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.
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.
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.
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.