Just under two hours were left before sunset, I decided to go for a drive. Middle of a straight way, several vehicles were parked on both sides of the road. Folks were out of the vehicles and looking up the slope of the mountain. I stopped and asked what they were looking at, black bear they said and pointed. I looked in the direction and then quickly pulled out my binoculars, it was not a black bear but a large grizzly. I told the crowd who were looking or trying to locate the bear and taking pictures with all type of cameras, even when it was about 400 meters away. As soon as they heard me, they asked if it was the “boss”, I said yes it was M122. Making his way up the slope of the mountain, I started wondering why. They do not use up all that energy for no reason. It was not an area where it was going to go over a pass, nothing to dig up and too early to go up and looks for moths under the rocks. Perhaps there was a kill up there, the wolf pack have gone up there and cougars hunted in the area. We would never know if he found anything, but he sure made lot of visitors to Banff happy that evening, as they observed with their eyes, binoculars, cameras and with a scope one gentleman pulled out for others to use.
This is M122, his reputation seems to gets exaggerated more and more each year and other large grizzlies or even a large black bear often gets confused for him. By reading what’s out there on social media, you would think he’s the only large grizzly in the Bow Valley, if not in Banff NP. In the Bow Valley there are four large dominant male grizzlies, M122, M126, M134 and M136. M134 was not been seen last year, or at least no records of him being spotted. He might have decided to go to another valley at the start of the season and then stayed there. For a number of years M134 has always been the bigger male and this year M126 and M136 look to be the same size as the famous M122, if not slightly larger. For M122, it was never just about the size, it was also about his attitude toward other bears. M134 would run away from him, twice within few days M136 gave way to M122 this last fall. M122 may no longer be as dominant as he was the last number of years, this last summer he was showing some pretty big scars, on his shoulder and on his face. The larger males always get tested for mating and for food. If we were to shave one like a sheep, we would be amazed to see all the scars on their body from the various battles and some from trying to mate. M122 is 18 to 19 years of age now, I hope he’ll be around for several more years. He will become less and less dominant, but will always be an important grizzly on the landscape.
Had an early morning adventure, small hike after taking sunrise pictures. I was back in the Bow Valley, when I saw a large male grizzly on the edge of the forest. It was the famous Banff grizzly M122, who I have seen more toward the end of the season this year. Dispatch had been informed of M122 being in the area, soon after colleagues dealing with human-wildlife conflict arrived. Weekend mid-morning during the fall season tend to be quiet, but there were workers in the area and everyone wanted to make sure the grizzly passed them safely. The bear was given lots of space, he decided the pace he wanted to move at. And boy did he take his time, stopping to dig, moving in and out of the forest, crossing the road several times, he was not in a hurry. As if he was enjoying the VIP or should I say VIB treatment.
Few big male grizzlies are still walking around in the mountains. Relatively speaking the warmer temperatures has to be playing a role and if food is out there, the big grizzlies are going to find it and can easily fight other predators for it.
It was a cool evening and I was waiting in my vehicle for a large grizzly to come out in the open. He was still few hundred meters away and was taking his sweet time. With the window down I could feel the cool breeze every now and then, looking out, listening and wondering if griz was going to come out before the dark. May of 2011 was the first time I saw this male, he was a skinny young male walking along a road in a another national park. Two years later I saw him again, he was filling in nicely in terms of weight and his role in the mountains. In the last few years I have seen him several times, Banff NP is his main home, his range covers at least two more parks that I'm aware of. By chance last year I saw him with at least three females, for one female he covered 60 kms in two days to mate with. This fall from my eyes he looks to be easily over 600 pounds and is making the most of his size on the landscape. My waiting paid, he stayed on route and gave me a minute to see him before he was out of sight again. He should be close his time for deep sleep for the winter, if he isn't already. Hoping to see him again next spring.
On my way back from a great outing, where I was exploring and taking pictures, I came across this large grizzly walking near the road. In his full fall weight, all ready to go into a deep sleep to pass the winter. Every now and then he would stop to dig for some calories and then continue his merry way.
