You can see and photograph bighorn sheep in several areas of Eastern Washington, but the best spot to see the animals up close and personal is at the bighorn sheep winter feeding station near the south end of Sullivan Lake in Pend Oreille County.
Thirty bighorns, some of which wear impressive head decorations, are eating hay and pellets virtually every day.
The station is operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Colville National Forest land.
Department officials are encouraging wildlife enthusiasts to visit the station and photograph the animals, but they ask that visitors use good judgment when near the sheep. The bighorns are accustomed to seeing people; however, they’ll move away if harassed too much.
When they have time, Pend Oreille County road crews plow the campground road. If they’re busy on major county roads, visitors have to hike a little farther to the feed bins.
If you decide to visit the station, wear warm clothing. You may stand around a long time waiting for bighorns to show up and if you’re not dressed warmly you’ll get cold.
Because you’ll be within 100 yards or so of the bighorns, you don’t need long telephoto lenses. In fact, a good point-and-shoot camera, especially one that has a zoom lens, can take frame-filling pictures of the animals.
Most serious photographers pack a lot of camera gear when they visit the station. They have expensive camera bodies, wide angle, short and long zoom lenses, lots of filters and a tripod.
If you hope to get good, sharp pictures of the sheep, pack a tripod, especially if the light is poor. If you don’t have a tripod, use a fast film that has an ISO of 200 or more.
The faster the films the grainier. That’s why pros usually use films that have low ISO numbers. They like such slow slide films as Fujichrome Velvia, Kodachrome 25 and Ektachrome Lumiere 50/X. However, they frequently use such medium-speed films as Fujichrome 100. If you want to get a picture or two suitable for enlarging and framing, use a slow, fine-grain film.
Film makers have developed superb color print films the last couple of years. Some that have ISOs of 200 or more are far superior to the slow color print films available only a half dozen years ago. Some of the finest grain print films are Fujicolor Reala, Fujicolor Super G 200, Kodak Gold Plus 100 and Kodak Ektapress Gold 100.
If you plan on using a camcorder, you don’t have to worry about film speed. Most camcorders take excellent pictures even on dark days.
Be patient while you’re near the feeding animals. Strive for pictures that tell a story, such as sheep competing for spots at feeders, playful sheep and bighorns that proudly display their big horns.
Because bighorns breed in November, you’re not likely to get spectacular pictures of rams butting heads.
The best time to visit the station is during extremely cold weather and following snowstorms. Bighorns, like most wild animals, feed frequently during near- and below-zero temperatures to keep healthy.
When the weather is mild, the bighorns may not visit the feeders for a day or two.
January is a good month to visit. It’s usually a cold month and the bighorns will be at the bins nearly every day. February also can be a good month to see the sheep.
By early March, the herd will start moving up Hall Mountain. The ewes will have their lambs in May and the herd will spend the summer on Crowell Ridge and mountains to the north.
The fish and wildlife department started the herd in 1972 as part of a program to reestablish bighorns on their native ranges in Eastern Washington. It now manages the herd as a source of transplants to other areas.
The animals are tagged before they are released to help document summer distribution, age, reproduction and mortality rates. There are now bighorn herds in several areas of Eastern Washington, including the Blue Mountains and the Okanogan region.
Wildlife biologists say the herd could survive without artificial feeding. The principal reason the department feeds hay and pellets during the winter is to keep them near the feeding station so some can be trapped and transported to areas where new herds are being established or supplemented.
The feeding station is 80 miles north of Spokane. To get to it, drive nearly to Ione, cross the Pend Oreille River bridge and take the Sullivan Lake Road to the Noisy Creek Campground. The hike to the feeders is only a quarter of a mile.
You can contact Fenton Roskelley by voice mail at 459-5576, extension 3814.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Fenton Roskelley The Spokesman-Review