Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part X

For years I spent 25 days or so in Canada flyfishing. Then for several years I spent 25 days or so in Canada photographing wildlife. Many of those photographic journeys were in search of Bears. There are about 800,000 Black Bears in North American, about 60% of which are found in Canada, and 20% (160,000) in British Columbia.  That is a lot of Bears. Surely you should be able to find some. Well, that all depends on where you look -- and when. As I have said before, you have to put yourself in the place of "most potential." But, then there is luck. You could be walking (or driving) through an area where a bear had been two minutes earlier -- or, will be two minutes from then. I figure in have been in the right place at the right time .... about 400 times or so. Here are some photos from my journeys through British Columbia:

In this case, this Black Bear started walking in my direction. He didn't appear to be interested in me but in some wildflowers that happened to be between him and me. Once I realized that was his intention I simply took several steps backward until he stopped to eat. Then continued a couple of more steps and snapped some more photos:

Here is a case where I came across an adult Black Bear that didn't want to be around me. He didn't run off, as they do sometimes, but he walked away. I got a couple good shots as he left. As I have said before if Bears run or even walk away, I don't follow. I assume they don't want to be around me. I respect that:

In this next case this Black Bear was foraging along the road. I saw him from a couple hundred yards away. I immediately slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road once I got close. I stayed in my truck, window down, and started taking photos. He kept coming in my direction as he ate. This allowed me to get this wonderful closeup:

In this next case, he was also coming in my direction as he ate. Only this time I was on foot. I gave him a little more distance, but soon thought it best to leave -- slowly and quietly:

In the last photo, this Bear didn't seem the slightest bit interested in me. I was about ten feet higher than him looking down in this trough. He was very happy just eating the vegetation, with an occasional glance to see what was happening around him:

Monday, November 29, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part IX

The scene is Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. I was hiking in the forest when I came across a Black Bear and her three cubs. What a wonderful sight. They were foraging near the edge of the road. Once she saw me she led the cubs across the road to the other side:

What you'll notice in the following photo is that only two of the three cubs are in the photo. That is because the third cub was dawdling far behind:

As soon as that third little guy got to the other side, mom was waiting with a "cross" word or two:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part VIII

Searching for Bears in the Fall is quite different than Spring. In the fall they tend to head higher up in the mountains where the pine trees are. It was September and I was photographing in Yellowstone National Park. I was staying in Gardiner, Montana just outside the North Park Boundary. My plan was to be up in the Mount Washburn, Dunraven Pass area by sun-up. It's a good hour or so from Gardiner, so I need to be on my way an hour before dawn. But, it didn't take long to find what I was looking for once I got to Mount Washburn. It was a fully grown Male Cinnamon Black Bear, probably 550 pounds or so. He was walking alongside the road:

Soon he jumped up on one of the White Pine Trees:

Then further up the tree:

And, still further up the tree:

Until he got to a place where he could reach the pine nuts: 

He was up in the tree for a good hour or so having a high protein meal. Once he had eaten everything within reach, he head back down the tree:

This process for several hours, by which time there were easily 50 cars stopped along the road.  Interestingly, he wouldn't go from one tree to the next tree. He would walk a hundred yards or so between each tree he decided to climb. I suspected that he would continue in the same direction. I decided to get further ahead of him (and the crowd), thinking eventually he would come to me. I was hoping to get a couple of good "last photos." Sure enough he did, stopping at a tree no more than 10 feet from me, and posing for a "close-up." This copy on the blog doesn't quite do the original justice. When blown up to 16 x 20 you can clearly see the iris and pupil of his eye:

Then, as I expected up the tree he went:

By this time all the people and the Ranger caught up with the Bear and to where I was. So I departed the scene. (I didn't want to incur the wrath of the Ranger --- Or, set a bad example).  As it turns out, those last photos where the best.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part VII

Although, National Parks are home to a great many Bears, each Park is managed differently. Take for example Glacier National Park. I was driving along one of the roads when I saw 25 cars "parked" on or off the road ahead with no way to pass. It seemed obvious that a Bear was around. When I got out of my truck I could see a beautiful Cinnamon Black Bear. There were wildflowers around so it made for some nice photos. But, there was also a Ranger. In Yellowstone the Rangers keep people a "safe distance" from bears. In Glacier, the Rangers keep Bears a "safe distance" from people. They do so with a gun, shooting blanks in the direction of the Bear. I am not crazy about that strategy. The Ranger shot several times "chasing" the Bear far from the road and out of sight. The show was over! There is a fine line -- or, maybe a gray area -- between 1) keeping people out of wilderness areas to protect Bears and Wolves (and other wildlife), and 2) providing opportunities to see these beautiful animals in the wild. I suspect in ways I am different. I am not a "tourist." When I go to Yellowstone, I avoid Old Faithful and as many of the Geysers as I possibly can. I am there to find and photograph wildlife. I suspect there are others who go to places like Yellowstone primarily to see the Geysers, and want "protection" from dangerous animals. Different strokes, I guess. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed not to be able to spend more time with this particular Bear:

