Bears

A grizzly bear in the fireweed

Last weekend I came across this grizzly bear late in the day along the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40).  He first came out of the forest on the high side of the hill and traveled through this patch of fireweed before slipping back into the woods.

He was in the trees briefly before continuing down the hill and coming to the road.

Meeting the pavement, he crossed straightaway – which is always a bit of uncertainty given the wildcard of a speeding vehicle.  However this time the four vehicles nearby were all pulled over and no other traffic came so he had no issues.

Dark clouds rolled in and he disappeared down the bank so that ended the short visit.  I headed up to Highwood Pass and watched the weather scrape over the mountains for a bit. Note: that is a great place to enjoy watching the land – the elevation, jagged peaks, often fast-moving clouds and ever-changing weather combine endlessly.  When I drove back down, I found the bear further up the road in hillside of brambles feasting on buffalo berries.  Failing light and falling rain softened the scene and made finding the bear and getting sharp images a challenge but I was grateful for another short visit with this beautiful bruin.

 


Berries and a black bear

Returning from a sunrise shoot atop the rock pile that gives Moraine Lake its name, I found a beautiful black bear grazing on berries.  The patch was close to the road connecting Moraine Lake with the Lake Louise area which meant a bear jam started to build right away.  I didn’t stay for long, just grabbed a couple of shots out the window from the other side of the road.  Great to see the berries coming in, they are a critical source of calories for the bears in the Banff National Park.

 


Grizzlies spring foraging in Kananaskis

The first grizzly bear I saw this year was along the Kananaskis River in May.  I was watching ground squirrels playing around the field in the Opal picnic area.  Then they started standing up alert and chirping to one another.

Looking towards the river, I couldn’t see anything.  Then from out of the forest first one, then a second bear arrived.

They hadn’t noticed me, or maybe more likely, they had but did not have any interest in me.   Happily, they padded across the parking lot behind my car and continued on to cross Highway 40.

Their interest was in foraging on the hillside and I watched them for a few minutes until they slipped back into the woods.







Dandelion hunting in Banff National Park

In Banff National Park’s Bow Valley, the dandelions are among the first flowers to come into bloom in large patches.  This draws the bears as it has to taste delicious compared to the other vegetarian items on their spring menu.  I spied this young grizzly bear mowing through one of these patches that was along the train tracks.  I always worry about the trains rolling through the park as they continue to have wildlife impacts. But during the short time I watched this bear grazing, no trains came by and no other distractions interrupted this bear’s snack.

Eventually she strode up the little hill, along the rails for a minute, gave me a quick look and then continued down the other side and into the woods.

 


2016 wildlife images – some of my favourites from the past year

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I love photographing wildlife, whether it’s a frigid morning, a warm afternoon, blizzards, or whatever, you will usually find me with a smile on my face.  I put this gallery together of my favourite images from those times over the past year.

The 2016 highlights started with snowy owls on the prairie, in March was a wolf pack’s takedown of an elk in Banff and eagles migrating through the high meadows east of Crowsnest Pass, my first visit to Yellowstone National Park in May was wonderful, summer saw the bears in buffalo berry patches throughout Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper, birds migrating along the Bow River in early fall provided some great opportunities and the year wound down, as it started, with snowy owls east of Calgary.

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Throughout the year I spend an enormous amount of time hanging out with the great gray owls who have allowed me to photograph them for several years.  Owls, any species, are absolute favourite birds for me.  I feel exceptionally lucky that I continue to be able to watch them, learn more about them and just simply enjoy being in their presence.

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You can click on any of these three images to open the 2016 wildlife gallery in a new window.


Bear scratching in Yellowstone

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Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male.  I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both!  I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).

I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied.  The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic.  One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area.  She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!)  She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree.  From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often.  The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.

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With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks.  The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point.  I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.

