McGregor Mountain Blog

It’s been a breezy day here in Estes Park, but it hasn’t stopped people from getting out and enjoying the mountains! A guests just came in to book time in the hot tub after a hike up to Bierstadt Lake and then up to Emerald Lake. I’m a bit envious that they were out exploring the park today, but I can’t complain too much. I’m sure there are a handful of you who would love to have my job of hanging out here on the slopes of McGregor Mountain watching the clouds roll by and enjoying the wildlife!

I went for a little bit of a walk this morning with the camera in hand to get some footage of the happenings on property. I was hoping for the elk and the marmots to be out, but they were no where to be found. Instead, I got some landscape footage and a bit of the smaller critters. One Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel in particular posed for me a while and munched on his Iris leaf, had a nice yawn and retreated to get a nap, I’m sure.

Enjoy the video!

Michael
 

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The last few days have been spectacular! We have had loads of moisture over the last three weeks and it just keeps rolling in. I did a bit more practicing with the time lapse with some more fine tuning to due, and got a video of a way too friendly fox… made me a bit nervous. It looks like someone has been feeding her… tsk tsk!

Enjoy the video!

 

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About Bighorn Sheep

April 11, 2013

sheep-2Bighorn sheep are fascinating animals and garner a lot of attention when they are spotted in the area. People travel from thousands of miles away just to get a glimpse of them. And for good reason. They are named for the rams’ (males) large curved horns that give them their name. The large rams are very impressive. Not just for their horn size but for their body heft as well. The big rams can weigh over 300 pounds! That’s a big sheep! And that’s 300+ pounds of muscle. The truly amazing thing is how agile they can move along cliff faces and through incredibly rugged terrain. If you’ve ever seen it you’ll know what I mean.

These herds of Bighorn Sheep here in the Estes Park area have a very interesting history. There are a couple of main herds that visit the property here at McGregor. Both the Mummy Herd and the Black Canyon Herd are seen here. The one main differentiating feature between the two herds is the color of their fur. The Mummy Herd (named for the Mummy Range – the range of mountains surrounding McGregor Mountain Lodge) tend to stay higher in the range very often above timberline. They have a lighter color due to bleaching from the sun. The Black Canyon Herd (named for Black Canyon – the valley on the north side of McGregor Mountain) tend to stay below timberline and thus have a darker color. When the two herds are seen together the difference is very noticeable and easily recognizable.

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There have been some epidemics that have plagued ‘our’ sheep over the past 20-30 years, namely pneumonia, and the herds were almost wiped out because of it. These diseases tend to come from Bighorns co-mingling, somehow, with domesticated sheep where these diseases seem to initiate. I know the Colorado Division of Wildlife intervened to some degree but I’m not sure how much or in what capacity. Long story short, the population began to rebound to a degree that some of the Black Canyon herd were actually relocated into the heart of the Big Thompson Canyon to reestablish a herd that had previously been wiped out due to pneumonia. This herd is currently thriving and it’s nice to see ‘our’ sheep when we travel through the Big Thompson Canyon!

There have been other issues with the herds over the past several years, but nothing too devastating and as far as we know both herds are in great shape and thriving.

When seen on the property the sheep are usually found grazing on the mountainside below our Lower Chalet Suites. It’s a small meadow of sorts where the sheep have a good view of their surroundings and the grass greens early and stays green late (being that we water throughout the spring/summer/fall). They graze on the grass, seeds, and shrubs then will go up higher on the mountainside to regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before swallowing for final digestion. Usually we see the separate groups within the herds. We either see the ewes together, with their lambs (both ewes and rams), or we see a group of all adult rams of various ages. It’s only in the fall when they all hang out together which is during the rut, or mating season. That is when you’ll see the big rams mixed in with the ewes and lambs. The rams can be agressive towards humans during this time (actually the sheep *can* be agressive anytime) so it is best to keep a very respectful distance.

sheep-17The Colorado Division of Wildlife warns us whenever we do any kind of structural remodeling here at the lodge because the sheep are known to get stressed very easily at changes in their environment. Anytime someone wants to build anything in their habitat an environmental impact study must be done and a plan must be in place to minimize impact on the sheep. Things like only building during certain seasons, such as summer, when the sheep are typically higher in the mountains. We are very respectful of the sheep here, but we have found them to not mind so much about noise and activity. In fact, they usually come down to see what’s going on if we’re running a chainsaw or if there is any tractor work going on. When the in ground water tank was being put in near the northwest corner of the property, a large bulldozer was left running as the operator ate lunch in his truck near by. A very large ram came down to investigate then laid down and took about an hour long nap directly next to the bulldozer! While they are very sensitive animals, they are equally as curious as to what is happening in and around their home.

We sure do love these incredible animals and feel so lucky that we get to share this little spot of the rockies with a good number of them! If seeing these animals is on your bucket list or simply something you think you would enjoy, then we certainly have room for you! If you want to see them in their rutting action you should come in November or December. Though they do take a bit of work to spot during that time of year, it is a great sight to see the big rams butting heads and all the activity surrounding the rut. If you don’t want to have to work so hard to see them then spring is a fantastic time to visit. April seems to be the best month, but May and early June are great as well.

We hope to see you up here soon!

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Being located in an ideal habitat, McGregor Mountain Lodge is one of the best spots in the area to see bighorn sheep. Every year we get many people who come up for the sole purpose to get a glimpse of these magnificent animals. The sheep are unpredictable, keep to themselves, and don’t spend much time near populated areas like the elk and mule deer do so they are often difficult to find. These south facing slopes in the west end of the Fall River Valley along the flanks of McGregor and Bighorn Mountains are the ideal spot to find the sheep in the winter and spring months.  For your best shot at seeing them, just hang out in your cabin or on the property here… they’ll eventually show up!

sheep-2It never fails. We will have a couple or a family, or even a photography group, come to stay here in hopes of seeing the sheep. They spend the morning looking up at the mountainside with no luck. They then head out in pursuit of finding them only to come back mid to late afternoon to hear us at the lodge tell them how the sheep had come down in their absence and spent a good hour grazing in fron of their cabin!

While unpredictable, the best time to see these animals, in my experience anyway, is right around lunch time… anywhere from 11:00am to 1:00pm. The chances get less likely on either side of that at our location. Now I’ve seen them in other place (above Timber Lake, Flattop Mountain, Sky Pond, etc…) at a variety of different times from early morning to after dark. But as far as any identifiable pattern for our location, here on the southern fringe of the Mummy Range, lunchtime seems to be the best time to see them.

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So come on up this month! The Spring is a fantastic time to see the sheep. Not quite as exciting at their November/December rutting season, but you are a bit more likely to actually spot them this time of year. As the grass starts greening they come down to get their fill. Then they give birth and you get to see the little lambs around and that is a site to see!

Hope to see you soon!

Michael

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We’re so sorry for the delay! We’ve been focusing on getting more content on our social media pages and have neglected our little blog here. So, we share some well overdue photos of the happenings here in Estes and at McGregor!

We had a nice snow storm over the weekend leaving us under about 6 inches of powder. As the storm was clearing yesterday afternoon, I managed to catch the moon rising above Kruger Rock in town…

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This morning as we were getting the bulk of the cleaning done we noticed a small herd of bighorn ewes and lambs. The came down to lick a bit of salt off the driveway and looked to be heading to the river, possibly for a little drink. They are always a joy to have on property and are a favorite of guests and passers by alike!

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