The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is listen to the young. I love this celebration of animals in their natural environments and a focus on the voices that will guide our future. Thinking about this day and this theme, my mind went to the Grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen and the mothers who raise their cubs in this bear paradise.
These images are from a couple of different mother cub pairs. When I was lucky enough to spend time with these bears, I loved hearing their voices. I hope my children are able to say the same when they are my age.
I hope to give both my children and the bears the opportunity to share their voice. I will always listen.
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.
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.
To all the wonderful mother bears, we cubs love you and deeply thank you for all of your caring, loving, teaching, scolding, minding, playing and everything else you do for us every day. It’s only one day that has the title but you indisputably deserve the other 364 too (not leap year days though – sorry in my little world that’s reserved for my cousin Jeanette as it’s her birthday).
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.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
After having photographed the Grizzly bear named Blondie on the first day in the Khutzeymateen, we met up with her again on two separate occasions. Here she was at the mouth of the main river in the estuary. She had been in the water just before and the droplets were still shaking loose as she stepped across the sand. She noticed us right away but showed little interest and kept on her hunt for fish.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2500th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
She had swum around the grassy sandbar we were moored beside and carried on around another bend a few minutes later.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
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.
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.
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.
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.