Side Sedging Grizzly
Canon 5DIII and 200-400mm f/4 IS EXT at 526mm: 1/320oth of a second on f/5.6 and ISO 2500
A Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) mows down sedge grass grown tall in the estuary of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. This boar was pretty nonchalant when we came upon him as we rounded one of the river channels that divides up the grassland at low tide. He was sauntering along and sat down across from us to settle down for a snack. When he turned his head sideways to chew away, it created an unusual look at this handsome fellow and his impressive chompers.
A K’tzim-a-deen cub at rest
Bobbi and I just returned from the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary where Dan and Sandy hosted us aboard the Sun Chaser sailboat and we spent many hours looking for, finding, photographing, discussing and dreaming about Grizzlies. It was a magical experience and I have had little time to look at any images so far.
That said, this image of a cub resting on a rock is already a favorite of mine. Mom brought this two-year old down to the beach in the bay where Dan enjoys anchoring several times. They were both very relaxed about our presence, with the elder concerned only about Grizzly boars coming out of the forest edge. Her back was often to our little raft scanning the tree line as she ate the sedge grass. Meanwhile the cub, free from much – though not all – of this worry, watched us in-between explorations nearby, feasting on vegetation and mewling for milk.
A Grizzly on the move
After flying into the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park by float plane in the early afternoon, we moved all of our gear onto the Sun Chaser which was our base of operations for the four days spent in the inlet. The captain, Dan Wakeman, sailed us east towards the end of the inlet for a couple of miles and then weighed anchor in a beautiful little cove. We set up for shooting and hopped into Dan’s inflatable zodiac boat to look for bears. Earlier we had passed a river and watched a dark coloured Grizzly slip into the shadows of the rainforest. Now on a more mobile vessel, with shallow draft and a strong outboard, we headed back and went upriver about one hundred metres to see if the bear had lingered in the area. It did not reappear and we soon headed down to the estuary and the main river flowing out of the mountains there. We waited and watched but found no bears on that first visit to the head of the valley. I didn’t mind, the scenery was beautiful and I enjoyed building a familiarity with the land. Dan has spent the non-winter months of each of the last 35 years in the Khutzeymateen and it was a great to soak up some of the knowledge he freely shared as we trolled around and watched for wildlife. We headed back to the Sun Chaser and spotted a female Grizzly who was picking dead salmon out of the sedge grass. They get caught in there during the high tide when the meadows are covered and having spawned do not have the energy to untangle themselves.
With the Grizzly finishing off a fish, Dan introduced her as Blondie. As I mentioned in an earlier post, she had been blonde as a cub and a few long tufts of hair behind her ears had stayed with her into adulthood. She hunted in the grass for a bit longer and then went fishing in the river. She splashed around a bit but pretty quickly headed to the grassy field on the far side and resumed looking for salmon there.
She paused frequently to smell the air. Lifting her nose up and looking around it seemed likely there was another bear in that area, perhaps the dark bear seen earlier. She was wary and Dan was not surprised when she pointed east and left the grass for the slippery rocks exposed during low tide. She was heading for the estuary where the majority of the salmon run and the hunting can be very productive for the bears.
With the full moon pushing and pulling water down the long Khutzeymateen Inlet, there was a difference of six metres between high tide and low tide. When the water was up, it came right to bottom branches of the trees on the edge of the rainforest. When it is low, many of the bears use the easier path along the exposed band of lichen and kelp covered rock to cover ground.
With rain now moving from a drizzle to a steady downpour, we settled into a rhythm with Blondie paralleling her as she walked and swam along the coastline. We moved with her for the better part of an hour. She disappeared into the forest in a couple of impassable spots and then re-emerged again. Twice she slipped into the water and paddled along that route for a while before making landfall and carrying on.
This was an incredible opportunity to watch a Grizzly bear move through her environment at her pace, undisturbed by us due to Dan’s understanding of this population and this specific animal. We met up with Blondie again a couple of days later and I will share that story in another post.
At the next meadow of sedge grass she pawed at the ground in a couple of places, sniffed at the air a couple of times and then walked into the trees to a trail that Dan has seen which leads to the estuary still a mile further down the inlet. We parted company and returned to the Sun Chaser for our own dinner.
Playing on the beach
From the deck of the sailboat that was home in the Khutzeymateen we spotted a mother and cub padding through the deep sedge grass during low tide. With the full moon, the change between high and low tides was over seven metres. The salmon that have spawned up the creeks, are little more than heartbeats when they float back down to the river mouth. When the water is high they often get caught in the sedge grass and are easy pickings for the clever bears who are in the know.
The cub played unaware we were watching for several minutes. When he did notice, he stared us down before trotting back to momma.
The mother stayed in the grass until the cub came up and growled and pawed at her.
After a while the cub turned his attention back to his mom. He trotted over and growled and pawed at her. He conned her into coming down to the beach and they ran around chasing each other.
It was a really special finish to a great first day in the Khutzeymateen. And more great moments were to come in the next two days I spent in the Khutzeymateen.
Tonquin Valley Caribou
I was in the Tonquin Valley west of Jasper last year and on the first evening along Amethyst Lake, I had an opportunity to photograph a pair of forest caribou (R. tarandus caribou). I had never seen this distinct species of deer in the wild before. This cow had led her calf down to the wildflower meadows along the shoreline and they grazed with enthusiasm while I hovered around a 100 yards away.
Our guide had said there was a grizzly roaming around the lake under The Ramparts and the caribou were wary as a result. We didn’t see the young boar until the next day when we were photographing landscapes on the far side of the valley. We were universally facing south photographing the mountains closing the southern end of the Tonquin as seen below.
I looked around at one point and my eyes caught sight of a large bear shuffling over the field of boulders a couple of hundred metres behind us. He headed off when he saw us staring his way. We walked parallel for a while before losing sight of him. He had picked up speed and swam across a shallow gap and galloped into the trees there.
Another place that I’m excited to return to sooner than later.
Kananaskis Wildlife: Digging with Grizzlies
I spent three hours photographing four Grizzly bears in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Sunday morning. My parents were hiking there the day before and had seen the small troop digging up a meadow to get at small roots in the soil. I followed their directions and found the mother with her two cubs and a lone sow. The mother was protective of her cubs and the other bear kept her distance.
A couple of times mother bear chased the other one away either because she had strayed too close or momma wanted to graze in the loner’s spot. I have to say, watching a bear run is incredible. It is a shuffling gallop that doesn’t look fast but when you look at the ground covered you understand exactly how fast bears are. One of the charges sent the lone bear running towards me which got the adrenalin going. The image of the lone bear running away below is a bit blurry as the light was pretty soft but it illustrates some of the power these animals carry in their movements (and look at those claws).
The meadow is a narrow strip about two hundred meters wide which is lined with trees on both sides. I stayed along the forest’s edge but made sure the bears knew I was there when I was more than a few hundred meters away. I took almost an hour to get to my final photographing spot. Trying to watch for any signs of agitation, particularly from the mother. She looked my way a couple of times but did not stop grazing other than to chase the other bear. The cubs noticed me too but went back to their digging without any concerns.
The lone female seemed curious for the first few minutes but then settled back to the big dig. She would watch me whenever I moved but once I set up in a new spot, she would tend to her hunger. By mid-morning I was close enough to see their faces clearly through my lens but I was wishing I had longer glass than my 300mm lens and extender. A 500mm lens would have been perfect but no complaints.
The berries were late this year and I wonder if these roots are a fallback option that the bears look to late in the season to top off their bellies before hibernating. I left them as I found them, shuffling around and burying their heads in the piles of dirt, and headed back up the trail around noon.