The blizzard tailed off this afternoon and I went out to see how the fresh blanket of snow looked laid over the prairie. With the clouds wrapping up the sun, I headed home and passed by this moment in the wintry outdoors. The mother and child appeared to be engaged in a good conversation but a wave seemed to earn me a quick smile. They were traveling along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22X) so this slightly unusual scene seemed rather appropriate.
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.
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.
In early April I went into Kananaskis along Highway 66 from Bragg Creek. I was late getting out of bed and did not leave myself enough time to set up for a sunrise shoot. I went for a short hike around Elbow Falls but returned to my car pretty quickly. Heading back, I was scouring the hillsides and trees for wildlife. I was lucky to catch this female just as she was stepping out of the forest. The sun hadn’t cleared the mountains across the Elbow River so the moose was not yet in the sunlight. I decided to set my camera up on my tripod and wait for a few minutes.
Patience often pays off and it was true on this occasion. After at least fifteen minutes of watching the moose casually grazing along the slope, I heard a couple of sticks break near where she had come out from the trees before. A couple of minutes after that, a calf came out onto the hillside.
The pair dined for a while occasionally eating together with mom always watchful as cars passed by or a strange sound came to her ears. They were calm and it was special to be able to watch them. I hope the buds, leaves and shoots start to grow soon so their rather austere winter diet is replaced.
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.
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 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.
In June, we drove to Invermere, BC for a long weekend. My drove through the Kootenay National Park on our way to Radium and the Columbia River Valley. The dandelions were in full bloom in the meadows and the ditches along Highway 93 leading into Radium so I had high hopes of seeing some bears on the way. With the bright overcast making the wet grass and flowers shine, I knew the light would be a bit of a challenge but when we found this Black bear (Ursus americanus) mother and very young cub all worries about available light, blown out grass and shiny wet fur flew far out of mind. Bobbi and both kids were there so it was special to watch them together.
Click on the images to see larger, and sharper, versions of each image on its own page.
Everyone around stayed in their cars and the bears carried on with minimal concern. After half an hour, the cub sauntered back behind the trees. Mom stayed close to the forest’s edge but grazed for a few more minutes before joining her baby.