It is no surprise that I am quite fond of bears. Grizzly bears are of particular interest to me so it was a lot of fun putting together a gallery of my favourite Grizzly images from the past couple of years for a project that I am working on with a client.
If you are interested in seeing the images in this rather large set, please click the image or this link.
Last weekend I was in Kananaskis and was very fortunate to watch a Grizzly bear digging up roots, swimming in the Kananaskis River and walking above and along the shoreline. After a beautiful, mist-filled morning at Wedge Pond I pulled out my longer lenses and drove along Highway 40 intent upon driving over the Highwood Pass. There is a spot a few kilometres south of Mount Kidd where a bend in the river draws close to the road and affords a clear view of both sides of the shoreline.
I saw the bear walking into the forest above the water as I came up to the river bend. She came back into sight a couple hundred metres further down in a small clearing. For a half an hour she shuffled between a couple of similar breaks in the forest above the water. I thought she was going to continue around the corner and out of sight but instead she walked into the water and swam across to the other shore. She pulled out of the water and set about digging back in the trees for most of an hour.
She came into clear view on the bank twice which allowed for some nice opportunities. The rest of the time I enjoyed watching her as she went about her business. During this time, one of the park rangers stopped by and monitored the bear for a while. He kindly shared information about this beautiful animal. She is Bear Number 151 and is one of three cubs that left their mother this spring. The mother is native to Kananaskis and raised the triplets in the area for their first three years covering an impressive amount of territory during that time.
151 looked very healthy and the ranger confirmed that these bears were doing well and had not developed any habits which could bring them into conflict with people. I was very glad to hear that. He carried on with his duties which called him to other parts of Kananaskis and I continued watching her. Several times, when a few minutes had passed with no sign of her, I thought she had melted into the forest and ended this special encounter. At one point I didn’t see her for 15 minutes and had begun packing up my gear. I looked back towards the river just as she stepped out of the thick bushes and onto a sandy strip on the far side of the river.
She sniffed at the air, angled to her left and crossed the sand. At the water, she crossed a shallow part and then swam over to a dead tree likely uprooted in the 2013 flood.
It was a first for me to watch a bear climb this kind of tree, with all of the spiny branches, in this river shore landscape.
I really had fun photographing her moving through her land. When she got onto the bank, returning to the clearing where I had first photographed her, she made a quick dig for roots and then walked into the woods towards the road. I jogged up to the road and after a few minutes she came out a few hundred metres north, quickly crossed the road and headed into the forest that anchors the western slope of The Wedge.
I am traveling back from Prince Rupert right now after my trip into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. We were in there for four nights and had an amazing time. My high hopes were exceeded in every respect and I will have a lot more to share once I’m back home and can work through the images. This beautiful bear is called Blondie due to her colouring as a cub and the stray tufts that remain behind her ears now that she’s an adult. She mated for this first time this year so cubs are expected next year. We were able to watch her on a few separate occasions and she was a favourite amongst us. She’s a bit of a wild one but on this day she was cowed by the weather, as were we. The rain fell hard early, kept going strong all day and stayed late. We spied her walking along the exposed rock during low tide. She headed towards the estuary and our guide, Dan, who has been taking people into the Khutzeymateen for the last 35 years, got us into the zodiac boat and we paralleled her travels for over a mile. This was one of two times where she elected to swim past a steep section of rock. With the raindrops bouncing off the water, the image gives a feeling of the inlet on that wet day.
In 2012, I had some wonderful encounters with wild animals. Most were in Alberta near my home either on the prairies or in the mountains. I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to have an abundance of wildlife living in my literal backyard and in any direction I choose to walk, ride or drive. Kananaskis Country mesmerized me more this year than ever before and I enjoyed time with coyotes, bears, sheep, moose and hawks there.
(please click on any image if you want to open a new page with a higher resolution version)
I started the year with a goal to put significant time and energy into improving my wildlife photography. My priorities to accomplish this were to improve my approaches to wildlife (to minimize disruption and increase the chance to observe natural behaviour), improve my technique (better sharpness and quicker response to animal movement) and create images that tell a more complete story about the animals (more engaging and interesting). I moved forward on all fronts though I know where I want to get to and so I will be keeping the same goals to start this new year.
As spring took hold, I wanted to photograph bears. In previous years, I hadn’t put in the time to learn their habits, locations and behaviours. I put in time reading books and talking with people who know a lot about Black Bears and Grizzly (Brown) Bears. There is much (much) more to learn but the effort was rewarded with some good images from the Kootenay National Park and the Banff National Park. A decent start to the images that I have in mind.
The cubs above and below were Grizzly Bear #64’s and I found them on a couple of occasions along the Vermilion Lakes Road near Banff. So beautiful and very photogenic. The park’s wildlife officers did a good job working with visitors and there seemed to be a level of respect and restraint better than I have observed other years.
The meadows of dandelions blooming in the spring draw the bears to the roadsides along Highway 93 in the Kootenay National Park and I made a couple of trips there to photograph the black bears. This bear had picked the flowers clean on the rocky slope. The wet fur and the posture made for a nice moment to photograph.
In the summer, I visited Jasper National Park for a solid week of photography. The absolute highlight was this black bear cub sprinting up two different tree trunks. Momma kept grazing while junior seemed to be playing. It was amazing how fast this young animal climbed and almost more impressive when it slid down twice as fast.
I love photographing birds. Left unchecked I would fill this collection with way too many avian photographs. Trying to rein myself in here but it was a good year for birding and bird photography. Along the way I saw the movie “The Big Year” and that got me thinking… not yet but probably one day. Here then are a few from the year that stood out for me.
Great Gray Owls dominated my local outings to West Bragg Creek in April and May. I had a connection with one owl in particular (or at least I felt one and hope the owl did on some level too) and spent many days with it flying around me, landing beside me and generally spoiling with opportunities to photograph this most magical of animals. This was a favourite among many special images of this owl.
The last part of the year I had a great wildlife trip to the Jasper National Park with my friend Jeff Rhude on a workshop with John Marriott. John is one of Canada’s pre-eminent wildlife photographers and it was really fun to spend a week focused on wildlife photography. I worked for the images there and the results were pretty satisfying.
The rams were assembling ahead of the rut in groups around the park. We did not have any head butting to photograph but there was time to really work with the opportunities available. This post was a favourite of mine from the year.
An encounter with a pair of very approachable ravens at a pullout along the Icefields Parkway and family of juvenile bald eagles along the river just outside of Jasper were two other highlights from a very good trip.
At the end of the year my family went to Kaua’i and the wildlife fortunes were with us. We had amazing encounters with Hawaiian Monk Seals, Green Sea Turtles and birds of many feathers.
The encounters continued below the surface and I fear I’m hooked on this fascinating branch of photography now – we’ll see where that takes me in 2013.
The year finished with the discovery of Snowy Owls very close to my home. There are a pair, and possibly a quartet, of Snowies currently hunting in the Springbank Airport area. I spent some time with them before the end of the year and have continued regular evening appointments with them in the first few days of this new year. These owls have not been seen in this area before and my first photographs of Snowies made in February and March last year required driving a couple of hours east. The first image in this post was from a range road near Gleichen an hour east of Calgary during one of these longer drives. It is very special to me that I have been end the year with Snowy owls very close to my home as they have become a favourite animal of mine.
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.