Wildlife Photography By MHD -
Pharaoh and the Badlands         
     The setting sun on the weathered formation in front of us reminded me of the pyramids of Egypt and then soaring above them was the "phoenix" or a Golden Eagle if you prefer.

              Daylight was fading fast when we got to our destination, Sage Creek Rim Road on the north boundary of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Our objective was Bighorn sheep going through their mating rituals.   
     There were bighorn sheep all over the place.  Even though we were losing light, as a wildlife photographer, you find out that the number one rule "is any shot is better than none". By the way I just made that up.  So we shot a number of images and then headed to Wall for the night. 
     Before continuing, I should fill you in on a few other details about this trip before you say "We should do that". The timing, this is the second rut and unfortunately it occurs on or around Thanksgiving Day, not good if you have family obligations.  The above scene was played out on the evening before Thanksgiving. The explanation handed to our children was that the sheep rut does not happen everyday and it was on our bucket list. We probably won't get by with this excuse again this year.          
     Secondly, most of the motels in Wall are closed for the season, minor problem, there were only two of us and about a dozen travelers who also opted out of family obligations or were on  business, so there were rooms to spare.          
     Thanksgiving dinner! Now here is a big problem. No restaurants were going to be open on Thursday. The nearest metro area is 60 miles away and most of that was to be traveled in the dark. Not a very inviting situation for a turkey drumstick. The other option was to plan on a turkey dinner by motel microwave. Also not very inviting. This turkey dinner could possibly go down as one of the worst in my entire life. I say this with some experience, as an avid deer hunter I have spent more than one Turkey Day in deer camp in Wisconsin or Montana.         Inquiring at the front desk about our turkey day options, (Like most men, I have to think about my food intake to sustain life.)  I was pleasantly surprised when the desk clerk invited us to join her and her family for the evening meal.  Not even southern hospitality could beat good old "WESTREN  HOSPITALITY" at this offer.  When we declined thanking her for the kind offer she replied "the church is having Thanksgiving Dinner at 1pm, maybe you would like to join them?"         
     Mary was reluctant to impose on the good citizens of Wall in something they were planning for the wayfarers, but I convinced her to at least stop by and check it out.           What a surprise!  We were unable to decline their invitation as they welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home as we entered the hall.  We were treated as old friends and felt like family as they gathered around and joined us with the meal.  It was great, we shared our table with a wildlife technician from the park, who was able to give us some real information on what was happening in the park. they even sent us home with leftovers.         
     Now back to the main subject of this tale. 

    The bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) is a species of sheep, named for its large horns. These horns can weigh up to 30 lb (more than the combined weight of all the bones in their body), while the sheep themselves weigh up to 300 lb (140 kg).  

     Our optimum goal was to photograph those classic clashes that you see on National Geographic. With an early morning start we arrived on the sheep grounds at first light. Bands of sheep all over the place, eating, resting, looking at us and LOOKING at us some more. They would actually walk up to the vehicle and lay down right by it to nap.  To clarify this, this behavior was done by the ewes and lambs and not the few junior rams that were in the herd. We were able to find out what this peculiar attraction to our vehicle was later on in the day. There were no clashes, nothing, just eating,sleeping and chewing their cud. 

     Then just like if some ancient Egyptian Pharaoh sounded his horn the mature rams came up out of the interior and marched toward us like the warriors of those bygone days. They, the rams, appeared over the rim and started marching towards us with a steady and unhurried gait. My imagination kicking in, "Mary they look like soldiers of the Pharaoh's army with their impressive helmets or (horns)". No response!

      New dynamics moved through the bands as the mature rams roamed about looking for a ewe in estrus. It was fascinating to watch the rituals of mating as the rams jockeyed for position in the hierarchy of the herd. 

          If a ewe, which was not ready to breed, was pressured to much by her suitor she would lay down. He would then stand there and paw at her to get her up. A couple of the ewes went a step further and laid down right by our vehicle. The rams were not that brazen, these ewes had gone through this ritual before. So sorry big boy go paw somebody else! The sad look that an ewe would give us when we would pull away was almost heart rending. 

     Another ritual we observed was an interaction between the rams. The right to breed by the dominate male went through a process of elimination, which was not just by ramming their heads together until one or the other fell over. We saw rams walking up to one or another and kick them in the _____s.  If there was no response then the big guy would move on. Every now and then there would be a response and then they would go through a lot of "I am tougher than you stances". Every now and then a clash would occur. It was one whack and that was it. Maybe a lack of aspirin in the herd??                  We saw a few clashes, missed a few but heard them and managed to get a couple of keeper images. Nothing that we could send to National Geographic, so, unfortunately, we'll have to try again this year and reluctantly miss another turkey day with the Kids.                 
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