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.
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.
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.
They moved parallel to the road for about 20 minutes before heading back into the hills.
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.
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.
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.
Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.
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.
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.
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.
Last weekend, on June 9th, winter crept in a side door and threw some weather at the Rocky Mountains around Banff. I was hoping to find bears on my drive but wasn’t sure if the snow would convince them to stay hidden deeper in the forests. Around 8 am the gloom lifted a little after I photographed a young bighorn on the edge of Lake Minnewanka. I drove back towards Banff, passed a lone elk on the far side of a meadow and merged back onto the Trans-Canada Highway. I was on the way to Highway 93 which runs down the spine of the Kootenay National Park and is a haven for black bears and grizzly bears at this time of the year. As I approached the westernmost entrance to the Banff townsite, Vermilion’s siren call beckoned. I pulled onto the off ramp and then slowly glided along the lakeside road scouring the trees for wildlife.
On the second pass, I found #64 and her three cubs. The snow was falling in big, wet flakes. The moisture on the leaves, grass and everything else seemed to create a soft glow which was beautiful. The bears were only 15 or 20 metres off the road but clean, clear shots were hard to come by.
That didn’t bother me too much as I wanted to show the weather in the images I was making of the bears. They lingered in that spot for a few minutes and then trundled off, slipping back into the woods. The next day provided an easier vantage point to photograph this same family from. However, the image at the top of the post was easily my favourite from the weekend.
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.