If it takes a village to raise a child, the same can be said about a grizzly bear in the front country. A grizzly growing up near people will be spotted by visitors and locals, they will pass on the sightings to dispatch. Dispatch will inform resource conservation officers dealing with wildlife, supported by the wardens and wildlife guardians and others. If the bear decides it wants to spend time where people live, visit and play, wildlife officers can be dealing with the same bear several times a day. Keeping the bear and people safe, giving the bear space to eat and move without the two legged mammals getting in the way. Providing a balance between letting the bear making a living and providing an opportunity for the people to see and or get a picture when it's safe to do so. The risk factors increase when you include moving vehicles in the mix, even more so when the road is a four lane highway and its middle of a very busy summer day and you have close to hundred vehicles stopped. People wanting to or do cross over four lanes, sometimes with kids by their side as vehicles drive by 90 km or faster, just to see a bear who is moving on the good (the side road is not on) side of the fence or across a wildlife overpass. Day in and day out, these are some of the constant challenges for the bears and those protecting wildlife and people face. All this for many small and one ultimate payoff, adding a new generation to the ecosystem. For eight years two grizzly sisters were looked after when help was needed, this May those two came out of their den with their first cubs. Here's one of them with one cub by her side and the other still playing in the shrubs behind them on a quiet evening in the mountains.
When I'm watching wildlife I always have the camera ready to take pictures. When possible, if I'm safe from harm, I'm looking at the wildlife through the camera. Always ready to take the picture I don't want to miss, things happen fast and I don't want to be distracted when seconds count. With the mother near, the cubs were busy playing, and I was busy deciding which cub to follow with my camera. In the end, I kept going back and forth through the camera between the two cubs. For this picture I had a few seconds to get it, the cubs were not interested in staying in one place, they were play fighting or rolling around on the ground. As soon as I got this cub in focus between the blades of grass, I took the picture.
Following their mom, always near her for safety. About a month to go and some bears will start getting ready for the long winter nap. They are busy trying to gain weight, the more they gain the better chance they have getting through the coming winter. For the mother of these cubs, she also have to make sure there is enough food for her cubs.
Middle of the day in the forest this grizzly mother and her two cubs walking, searching for food. Stopping to dig for roots, eating berries they came across and other vegetation. With no threat in the area, the cubs often lingered behind their mom, playing and eating.
Large male grizzly spotted walking near the edge of the forest. Bears at this time are spread out, searching for food. They have about two months to go before some will start looking to go to sleep. Not much food can be found bottom of the valleys, higher up in the meadows where food comes later, are places where the bears are searching. Adding on weight to survive the coming winter, half pregnant females adding on weight to be able to give birth in January.
Six month old grizzly cub, enjoying its first summer. Every day is a new challenge, everyday security provided by it's mother. It will spend 3 to 4 years with its mother, learning what to eat and how to be safe.
A beautiful morning, watching a mother grizzly and her two cubs, one next to her and the other just outside the frame.
Most living in the mountains or visiting, have sighting of grizzlies on the top of their list of wildlife they want to see. It's one of the often asked questions on social media or face to face, where can they go to see bears. The answer will often disappoint them, which is "get out as much as you can'. There are other factors, look for them from May to October, take the slower speed routes and drive at the speed limit so your eyes can see more around you, but these and other factors play a smaller role. Get out and explore as much as possible. It's very rare I'll be out looking just for bears, I like to get out and explore and from experience I know I'll have more than my share of bear sightings. Nature is a pretty amazing, but it will never show you everything all at once, the more you get out the more it will show you.
Lot of people if not all want to see bears, the way to do it is no secret. The main way to see more bears is to get out more.
This one year old grizzly, showing more independence but still not too far from its mother. After realizing his mother and sibling had moved on, it quickly covered the distance.
Just like the adults, this four and a half month old grizzly cub standing up to get a better look.
The life cycle of a plastic bottle. The oil that is extracted from the ground is cleaned at the refinery and then at the plastic factory the oil is transformed into plastic pellets, followed by bottle pre-forms. The pre-forms are shaped into bottles and then filled with water, which end up in the stores. From there the water is purchased and consumed, most empty bottles ends up at the landfills, some are recycled and few are thrown out as litter. Still a lot of work needed to not use plastic when possible, recycle when used and not litter at all. This grizzly mother may only find water in the plastic bottle, but the plastic can still harm her mouth and the bad habit was quickly picked up by her cubs. All wildlife need from us is a space to call home.
I have seen my share of wildlife, each time I come across wildlife it reminds me why I live in the mountains. Getting to live in an amazing place, where the more I explore the more I want to be out there. Seeing this beautiful grizzly helps me look forward to my next outing.
The big griz got right down to the food, he was hungry. There was green grass and dandelions for him to eat. Have to put on all the weight he lost during the winter and add more to his frame. He would have lost easily over 100 pounds during his deep winter sleep, waking up very hungry. Now is time to eat and eat and looking for a female to mate with for the next number of weeks.