Bears

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.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1277

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


An evening with Grizzly bears in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9331

The second time I crossed paths with this family of Grizzly bears it was deep into dusk.  I spotted the mother in the hill above the Swan Lake Flat about an hour earlier but quickly lost her and the cubs in the rolling slopes as they made their way down.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9292

When they did appear it surprised me how close they got before I saw them.  Knowing the size of an adult Grizzly, it showed me how high those hills are.  The trio walked and grazed, with he twins play fighting along the way, towards the Grand Loop Road eventually settling about 150 metres away.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9348-3

The failing light made photographing the bears a fun challenge.  The golden halos created by the glow from the western horizon being caught by the hair in their coats was amazing.  That alone was more than worth the wait.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9360

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9395

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9352

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9423

They moved parallel to the road for about 20 minutes before heading back into the hills.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9481


A family of Grizzly bears in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8002
This mother Grizzly bear brought her cubs down to this sage brush meadow on the Swan Lake Flat above Mammoth Hot Springs several times in the four days that I was in Yellowstone National Park.  Two of those walkabouts coincided with me being in the area so I was able to watch them for a couple of hours in total.  These photographs are from the first encounter in the evening on May 20th.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-7922

The twins were playful.  Carefree knowing their mother was watchful of the crowds that invariably developed along the Grand Loop Road as well as for any Grizzly males who might cross their path.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8030

The mother had a lot of character in her face, with a bit of a bend in her snout and lighter colouring in the fur in the outer disc.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8108

Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8045

For the most part, momma didn’t mind but when they drifted too far away a huff from her would send them scrambling back to her side.  She was hungry and spent her time digging up roots but did play with them a little bit.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8154

Occasionally, the little bears would stop and watch the people watching them.  I wondered what they made of all of us hugging the edge of the road, lined up facing them.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8214

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8173

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8126

I watched the trio for an hour that evening.  With the shadows lengthening, they moved slowly away from the road into the rolling hills eventually melting into the plateau.  Before then, I took the opportunity to frame them in their surroundings.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8249

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8258-2

 


Waiting for the grizzlies

Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia, Canada - June 2014

I’m heading up to Banff National Park tomorrow and the recent warm weather has me thinking about bears.  It’s far too early for them to wake up so I don’t expect to see any.  It did prompt me to look at the photographs from watching this mother Grizzly with her cub during a visit to the Khutzeymateen two years ago.  I can’t wait to see bears in both places starting later this spring.

 

2014 © Christopher Martin

2014 © Christopher Martin

Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia, Canada - June 2014

A wary mother Grizzly checks for trouble further down the Khutzeymateen Valley


An autumn Grizzly in the Banff National Park

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-2378

On the weekend, I found a Grizzly bear traversing along the edge of the Bow Valley Parkway near the southeast entrance.  The bear, a female with the tag #148 (I think), I could see where she had been digging up roots but when I saw her she was already on the move.

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-2372

She crossed the road between a couple of parked cars and then disappeared into the trees.  I played a hunch and drove a kilometre down the road and waited hoping she might continue in that direction.  A little while later, she came down the road and scrambled up onto this rock shelf above the road.

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear #148 - © Christopher Martin-2323

That offered a great view of this beautiful creature and I was able to create some solid imagery when she paused to decide on her next route.

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-2308

Leaving the rocks, she crossed a grassy meadow and then walked through the open forest for a few hundred metres.  I loved watching her walk through the trees – at this time of the year her coat blends in with the autumn foliage.

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-2405

She then crossed the road again and shuffled down the hillside.  Out of sight again and this time she did not return.  I saw a video of her fishing earlier this summer so maybe she went down to the river for that!

Bow Valley Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-2445