From a couple of years ago during my last visit to the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast in the Great Bear Rainforest. I reworked this image for a black and white photography contest. I liked how monochrome palette highlighted the textures in the wet fur and the sedge grass. But, for me, it’s those eyes that steal the show and make the image.
I found grizzly bear #139 between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes last weekend. He has a history of being in the news over the past couple of year (not a problem bear just one that people find with relative frequency so there are a fair number of images and articles on him). This time, he was strolling between the forest and the Kananaskis Lake road, grazing on the buffalo berries that are ripe and delicious (for the bears at least – they are too tart for my taste when they first ripen).
I left the bear after alerting one of the rangers to his presence as he was moving closer to a campground. I went for a walk along the shoreline a few kilometres away and returned past the spot an hour later. The bear had crossed the road by then and was grazing on the high side of the hill.
He has been referred to as scrawny in the past so it was good to see him looking healthy and devouring berries. He’s a beautiful bear – especially when he flashes that wonderful smile (please allow for a bit of anthropomorphization. I truly believe animals have personalities and emotions). I hope to cross paths with him again for years to come.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
When she turned around to dig in another spot, it was impossible to not stare at those incredible claws!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When I was in the Khutzeymateen (K’tzim-a-deen) in June, the sedge was waist-high in the estuary which sits at the end of park’s fjord. The Grizzly bears come out of hibernation in late May or early June and the grass is growing fast and waiting for them. We spent an hour watching this boar mowing a path through the green. He was a big, beautiful bear and it was a privilege to spend some time watching him in his valley.
(Click any image to open a higher resolution version in its own webpage)
We took the zodiac from the sailboat in the morning and were lucky that the weather didn’t beat us up. The rain varied between a drizzle and a downpour which provided great mood to some of the images. Being in the Great Bear Rainforest on the west coast, it can rain hard and often does. There is a point where it is impossible to photograph, or even stay outside, but that day it went easy on us and played nicely. Along the way we saw several bears at different points in the estuary and only headed out when the tide started to come in.
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.
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.
This young Grizzly bear cub was beautiful and proved to be curious, with a measure of caution, every time that we came across him and his mother when we were in the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park in June.
A Grizzly bear male watches from the tall grass of the Khutzeymateen Estuary. He looked to have been on the wrong side of a couple of fights judging by his beaten up coat.
We were on a zodiac inflatable and he was on the edge of the river. We looked at each other, us six in our boat and him now on a log. He growled and huffed while swiping his claws across the tree bark.
Then, having made his point, he turned his back on us, indicating that we were no longer worthy of concern and continued feasting on the sedge.
We watched him as we retreated and he wandered to the edge of the forest and then disappeared from view.
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When the Grizzly Bears wake up from their hibernation in the mountains above the Khutzeymateen Inlet, the sedge grass is waiting for them. When Bobbi and I were there in June breakfast, lunch and dinner for them finds sedge on the menu. On this cold, wet morning this boar was one of several bears spaced out along the banks of the estuary at low tide mowing away. The volume, of grass eaten and sound created, were both very impressive.
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
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.
The Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) rule the Khutzeymateen Inlet without challenge. In June, the boars roam the fields of sedge grass and the creeks that drain out of the mountains looking for females to court. The males are the kings but the mothers are the not only the queens, they are the heart and spirit of this land. With their cubs there is a tenderness and caring that is plain to see and wonderful to watch.
This mother and cub spent a couple of days along the beach near where we moored the sailboat and we were able to watch them for many hours. Here, they both looked up when a noise behind us drew their attention. A great mother raising a beautiful cub.
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.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
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.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Note: For this first image, I removed the wireless transmitter in the bear’s left ear which you will see in the subsequent images. I don’t normally remove tags and such but this bear was so beautiful I had to share an image where the distracting antenna was erased.
On the weekend I drove along Highway 40 into Kananaskis Country where I had planned to head up to the Highwood Pass to see about the bighorn sheep that herd up there at this time of the year. That did not happen as #40 is closed past the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park junction due to damage from the flood. I was turning around at the gate to head down into the provincial park when I noticed a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) shuffling through the grass just off the road.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 800
This was one of the most beautiful grizzlies that I have ever seen. A young brown bear that I would guess is three or four years old, with a lovely blonde coat and an energetic bounce in her step. I believe the bear was a female although I could not confirm gender conclusively. I was reminded of a pair of blonde cubs I photographed in the fall of 2011 about five miles away from here. However, I cannot say whether this was one of these two bears as neither were tagged then and I did not find any references online to her tag number.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
She was busying herself digging up rocks and snacking on what was found underneath. Amid the tall grass, I did not get a clean look at what she was eating but I assume it was mostly insects. She appeared to have little interest in the wildflowers surrounding her, as I only saw her stop to lick a few of the blossoms, but I loved having these colours to frame her with!
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
After about 15 minutes watching her from the far side of the road (being able to stay far away but photograph closeup is one of the nice benefits of long lenses), she started moving uphill and I thought she would head off shortly. As it came to pass, that was hastened along only a few minutes later. I had been the only person watching the bear at first but within 10 minutes there were a couple of other cars that had stopped too. I was happy to see everyone stay in their vehicles and give the bear space. We all watched for a while, then a couple more cars showed up so I pulled away from the gate, crossed the road, drove about 200m past the bear and stopped to have a last look. Shortly afterwards, a conservation officer pulled up. I was curious to see how he would approach this situation so I waited for a bit. He stayed in his truck for a few minutes and then decided that was enough bear watching. He stepped out with a shotgun in hand and fired a couple of bear banger shells while yelling at the bear to get going. Startled by the loud noise – it did.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Banff National Park’s officers handle bears a bit different from what I have seen, and in a manner that I prefer, in that they usually do not interfere with bears unless people are being stupid or the bears show an interest in the people watching. In my opinion, neither was true at that time. However, this officer probably knows this bear by sight and he is there almost every day so I have to trust that he made the call as he deemed appropriate. I would have liked to seen him take a little more time to let the bear continue, and potentially finish, grazing but keeping a bear from becoming habituated to humans is a thin tightrope to walk on. It is easy for those watching to think they could do better.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
Nonetheless, with the first loud noise, the bear sprinted halfway up the hill before slowing down and glancing back at the officer.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
With the second shot, she galloped further up and kept on towards the edge of the forest. I thought of the running fox that I photographed last month as I watched the bear run – though spurred on by different antagonists, they both can move very fast. Seeing how much of the meadow it covered when it was sprinting, I was reminded just how quick, deceptively quick, these massive animals can move. With the bear moving into the woods, I headed onwards.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600
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.
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.
Following on from my encounter with the moose calf and mother, I drove further along the Highwood Pass section of Highway 40 in Kananaskis and saw this mother grizzly bear leading her two cubs along the forest’s edge parallel to the road.
The color of these bears is fantastic. Blond is not exceptionally rare but is still striking to see. I stayed up on the road and watched them move swiftly through the dense underbrush before crossing the pavement and disappearing down into the valley.
I hope their momma can guide these two cubs into adulthood avoiding the dangers of the road and the rails that have impacted the grizzly population in the Rockies. They are incredible animals.