Spring Bears!

            When the road to Hayden Valley and the lake area in Yellowstone opened on May 1st, I was in line when the gate opened at 8 a.m.  The anticipation and excitement quickly dissipated.  I, and everyone else, didn’t see a bear all the way around to the lake.  Yikes! This was the area everyone was hoping would be real good, and it was a major let down.  I only ended up seeing one bear that day, and didn’t get any pictures of it. At least a friend of mine works at Lake hotel and I could stay with her and not drive back to West each night.  The first 3 days of May I tried at the lake area and had basically no success. 

            On May 4th I decided to try the north part of the park for black bear cubs, since I had heard some new ones were around.  I found them early in the morning, but they were in a heavily wooded area and very hard to shoot.  They were so small and fun to watch though.  I stayed with them for two days and managed to get some good pictures in a difficult situation.  I really wanted better grizzly bear pictures from Yellowstone, so on May 6th I went back to the lake area to try my luck.

            It was still painfully slow around the lake.  There were many days I wouldn’t even get my camera out to take a picture! So much sitting around and killing time.  The bears I would see would be to far away for pictures and not come any closer.  Finally, on May 10th, the mother grizzly with two new cubs that we were all looking for showed herself in a decent setting.  The cubs were very active and playful, but the sagebrush was so high they were hidden most the time.  When they did come out of the brush, I managed to get a couple of shots of them standing!  The next morning I got two bears sparring briefly, which was great and something I didn’t have of Yellowstone bears!  Then, I went into the valley and spotted a white wolf, which decided to travel the riverbank and come my direction!  It felt so good to use my camera two days in a row and finally get some good pictures.  I was wondering if I would leave here with nothing to show for my effort before these past couple of days.  I even did some hikes into the backcountry and had a great encounter with a large grizzly way off the road!

            I went back to the north of the park on the 14th and thought I would be there for a couple of days before heading on to Canada.  I ran into some old friends, and black bears and cubs were in a few places, so I decided on a daily basis if I would stay or not, and ended up staying longer than I planned.  I saw some things the first couple of days, but the photo opportunities weren’t great.  My camera finally got to me on May 15th, and I was certain I would leave the 16th for Canada.  But that day I had a really good day with a number of different black bears and decided to stay.  It snowed some on the 17th, and I got to photograph a red fox for over three hours as it hunted, which never happens! This convinced me to stay another day.  I got a report that the grizzly and cubs were out and likely would be tomorrow, so on the 18th I actually went back to the lake area.

            I was certain when I left there a few days ago I wouldn’t be back, but that’s the nice part about my schedule. I can change my mind daily and just go where the action is.  The cubs were out a lot of the day, but stayed mostly just out of photo range, which is really frustrating.  The next morning they were much of the same before disappearing for good.  There were so many people around and not good bears, so I decided at that point that I would start for Canada today.  I found a black bear and two cubs of the year in the north before having dinner with friends and hitting the road.  I drove to Great Falls, MT that night and slept in the Wal-Mart parking lot.      

            I needed to stock up on food before getting into Canada because it is much more expensive up there, and I was out of most my food.  I shopped, got an oil change, and washed my car before heading north that morning.  The border crossing went smoothly, and I was on my way.  It was a beautiful day for a drive through the Rockies, 75 and sunny, but no wildlife.  I only saw a couple of bears that day, but it was good to be back in Jasper.  I was hoping Jasper would be better than Yellowstone, but it started off just as bad, or slower.  The main problem was the weather.  It was unseasonably hot, always in the high 70’s, and sunny all day.  With it being a year with little snow and already so hot, the bears could already be in the mountains instead of the valleys looking for food.  My first morning, the 20th, I found a nice big male black bear, but he quickly left and went in the woods.  I didn’t even get my camera out the next day. 

            After another slow morning on the 22nd, I had heard of a good size male south of town a ways, so I went there in the evening when the light got better.  He was actually there and put on a show for us! He stood up a number of times and scratched his back and marked his territory.  I ended up spending the next two and a half days with him because he was nice, and there was absolutely nothing else going on.  I did get some nice pictures of him in a number of different scenes and landscapes!  On the morning of the 24th he went in the woods and never came back out.

            The 25th was shaping up to be another lousy day, when a friend found a bear we call Cheeky.  He is a very large black bear and we had all been looking for him.  He was shyer this year than last year unfortunately.  We were in the woods with him, but he would take a detour to avoid us.  He is such a nice looking bear, but we really didn’t get anything on him that day.  That evening I caught a break, as we were waiting on a bear, a pine marten came running by and I took off.  It actually went in a tree and posed for us, which never happens!  It’s the first pine marten I’ve ever actually gotten a picture of!  I looked for Cheeky the next morning, but he wasn’t around.  I decided to go out to a lake in the afternoon, and that was a great decision!  Coming around the lake in the late afternoon was a good size black bear.  The setting was incredible, and he was cooperative and offered numerous shots with the lake and different mountains behind him!  These were shots I really wanted, but didn’t expect to get!

            That night I heard Cheeky was seen again, so I looked for him the morning of the 27th.  At 9 he finally showed himself and actually gave us a few shots.  He was really on the move and hard to follow.  I stuck with him until 11:45, when he disappeared over a hill and was gone.  I also got a grizzly bear and the other male that day.  The next day I had some good timing and got on a grizzly bear that was chewing on bones.  Only one other friend and I got it, and it was another type shot I didn’t have.  I’ve been getting one instance a day where I get pictures, but I’m sitting around way to much because it’s not even worth the gas money to drive around and look for bears.

            On the 29th I decided to just stick with the male near the lake and photograph him and save on gas money.  It was a successful day too.  I got him jumping a small creek in the morning, and then had to wait the entire rest of the day before I got anything else.  But, I really wanted him on these rocks and boulders and he actually went there in the late evening.  I slept near the lake that night, but when I woke up in the morning my car was dead.  Not good! There was no cell service where I was at and a long way from town.  I had even bought some things in case this happened, and nothing got my car to start.  I started walking down the road until I got super lucky and found a random bar of service a mile from my car and texted a friend.  I couldn’t believe my luck! He came a couple hours later and jumper cables did get my car started!  That ruined my plans for the day, and didn’t get any bear pictures.  I did see a great rainbow and incredible clouds that night, which was really neat.

          Many of my photographer friends have already left because it is so slow, and the ones who planned to stay longer are changing their plans.  I was hoping to be here another week and a half or so, but that’s not likely.  I’ve begun researching parks and places further north that I could explore as I head north.  I don’t have to be in Alaska until the 23rd of June, so that’s a lot of time to figure out what to do with since I will be leaving here earlier than planned.  I’m really not sure what June will have in store for me, but it will be fun and an adventure!