On a morning drive to the Upper Kananaskis Lake, I found a grizzly with her cub foraging beside the road. A Kananaskis conservation officer was watching them from his truck across the road which made me feel better with respect to the risk of a vehicle colliding with them. I did not want to bother them so I stopped for only a few seconds to watch as the little one munched away – her head didn’t come up as she seemed intent on her breakfast – so I continued on.
About twenty minutes later, I was heading on to the Highwood Pass for some hiking and passed by them again. This time the cub favored me with a quick glance when I stopped before she returned to the grass and wildflowers.
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.
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.
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.
Autumn 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.
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.
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.
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.
I visited Jasper National Park for a couple of days over the Victoria Day long weekend. The park has a different feel (both are great – just different) from Banff and I always look forward to spending time there. I plan to share a few stories of time I spent with some of the magnificent wildlife there but will start with a really fun moment.
This black bear was grazing in the ground cover of a stretch of open forest when I found him. I watched him scratch, sniff and chew on shrubs, flowers and roots for several minutes and then he sauntered over to this small tree.
Rearing up on his hind legs, he seemed really happy to rub his back up and down against the spiky needles. I’m not sure how much scratching he felt with his thick coat so maybe it was more for the scent or to shake off some insects. No matter the reason, it was cool to see a bear dancing for his own reasons.
This wonderful bear strode through the estuary during low tide in the Khutzeymateen Inlet. June is a time when all of the bears are wary of one another’s intentions but that didn’t stop this lady from walking down the centre of the river. I saw her a couple of times during our trip into the provincial park but this was the only time where she was in the water.
Canon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 2000
I spent one morning in Banff on the weekend and came across a male Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) along the Bow Valley Parkway. He spent some time in one roadside meadow chewing on a everything green he could see.
Canon 5DII and 70-200mm lens at 122mm: 1/250 second at f/4 on ISO 800
Before long, he crossed the road and then headed into the trees leaving a group of vehicles and their occupants behind. I hoped he was heading towards a larger meadow about a mile east and drove there to wait and see.
Canon 5DIII and 70-200mm lens at 149mm: 1/1000 second at f/4 on ISO 2000
Apparently the dandelions and lush vegetation were calling him and after not too long a wait he strode out of the forest and continued chowing down. He stayed there for more than an hour, disappearing briefly a couple of times before finally heading deeper into the shadows.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/500 second at f/4 on ISO 1600
Although winter felt slow to leave, the greenery now seems abundant and makes me hopeful this bear and the other animals in the park will enjoy a long summer feast.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 1000
Driving up to the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis this black bear ran across the road a few hundred yards ahead of me. I pulled up where it had climbed the bank and saw it looking at me from the forest’s edge. A quick look and then it ran into the woods.
That reminded me of a slightly longer encounter I had in the spring near Radium with another black bear. The dandelions that spring up in thick carpets on the roadside fields draw the bears and this one was not deterred by a steady downpour.
The wet fur provided a great sheen and defined the coat well.
On the same trip through the Kootenay National Park in early June, I saw a second black bear grazing in another meadow. This one was a beautiful ginger colour – really beautiful. I’m hoping to get back into the mountains to enjoy the autumn season and see a bear or two soon.
I was in Jasper photographing for a few days with a couple of good friends. We had one day where we were able to get some glass on two separate mothers with their cubs. One family was just the mother and her cub and it was this cub who proved to be an adept tree climber.
The pair was snacking on berries when the little one trotted over to a tall tree and then shot up the trunk. It stopped about 40′ up and looked around for a bit. At that point we weren’t sure whether there would be a descent down the bark or a fall.
It was amazing to watch the bear when it decided to come down. I can only describe it as a vertical slide and a very quick one. The cub went back to mom and they foraged along for a while. Then it climbed another tree, stayed up to enjoy the bird’s-eye view and then slid back down. Very fast, very natural and really a treat to see this rascal go.
On the ground the bear did not appear agitated so I believe it was climbing out of curiosity and, possibly, just for the fun of it.
This cub is one of three two-year olds growing up in the Banff National Park under their mother’s attentive guidance and watchful gaze. I spoke with one of the conservation officers on Sunday and he knew much about this little family. I was happy to hear that the mother is roughly twenty years old. When Dave told me that it made me hopeful that her experience will help her bring all three cubs to maturity. A great addition to the overall Grizzly population in the park. First, a bit about this encounter and then some details about the mother bear and her story.
The snow the day before had given way to rain by Sunday morning. The wet hairs glistened as did the foliage which made added some interest to the images. The family was grazing near the roadside but were still in pretty deep forest so the dark scene was a puzzle to work with. We were able to stay in the car and use long lenses to fill the frames with the bears. A safe way to encounter bruins and they carried on with very little intrusion from our car and the couple of others that came and went.
The bears laid down at one point for a short snooze. Two of the little bears curled in with their mom while the third draped over her shoulder hump. I didn’t have a good angle on that moment but it was really nice just to see. After about half an hour, the bears moved on shuffling deeper into the forest and disappeared quickly.
Bear #64 is a well-known bear in the Banff area. John Marriott wrote a post that touches on her while telling the tragic story of the loss of bears #109 and #108. 108 was five-and-a-half years old when she was hit by a car on July 11, 2011. 109 was her twin sister and had been run over by a train the year before. If I had a wish I would spend it on helping these young cubs growing to an age where my kids are driving up on their own to photograph them with their own cubs.
I’ve been carving out a little time to review my photography over the past year. It’s been nice to recall some good adventures and revisit some of my favourites from 2011. I spent a fair bit of time sitting in the snow waiting, driving back roads looking and hiking game trails exploring so it was a great year. I crossed paths with a few animals and here are my favourite images from those encounters.
This moose and her calf were grazing along Highway 40 west of Highwood Pass in Kananaskis. She was beautiful and here I was able to make a nice side portrait of her as she watched her young one prancing around.
Where we live we have a lot of opportunity to see white-tailed and mule deer. I photographed many groups and individuals of both over the last year. This white-tailed buck was wary of me at first but after passing his sniff test he returned to his wandering.
The Great Gray Owls are present throughout the woods and meadows that I often wander through but they seem to appear only when they want to be seen. I was able to have some long encounters throughout the year and I continue to be amazed by these magical creatures.
I wanted to photograph more bears this year and I spent a lot of time reading about behaviour, habits and their movements through the year. It paid off and I was able to enjoy some very good encounters where they were not threatened by my presence and I was able to photograph them safely.
This grizzly encounter was a surprise. Our group was busy photographing the raw wilderness in the Tonquin Valley on the eastern shore of Amethyst Lake when we noticed this boar walking over the rocks and bushes a couple hundred feet away. He saw us at the same time and though he didn’t seem threatened, he wasn’t interested in getting any closer either. He made a quarter turn and walked along the shoreline away from us.
This last one is just a brief glimpse of a humpback whale that Bobbi and I had on a sail we went on in Kaua’i. I like the abstract aspects of the image overall and it is the source of one of my goals which is to photograph more marine wildlife in the coming year.
I felt sad banishing the runner-up images back to the library without giving them a chance to stretch a bit so I’ve put them into a slideshow here. Have a look at the near misses if you are so inclined. Thanks for taking a stroll through 2011 with me.