Friday, November 26, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part VI

I have mentioned before my "process" for getting close to and photographing Bears. The key is to have a "kind heart." I am convinced that Bears sense danger ---- and, fear. This "sense" or "scents" triggers a "flee" or "fight" response. Back in the late nineties, I was in British Columbia when I came across a Black Bear and her three cubs.  I did everything properly: 1) I made sure that the mom knew I was present; 2) I made no quick or sudden movements; 3) I didn't move until the mom started eating; 4) when I moved I took small diagonal steps; 5) if the mom stopped and looked at me, I stopped and looked at her, then away, then at her; 6) I had "love" in my heart. Because it was a dense forest, I needed to move around a bit to get clear photos. It didn't take long, maybe 15-20 minutes, and mom seemed comfortable with me around. The cubs couldn't care less, paying no attention to me whatsoever ...... until I broke a twig while taking a step. Those three cubs were up trees in a flash. The mother immediately turned to see what had scared her cubs. Realizing it was me, I decided to slowly back away to give her and her cubs more room. As I did, the cubs came down their trees and scampered off with mom. While breaking the twig was not deliberate, it did provide me with a nice photo:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part V

Yellowstone National Park is a premier spot for finding Bears. In fact, you usually don't have to look hard. Just stop as soon as you see 100 cars parked along side the road. That's not always the case -- but, it sure seems like it. In this case, I was just passing Tower Falls and saw a half dozen cars along the road.  Often, a half dozen cars means you are too late, most everybody has left. But, this time I was one of the first to arrive. It was a Sow and her two cubs. The Mother stayed pretty close to her cubs the entire time. And, although the cubs played around none strayed far from the tree line. This was a situation where if it had been in Canada, and I was the only person around I would have tried to get a little closer. However, with other people -- tourists with children -- as well as photographers, it just wasn't prudent to do so. As a professional you are obliged to obey all park regulations regarding wildlife. The photos turned out okay, although not great. (I was still using slide film at this point). 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part IV

Back to Black Bears (say that ten times). It is a sheer delight when you get to spend an hour with Black Bear Cubs playing. Of course, first you must find them. As a wildlife photographer you learn where Bears  live; where can you go and it won't be overcrowded with people; what time of year; and what time of day will give you the most potential for finding and photographing them. In general, mountain forests offer the best chances. However, forests don't always provide the best photo. You really want animals to be in the open, unless you are deliberately doing a book on hidden pictures. So, open fields, meadows, and tree-lines provide the best setting for photographing Bears. Spring is without exception the best time of year. Bears are just out of hibernation and looking for food ----- and there is food everywhere: nice tender new buds, blades of grass, new plants, etc. And, where is all this nice new foliage? Exactly where you want the Bear to be for the best photo: areas that get the most sun: open fields, meadows, and tree-lines. Spring is also a good time because Bears don't want to spend much energy. So, the likelihood of getting close enough to get good photographs is best in Spring. The next best time of year to find and photograph Bears is the fall. In the fall they have berries and pine nuts to eat. But, they are also looking for fat and protein; animal fat and protein. So, you must be much more cautious in the fall and must keep a further distance away. On to the Cubs. I was traveling on a back road in Jasper National Park when I came across a Sow with her two Cubs. It took about 45 minutes before the Sow was comfortable with me around. It was then that I could slowly, quietly, and carefully move about and get some photos:

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Wasn't it The Drifters that sang "Up On The Roof"? Well this morning we had some drifters up on the roof. Evidently, they had been there most of the night because one of our guests kept hearing footsteps. Finally this morning, she walked outside and looked up to see what it was. . .

So up on the rooftop, not Reindeer (sorry, that's a different story) but a Bobcat. Wait:

Not just one, but a mother with a baby. No wait:

Not just one baby, it is a mother with two babies.

