Grizzly

I was heading back to the town of Banff after another fun day, I decided I needed to look for mountain goats first. As I was getting ready to make a right turn on the highway, I looked across, saw vehicles stopped and folks looking through the fence. Just by the reaction, it looked as if they were looking at something large and it was heading east. I kept that in mind as I went to look for goats. No goats, I headed for the town, did some birding and with just over an hour left before sunset. I decided to go and take sunset pictures, but first I wanted to see what folks were looking at along the highway, it might have been a bear and see if it came onto the side road.

Luck was on my side, it was a large grizzly and he decided to take the side road. It was taking its time, walking on and along the road. I backed up and called Banff Dispatch, if the bear kept going east, in about a km it would come across about 20 or more photographers near the road getting ready to watch and take pictures of the sunset. Knowing the road well, I watched the bear from a few hundred meters away. He was not in a hurry, taking his time. There was one small vehicle behind him, with three ladies from the states inside. They were going in the same direction and were afraid to drive by the bear. They kept the windows closed and were excited and afraid, even more when we later had a chat about the grizzly M126.

 

The bear after defecating on the middle of the road, went into the woods and it seemed he was not coming back out. I updated dispatch with what I saw and told them I was taking sunset pictures soon and would update them if anything changed. Now I had to make a decision, about half a km away was a large grizzly bear, I was parked 10 meters away from where I wanted to take a picture. There was still about 30 minutes before the sunset, but with the clouds moving in, the time was now. My car facing the direction where the bear would be coming from, set my camera in the car to go out, take a picture and back in my car. About 100 meters away were the rest of the people, with no idea about the grizzly. Just as I opened the car door, the grizzly came around the turn, walking the middle of the road. That evening there were going to be no sunset pictures for me, I took the attached picture and then backed my car toward the other photographers to let them know. Saw flashing light, help had arrived. Two wildlife colleagues who were having a busy evening, rolled down their windows, both smiling. As we all looked at the large grizzly walking middle of the road toward us, one said, “Amar, so where is this bear you call about”. I smiled, looked at M126, 12 to 15 years of age and easily over 400 lbs. “it’s that small cub walking toward us.”

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Grizzly Bear

The evening I saw this female grizzly and her two one year old cubs, it was a peaceful as it could have been. The whole family was eating in a small open field and the cubs got to nurse a couple of times. Just the day before it was the opposite. During the first year with her first cubs, this female covered a much smaller area, playing it safe. But this year she’s covering more of the area as she did on her own and with her sister and her then famous mother F72.


The day before she was near a campground, strong food smell attracted her to a tent. A camper was inside the tent, she was trying to figure out what to do as she stood on her hind legs with her front paws putting weight on the top of the tent. Luckily for the unaware camper inside the tent, who did not know what was going outside until sounds from other camper’s vehicles and their yelling moved the grizzly and her two cubs away.  The camper, unzipped the tent looked back while standing on his knees. Once seeing what was touching his tent, he put his hand over his heart and was grateful it was only a scare and learned a very important lesson from the bear and Parks Canada. A tent is not a good place to secure your food from wildlife.


Everyone was happy the grizzly and her cubs did not get any human food reward, including the members of the wildlife team that have been looking after the nine year old grizzly when she was a cub herself. Colleagues kept a close watch on her for the next few days. 


The grizzly and her two cubs are having quite the adventures this season. Including one adventure that seem to be pulled right out of the famous Parks Canada’s kid book “A Beary, Berry Good Day”. Always up to something, the large male grizzly M136 near a different campground was trying to go after the two cubs. In the end he was not successful, but was able to scare one of the cub away from its family. The cub was heard crying by a campers at night, but all ended well as the family was back together again the following day. This picture of a peaceful moment was taken last months, since then they had many more 

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Grizzly

I can still see the frighten look on the adult female grizzly face I saw one early morning in June. I have known F160 since 2012 when she was a year old, life was a lot simpler then, with her mother in her 20s having lots of life experience and doing a great job looking after her three cubs. In June the eight years, was in a bad place, bad side of the fence, and middle of the Trans-Canada Highway. F160 was looking for a way out, kept changing direction, running back and forth. I was worried for her and even more so when I could only see one of the two cubs she was with just a few days before. I called Banff’s Dispatch, they were already made aware and help was on its way. As I was talking I saw the help, replied back, I hope the other cub is safe and I left the area. Later that day I learned the family was back on the good side of the fence. About ten days later the other cubs was spotted with vehicle related injuries, with a broken back right leg. She was euthanized the next day.

Banff National Park has come a long way, keeping wildlife away from the busy road, with fences, wildlife crossing and colleague working to keep the wildlife safe. Bears are pretty amazing animal, very curious, which is great when searching for food. No one knows if it was the search for food or running from a large male grizzly that got them going over the “cattle guard” and then onto the highway. The hard part always is getting wildlife back to the good side of the fence on their own, physical options are being incorporated. But even today, the best hope comes in the form of human, opening the gates along the road and forcing the wildlife in their direction. The cub is survived by its mother and its sibling, hoping to see them for many more years.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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. 

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Grizzly

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. 

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Grizzly

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. 

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Grizzly

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. 

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Grizzly

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.

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Grizzly

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. 

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Grizzly

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. 
 

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