Authored & photographed by Denise Hoffgaard, local wildlife photographer
Visitors to Radium Hot Springs are likely to see lots of wildlife during their stay in this beautiful little mountain town. Rocky cliffs, canyons and wide-open golf courses are the perfect habitat for a usually very shy and not so easy to be seen inhabitants: The Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
It was in 2018 when I first passed through the massive Sinclair Canyon of Radium, which is also known as the “Gateway to the Columbia Valley”. A big ram (male bighorn sheep) was slowly walking alongside the road. I was thrilled! I wanted to jump out of the car! I had no idea how to handle my brand-new camera, but my smartphone was ready…and my driver just kept going. “We cannot stop here, there is too much traffic,” was the short explanation, leaving me with a blurry picture out of a driving car.
Now, after years of wildlife photography I have a way better understanding about our local wildlife as well as the sensitive habitat they’re living in than I did before. While the display of a herd of bighorn sheep grazing alongside the road or a bear munching some tasty dandelions is exciting to witness, it can be quite the opposite experience for the animal when too many visitors spectate from in and out of their vehicles, not to mention the traffic that builds.
One thing I’ve learned to understand after observing the interactions of animals in these situations is that for wildlife, the natural fear of people is an important instinct that keeps them safe. The wellbeing of an animal is more important than my social media post.
Radium Hot Springs is a fantastic area to watch a wide variety of birds and wildlife from a safe perspective. Go and check out the Visitor Centre for information on where to find the best places to view wildlife or book a local tour guide for the best Rocky Mountain experience. Taking a stroll through town or going on a hike increase your chances to see the local bighorn sheep.
My personal secret to successful wildlife photography is patience, knowledge and respect. If you want to witness an animal in its natural habitat without stressing it, you must find a place and distance where you, as well as the animal, feel safe and comfortable. I love to use my binoculars just to watch them. It also works out well for me to wait until the wildlife approaches me than the other way around. A cool experience I had not too long ago was in a parking lot one morning, taking photos of a herd of bighorn sheep far away, when the whole herd slowly made their way up to where I was standing. It took them less than 30 minutes and I even had to get back into my car as they came super close. These are the most precious moments in the world of a wildlife photographer!
Always read and respect local rules and regulations. Happy adventures.