An after-work drive yields a Black Bear, Blond Grizzly Bear and Canada Lynx (and a Cooper’s Hawk)
‘How do you not lose your sh*t?,’ asked my good friend Mary Beth after viewing some of my black bear/grizzly bear shots on Facebook.
‘Well, I’m always in the car when I see/photograph bears, so I’m not really in danger,’ I replied.
‘But still,’ she said, ‘I’d lose my sh*t!’
That got me thinking about the surge of energy I get when I am blessed with a wildlife encounter of any kind. I don’t particularly like the picture painted by the phrase ‘lose my sh*t,’ but it is an apt description. I know Mary Beth was referring more to the intensity of being in the vicinity of a wild animal, but I equate the phrase with overwhelming excitement.
Of course, different levels of excitement occur with different types of sightings. The first sighting of a species brings a huge adrenaline rush – my heart beats faster, pupils dilate, my camera raises and I pray it will focus and the shutter will click in time. It is quite a rush! After I have seen a species a number of times, this rush lessens, and while there is always excitement, it is certainly not always at the level of losing my sh*t.
But I have to admit, when I saw my second Canada Lynx in the wild within a year – I lost my sh*t. (Read about my first encounter here) This sighting was the pinnacle of an amazing after-work drive on May 20, 2014…
It started with a black bear. When I saw a dark shape in the distance, I initially though it was large dog, like a Newfoundland. But as I drove closer, I realized – it was a bloody bear! Right on the side of the road! When I pulled closer, I noticed he was guarding a large deer carcase. I must have interrupted a gorging session. The bear was not willing to venture too far from his food, so this gave me a chance to get some nice close-up shots – my favorite might be the yawn. I didn’t want to keep him from eating for too long, so I only spent a couple of minutes with him then continued on my way.
This bear sighting occurred only about 30 minutes into my drive, just a bit west of Calgary. I was pretty excited about it and actually had the thought, ‘well, I’m not sure it’ll get much better than that tonight, maybe I should turn around and head home?’ Thank god I continued on my planned route..
In my excitement over the bears and lynx, I have been remiss in not mentioning another beautiful sight from that evening (until now) – a Cooper’s Hawk. In the spring and summer, my attention tends to shift towards mammals when I’m out on wildlife viewing treks. But I can’t forget the origins of my passion for wildlife photography started with birds! I particularly love birds of prey – hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, etc – and I had been aching to get a Cooper’s Hawk in front of my lens for quite some time. I have seem them before, but not gotten any good shots. This is my best ever shot of a Cooper’s. I really love the red eyes and the red-ish banding on the chest. They are beautiful creatures. I left the hawk and continued on my usual route through Kananaskis.
There was still a lot of snow on the banks of the road, up to four to five feet in some spots, so my visibility was somewhat limited. I rounded a bend to see a figure on the snow bank on the side of the road. Bear! Not just any bear, but a beautiful, blond grizzly. Blondie retreated into the bushes, then turned around and gave me a glance.
I decided to turn around, head back the way I came and watch the road behind me. This gave me a chance to watch the bear come back to the road, walk down the snow bank, cross the road and walk into the trees on the other side. Blondie was quite a ways away, but I was happy to get some ‘grizzly on snow’ shots as well as ‘sideways glance from the bushes’ shots.
It was maybe only 20 minutes later when I found the Canada Lynx, resulting in the aforementioned losing of my sh*t. I was in complete shock when I saw the lynx on the slope on the opposite side of the road. It was getting to be dusk, and the light was not great. I rolled down my window and softly cursed as my camera struggled to focus on a brown/grey figure on a brown/grey background. I pulled my car around to get on the same side of the road as the lynx and watched him walk slowly along the slope. Occasionally, he listened to my silent prayers – ‘turn around, for the love of god please turn around!’ – and allowed a few ‘facing me’ shots. He did not seem overly concerned by my presence, but I was worried the sound of my car was bothering him a bit. So I did something that I maybe should not have done – I got out of the car…
I didn’t run up the slope, I just tried to quietly follow him along the road as he walked along the tree line. Then he stopped behind a bush and stared at me with a cat-like curiosity. As I was taking pictures, I heard the only other car I encountered on that stretch of the road that night. Unfortunately for me, it was a Conservation Officer. He pulled over and lectured me on how I shouldn’t chase wildlife for about 5 minutes and gave me a ‘warning.’ When the CO pulled away, I looked back up and the lynx was still there, with the same look of intense curiosity.
I was a little upset by the run-in with the CO. I have already admitted that I ‘lost my sh*t’ and was not thinking clearly. I don’t believe I was ‘chasing’ the lynx, but I’m not sure it was a good idea for me to get out of the car. I don’t think I bothered the lynx, especially considering he just sat there and watched the whole lecture with the CO. But he was definitely aware of my presence and I may have disrupted his hunting. Not to mention my own safety – leaving the car without my bear spray in grizzly country!? Come on Kerri, you know better than that…
But mostly, I don’t like the thought that the CO probably thought of me as one of those stupid photographers that pester or chase wildlife. Having lost my sh*t, I did not really have the wherewithal to defend myself, to explain that I do really care about the welfare of animals and did not intend to chase. Instead, I just nodded and said ‘I understand.’
However, reflecting on it now, I appreciate the whole experience, including the encounter with the CO. I understand that they see a lot of people doing really stupid things with wildlife. And I have to evaluate whether my actions were appropriate or not. I think as a relatively new wildlife photographer (albeit one who cares deeply about my subjects), I must realize I am bound to make mistakes. I have to own up to the fact that it might have been a mistake to leave my car.
I believe the key is to always question – did I have as little impact on the subject as possible? If the answer is no, how can I do better next time? There is a fine balance between appreciating and disturbing wildlife
If I get a chance to see a Canada Lynx again (and I really hope I do!), perhaps I will not lose my sh*t quite as much. I might be able to think a bit clearer. For now, I am just so indescribably grateful for the experience. Alberta – where else can you see a black bear, grizzly bear and canada lynx on a quick after-work drive? I live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet 🙂