Nothing creates more excitement than a bear sighting. This highly unpredictable animal requires a large territory to meet its needs. You can travel miles and miles and not see any in areas you would expect them to be – only to return home “skunked”.
Some years ago, we took a Grizzly seminar (taught by a Steve Mealey and many other bear experts of the Rocky Mountains) at the Yellowstone Institute in the Lamar Valley. Mr. Mealey’s research covered two years. He collected much bear evidence and information, but never encountered a Grizzly in that two year period. The seminar triggered my desire to photograph bears. We found them in Alaska’s Denali Park; Alberta’s Waterton, Banff, and Jasper Parks; and along the roadsides in northern British Columbia and the Yukon. Once on an Indian reservation just southeast of Glacier Park, I enquired of an elderly Indian lady where I might locate bears. Her response was: “BEARS ARE WHERE THEY FIND YOU!”
Yellowstone Park has been good to us in this respect. We have journeyed there often – mostly looking for bears. I love to look at them and watch their actions – and most of all to photograph them. When asked, in the game of what animal you’d rather be, I always answered: “a Grizzly”. I also view with amusement, the wild antics of the park rangers when trying to disperse a “Bear Jam” – to no avail. However, people have been educated about bear danger and stay on the roadsides rather than approach closer. They are determined to see bears, and I can’t blame them.
Recently a Grizzly found me – right on a park road. The ranger was already there and was yelling at me to move our truck away. I ignored him the best I could to try to get some photos (I should have persevered a few moments longer), but finally gave in to his wild gyrations. Bears do strange things to folks!
Grizzly in the road
It matters not what type of life-form you enjoy watching, if you come upon a bear, you will suddenly become a “bear watcher.” If you visit Alaska, and have plenty of time, it’s great to drive there. The biggest reason is that there is a lot of wildlife along the ALCAN Highway. This is especially true of Black Bears. We have driven on three different occasions. When spotting a bear, I would get out with my tripod and camera. By carefully watching the bear’s body language, I could maintain a reasonable distance. Most animals send signals, but you have to learn to recognize them. Nevertheless, being out in the vicinity of a bear is very exhilarating. Once in Yellowstone, two other gentlemen and I were photographing a Black Bear. I could hear their wives begging them to not get too close, when over it all came my wife’s voice saying: “Get closer and get a decent picture.”
Black Bears adapted in treed habitats and so trees are critical to their existence. They are excellent climbers, and will utilize the trees for safety measures. Because of this, they are not as aggressive as Grizzlies. Grizzlies adapted in more wide open areas – so size and aggressiveness became necessary traits. Blacks have roman noses where a Grizzly’s face is dished. Blacks also have smooth shoulders where a Grizzly has a hump between them. Both species basically eat the same items and are mostly vegetarian. Blacks are smaller. The adults may weigh anywhere from 200 to 600 pounds. They also wean their cubs a year earlier than Grizzlies do.
Black Bears are not always black, especially here in the west. They can be various shades of brown, cinnamon, or even white. They don’t always den underground in the winter. They may utilize a large, hollow log or even get under low hanging conifer branches. These branches get covered over and insulated with snow, forming a makeshift den.
It has been said in jest: “Another way to tell the difference between the two bears is to climb a tree – If the bear comes after you it is a black. But if it rips the tree down and shakes you out of it, IT’S A GRIZZLY!”
This Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is in a logical dining spot – grass.