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Posted: November 16, 2016

Headbanger Festival a bighorn sheep showcase

By Ian Cobb


The most unique aspect of life in Radium Hot Springs is sharing living space with a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.

While the hot springs and Kootenay National Park remain the main lure to the world-famous village, the chance to get close to the noble bighorn is almost a certainty for visitors, especially during the rut (November), when the bulk of the 140-plus member herd can be found roaming the streets, alleyways, parks and The Springs at Radium Golf Course.

To celebrate living among the sheep, Tourism Radium Nov. 5 and 6 held the fourth annual Headbanger Festival at the Best Western Prestige Inn.

And it was the biggest turnout yet for the festival, with visitors and locals taking part in the lectures, presentations and interactive workshops, with all challenged to take the best photographs/videos possible of bighorn sheep rutting; the famous head-butt action of rams vying for mating rights.

Festival participants lit out around the village and into Kootenay National Park, seeking to observe the natural phenomenon that locals have grown used to seeing.

Saturday’s events was opened with a presentation by Radium Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce general manager and long-time village resident Kent Kebe, who gave an anecdotally fascinating look at living with the sheep in your backyard and efforts to reduce fatality incidents, diseases (some spread by domestic sheep) and predation.

Kebe kept about 80 people involved in the discussion, aided by fellow Radium resident and festival volunteer Dale Genest, explaining details about bighorn sheep from their famous horns to exactly what was going on outside on the streets of the village, boosting festival participants with useful information to know while observing and photographing the rut activity. That featured full-on skull knocking action to kicks and mild butts to animated chases and other acts of dominance and submission. All the while ewes were being chased by an over-eager assortment of rams, as lambs ran alongside with confused gaits.

WildsafeBC’s Andrea Smillie provided a look at the wildlife scene in and around Radium, discussing urban wildlife issues and how to cut down on them, as well as provide detailed information about a variety of species, from grizzly bears to cougar and of course, bighorn sheep, which don’t cause many calls or complaints to WildsafeBC.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to haven’t had an aggressive encounter with a bighorn sheep,” she said. “And I hear a lot of really cool stories.”

The festival also included a photography workshop led by Jim Lawrence and Barb Butchart and for the first time ever, there was a Saturday evening dinner and keynote speaker, with the renowned bear expert Charlie Russell on hand to enthrall festival participants with tales of his 55 years spent living among bears, working to prove that they are still greatly misunderstood by human beings.

Sunday included interactive arts workshops and a couple of hikes; one in the Restreak Restoration area adjacent to the village’s east boundary and an ecosystem hike along Sinclair Creek.

A sketchy morning (weather-wise) turned into a gorgeous afternoon; a sunny, unseasonably warm early November day that could have been mistaken for late summer. After a fairly subdued Saturday, the rams were out with some pee and vinegar on Sunday. We observed numerous scuffles and caught a couple of half-hearted head knocks. There always seemed to be at least one ram willing to engage in battle but little came of it, aside from a fair amount of straddling. It was still enough action to enthral festival participants and had we been shooting with film – we would have run out on Saturday afternoon!

Combined with all that Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley has to offer, the Headbanger Festival is a fantastic weekend getaway that blends education and family entertainment with hands-on, in-your-face wildlife and natural beauty observation and photography like few other events known.

Like Wings Over the Rockies, the Headbanger Festival is a perfect blend of education tourism and exposure to world-class natural settings.

Please click on an image to enlarge and to begin self-directed slide show…

Photos by Carrie Schafer and Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

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