Soon they became a little more at ease, and started walking around, one never straying too far from mom:

Then suddenly they jumped down off the roof (from about 15 feet) and off they went. It took me much longer to get down from the roof and to where I thought I could get one more photo.  I did find "mom" again, a got another photo before she disappeared into the cactus:

And, here I was just talking about how lucky people were who had foxes in their backyard all the time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part III

There is but one road going through Kootenay National Park in British Columbia.  And, it is a great road that ends up -- or starts at Radium Hot Springs, a wonderful -- and colorful town with, what else hot springs. But, there is a definite Swiss feel to the town. Anyway, I often see Black Bears as I travel along the road which parallels the Vermillion and Kootenay Rivers. It was probably my first visit there when I stopped at a goat lick  -- looking for goats, of course. Although there were no goats there was a Black Bear  eating not far from the pullout. Bears are quite different than coyotes. When a coyote would come toward me, I would just continue taking photos, although cautious.  But when a Black Bear comes toward me I now know enough to leave the area. This incident was that learning experience. As you can see from the first photo, the Bear came walking in my direction.  You can also see this was not a young or small Bear. He didn't come toward me with a "curious look" or thinking he might get a handout. It was a look of "I was here first, move along!!!" I quickly got back into the truck. He then turned and started walking away toward the treeline. The "forest" he was headed into was not deep. It was maybe 50 yards at most between the road and the Vermillion River. So, I thought well maybe another photo.  I got out of the truck and started walking in his direction. After about 20 yards, he turned and took a step toward me again. At this point, I said to myself, "I don't think he wants me around. Maybe I should respect his wishes?" I got back in the truck and I drove off. And, it was from that day on that I never follow a bear whether it runs away  - or, walks away. Once it decides it doesn't want to be around me, I respect that and do not track or follow. I think that is good advice.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories - Part II

Continuing with Bear Stories. I was in Canada fishing the lakes around Kamloops. I had just finished fishing at Island Lake and on my way to Tunkwa Lake.  On the way I came across this black bear with her two cubs -- one of which was brown (as you can see). Although, bears have a great sense of smell, they don't have great eyesight.  The mother had to stand to get a good look at me. I took several photos of mom and the cubs before running out of film. The sound of the camera rewinding the film was loud enough to scare off mom, after which the cubs followed. I can't seem to find the photo of the little black cub, but mom and the brown cub are below. Two miles further down the road, I came across another bear, much closer to the (dirt) road. I got out of the truck, and using the truck as a barrier as well as tripod took several closeups --- none of which I can find. I must admit that after years of slide photography, I much prefer every aspect of digital; especially, storing, sorting, naming, and creating greeting cards, books, blogs, and emails.

Addendum 12/4/10:

In sorting through an old photo album I found two more photos of the Mom and one of the second Black Bear Cub:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CARNIVORES: Bear Stories

Well, I have told many Bear stories already (which you can find by going to the keyword Black Bear), so I'll focus on ones I haven't told. I was photographing in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Just as I was going over the pass at Mount Sinclair, I noticed in my side mirror that I had passed a bear. This was an interesting lesson. I was looking for bears, but could not see this one from the angle I was driving. The side view mirrors -- although seeing what is behind you -- allows you to see from a different angle. So, I noticed that I had passed by this bear. (I now frequently check my side mirrors whenever I am driving in the mountains and the road curves. If it curves left, I check the left mirror. If the road curves to the right I check the right mirror). Anyway, I stopped at the next available spot and trekked back up the pass. This was a magnificent fully grown male weighing probably 600 pounds and sitting amongst the dandelions as if he were Ferdinand. However, he was not quite as comfortable with my being there as I was with him being there. So, down the mountain he ran, as you can see in the next photos. Sometimes these experiences are momentary. This was one of those times. But, the result was satisfying.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Staying with the Canines one more day, this time Foxes.  Like Wolves I don't have a lot of photos to show for my efforts. And, for sure, some might say, "Well, I have a better Fox photo than that!" I certainly wouldn't doubt it. Foxes are in some areas, like Bobcats are here. They just show up in your backyard on occasion. So, many people lucky enough to have Foxes in their backyard often will (should) have some great photos. In the eight plus years we have been here in Tucson, a Desert Grey Fox and a Kitt Fox have come into our backyard once each (that I know of). The Grey Fox at night so no possible photo. The Kitt Fox drank from the water bowl and quickly walked away once he saw me (with my camera). I did get a photo of his backside. Also like the Bobcat, you can't really go out looking for them, the way you can Bighorn Sheep, Bear, Moose, etc. It just happens -- and usually very quickly. So, if you don't have camera ready, as they say in The City, "Forget about it." Story One: Christine and I were driving in Northeastern Oregon (the Joseph area). There was construction and single lane traffic with no place to pull over. What did we see? A dozen or so cows were grazing when a Fox came a little too close. Three young calves started chasing the Fox in our direction. What a wonderful photo that would have been. Shorter stories: 1) we were hiking in Sabino Canyon when a Desert Grey Fox ran across the trail and up a hill. Again, I wasn't quick enough. Only got a photo of his rear half; 2) Grandson Noah and I were headed up Mount Evans in Colorado when a Red Fox crossed the road in front of us. Noah saw him as he went up the hill. I lost him after he crossed the road; 3) I was traveling early one morning in British Columbia on my way to Kamloops when I saw a Red Fox in the middle of a farm field. We looked at each other for a couple of seconds, but when I got out of the truck to take photos, he took off running. The photos were psychedelic  -- blurred. I kept them for several years but now gone; 4) I was in Montana and saw what was probably a Red Fox at sunset. I was no more than 20 feet away, but still got blurry photos. (I had the wrong film in the camera). Now, the Photo Story (also short). I was leaving Yellowstone National Park headed out past Cooke City (Montana) toward Soda Butte. I took a dirt road along Woody Creek and saw this Grey Fox running through the snow. Here he is folks, the only "decent" Fox photo I can show you:

Addendum: 12/4/10

In going through my loose photos I from the two foxes I was referring to:

The joys of trying to photograph wildlife when the animals are running.

Monday, November 15, 2010

CARNIVORES: Wolf Stories Part IV

Here is another Wolf Story, maybe. It was 1997, and I was driving just outside of Jasper National Park toward Hinton in Alberta, Canada. I was at least 10 miles from a home, ranch, or civilization of any kind.  I saw four "Wolves" or "Wolf-like" animals running along the tree-line. When I pulled off the road, the animals stopped, and looked at me. There were four: one dark brown, two greyish, and one white. Wolves typically come in one of four colors: dark brown, grey, white, and black. Wolves often run in packs of four. There is a fairly large wolf population in this part of Alberta. The brown one stayed at the tree-line. The two grey ones lingered about half way between the tree-line and the road. The white one came toward me in a "creeping" sort of way (like the wolf in the movie Dances With Wolves). Were these wolves? I faxed my photos to a Ranger at Jasper National Park. His response was "maybe." Over the past 13 years I have vacillated back and forth, often being too embarrassed say one way or the other. And, so they have sat in a bin of old photos -- never having been scanned into my computer. Why should I feel this way? After all, I am an "expert." What I have come to realize is that I am not an expert on wolves. I have come across over 400 bears in the wild, and I can with some confidence identify which are Grizzlies and which are Black Bears. But about these "wolves", I am still not sure. You decide. (They are in my computer now, though).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

CARNIVORES: Wolf Stories Part III

I know what you are thinking. Am I ever going to show you a decent photo of a wolf. The answer is "sort-of" and "maybe". Today, is the "sort-of". Again I was in Yellowstone Park, this time in Hayden Valley which runs along the Yellowstone River. I saw a hundred or more ravens circling a couple hundred yards from the road. I assumed something was going on. As I reached the closest point from the road I noticed several vehicles parked along the shoulder with no one in sight. I suspected it was going to be a bit of a trek up and over a pretty steep hill. So, with camera and tripod in hand off I trotted. When I got to the top of the hill there were several photographers perched so they could get a good photo. Oh, what was it? It was a fully grown male Grizzly Bear (probably 1200 pounds) eating a Bison that had fallen. I wanted to walk down the other side to get closer, but it just didn't seem like a good idea at the time. After a couple of quick photos, I looked closer there was a Grey Wolf sitting about 75 yards away; waiting his turn. So, a couple more photos. (I was trying to conserve film since I was on my last roll). Then sure enough, after about 45 minutes, the Grizzly Bear ambled away, passing the oncoming Grey Wolf. I was thrilled to get both the Grizzly Bear and the Grey Wolf in the same shot, although from a greater distance than I would have liked. The Wolf ate for about 30 minutes then left. I waited another hour and a half thinking the Wolf might come back with the pack. But, not within that timeframe.  I only had a half dozen shots remaining on the roll, so, I decided to head for the nearest "town" (Fishing Bridge) to get more film. By the time I got back to that spot, there were no cars around. So, I figured "nothing more to see." That was probably a rationalization because I didn't want to trek back up that hill with an 8 pound camera and a five pound tripod again just to see a half-eaten bison. Once that day was enough. Of course, thinking back now, I probably should have made the trek, and waited until dark, if necessary, to try to get more photos. Someone (some thing) surely would have come along. It was too big a meal to pass up. Here are the photos:

Grizzly eating Bison

Grey Wolf slowing walking past "full" Grizzly

Grey Wolf now trotting to dinner

Grey Wolf now eating dinner

Grey Wolf checking to see if others are coming