When I saw four light-brown faces peer up from behind a barbed wire fence, it took my mind a couple of seconds to process the scene. I was out west of Sundre looking for wild horses and wild horses are who I was expecting to see. But there was something different about these figures – they were too low to the ground, too furry, too much like bears…
‘Grizzlies! Holy crap they are grizzlies!’ I exclaimed.
The notion of finding wild horses galloped from my mind as the four grizzly bears monopolized my energy. My friend and photography mentor Paul Coates was with me and equally excited to see the bears. We watched the family of a sow and three yearlings gather at the corner of the fence, the mom rose to inspect us and the little ones surveyed the land beyond the barbed wire.
Unlike black bears, grizzlies are not made for climbing, so instead of hopping over, the group turned and followed the fence line up a gradual slope. Mom and one of the little ones hurried to the top, while the other two cubs worked at a more leisurely pace, stopping to nibble on the vegetation as they went. When mom reached the top, she made a noise that I never imagined hearing from a grizzly bear. A combination of grunting, snarling and howling is the only way I can describe it. I actually questioned if the sound came from the bear – Paul was quite certain it did. I believe she was summoning the two stragglers. The cubs ran to join mom and the family slid under the fence line at the top of the slope and disappeared into the trees.
The time stamp on my pictures tells me the encounter lasted about six minutes. Buzzing with excitement, we decided to resume our search for the wild horses. Seconds later we found a band of about eight to ten horses that included two small foals. We watched and photographed the wobbly-legged creatures for a few minutes then continued down the road.
After about ten minutes, we doubled back, only to find the four bears working their was down a patchy gravel road, about 300 meters from the fenced-in area. For fifteen minutes we watched them saunter down the road. I was hoping they would go into the field of grass that lay directly in front of my car, but instead they retreated back into the bushes.
Words can’t describe how happy I was to get an opportunity to watch a mom and three cubs in this setting for so long. Most of my grizzly bear sightings are in Kananaskis, where there is lots of traffic and bear jams. Only two or three other cars drove by (a couple stopped as well) while we were watching this family.
This was also my earliest bear sighting ever, being April 23. Last year (2015), I saw my first grizzly bear on May 5. I hope this amazing encounter is a sign of many more good bear-viewing opportunities to come. I will, of course, keep you posted. For now, I’ll leave you with a head shot/bum shot – I’m not sure which angle is cuter!
Until next time, continue loving life and all things wild! 🙂