the subject line.

The required training sessions for the 2024 count will be in June, and the count will be held the first or second weekend of July 2024 with exact dates to be determined.