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Bear play

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On our last day in Jasper, Kian and I went for a walk along Pyramid Lake that morning.  It was the first weekend of September so it was cool with a bit of mist on the water and the autumn colors were just starting to come in.  We headed back to town around 9am and spotted a Black bear in the open forest above the road.

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One bear soon became two when the other stepped out from behind a dense clump of Buffalo berries.  The berries were ripe at that time so the bears had been drawn in.  At first we thought they were a mother and cub but when they were side by side, and then when they were wrestling, we could see they were both the same size.

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To me, they seemed like they were near adults and given their play fighting I think they are siblings that are still hanging out together.  Whether related or not, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company and stayed close to each other as they munched through the patches of berries along the hillside.

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Autumn Grizzly in the park

autumn-grizzly-in-the-banff-national-park-christopher-martin-4206Autumn strode confidently into the Banff National Park at the beginning of September.  While some berries and flowers were still producing their best work of the year, much of the foliage has started to turn with grass yellowing and leaves falling.  It is a beautiful season in the park (but I would have to say that I like them all!).  A couple of weeks ago I found this Grizzly bear in the Bow Valley between Lake Louise and the Castle Junction.  It moved steadily through the palette of fall colors, eating berries as it found them.

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It left this hillside meadow after a while and melted into the forest.  I caught sight one more time and could see it watch me for a second before continuing on and easily disappearing again.

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A beast in the bushes

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When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.

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We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near.  When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush.  The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past.  It was cool to share that experience with Kian.

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A bear and her berries

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2177

For the second week in a row, I caught up Grizzly bear #152, and her smile, in Kananaskis’s Spray Valley Provincial Park.  Once more she was feasting on Buffalo berries.  Unlike the sunny encounter last week, the rain was falling steadily providing a sheen to the leaves, the bear’s coat and the tall grass.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2075

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2055

The bear went in and out of the bushes, eating steadily along the way.  Again I was reminded how easily they can disappear within the vegetation – they are a part of the land and seem to join it and separate at will.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2343

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2505

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 in the rain - © Christopher Martin-2028

 


A smiling Grizzly in Kananaskis

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1046

A couple of hours after watching a Black bear in a patch of Buffalo berries, I found this Grizzly in another one a few kilometres away.  She appeared to be a very happy bear, taking some anthropomorphic liberties, I even thought she smiled a few times as in the photo above!

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1335

This female’s tag has the number 152 and she has spent her life in Kananaskis Country according to what I could find online.  With the poor berry crops of the previous two years, it is not surprising she is without cubs this year.  I hope that the much better fortune this year will lead to her and the other females in the central Rockies bringing many cubs out of their winter caves next spring.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1000

At one point, the Conservation officer attending blew the fog horn which startled the bear into a short run. One that ended at the next berry patch.

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She dug up the ground near the second patch a little bit too.  I expected her to be solely focused on the berries but maybe a few roots made for a better, and more complete, lunch.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1176

When she turned around to dig in another spot, it was impossible to not stare at those incredible claws!

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1162


Fine dining in the woods

Kananaskis Black bear in Buffalo berries - © Christopher Martin-0907-3

This summer’s weather – rain and sunshine in a daily tug-of-war – has been a perfect gardener for the wild Buffalo berries.  These have ripened over the past week or two and are drawing in the bears throughout Kananaskis.  This Black bear made it easy for me to find him when he sauntered across the road a couple of hundred metres in front of me.  I pulled up to find him standing up in the middle of a patch feasting on the berries.

Kananaskis Black bear in Buffalo berries - © Christopher Martin-0908

They are a great source of calories for the bears so it is wonderful to see so much fruit this year.  Some years are not nearly as abundant and it seemed like that was not lost on this beautiful bear.  He appeared to be relishing almost every bite.  The berries stretched back into the forest and he slowly made his way further back as he ate.  I lost sight of him shortly after these pictures but could see branches bend and hear the odd one crack for several more minutes before he vanished back into the wilderness as they often do.

Kananaskis Black bear in Buffalo berries - © Christopher Martin-0915