Lucky number 152: my first grizzly bear of the year

Grizzly152_2June 3, 2012;   June 15, 2013;  May 20, 2014;  May 5, 2015. I don’t even have to look at the image meta-data to know the exact dates of my ‘first grizzly of the year’ sightings since 2012 – they are seared into my brain. And it’s not only the dates I remember – I know who I was with, the exact location (all were in Kananaskis), what time of day it was, what type of light I had, basically every detail about what the grizzlies looked like (color, size, etc), and most importantly, the gratitude I left in being able to observe/photograph these beautiful animals. I can conjure a vivid image in my brain of all of these encounters, even without looking at the photos.

Why are the ‘first of the year grizzlies’ so special for me? The high I get from all wildlife sightings in general is a big part of it of course, but the first bears remind me of what lies ahead.  Spring is my favorite time of year – like the grizzly bears coming out of hibernation, the world is re-awakening, quivering with new life.

In honour of spring, I wanted to tell the story of this year’s first grizzly sighting.

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

On May 5, I set off on an early evening drive to my usual route through Kananaskis. Last year around this time I had one of the best drives of my life  – after-work in early evening hours – I was hoping for a repeat! I thought in and around the summit of Smith Dorrian trail would yield the best chance of a grizzly sighting. Considering it is still early spring, I figured they would more likely be higher up – plus, this is where my ‘first of the year grizzly’ sighting occurred last year.

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

I saw basically nothing on Smith Dorrian – not even a moose! Considering I rarely see bears on the main highway (highway 40 north), I figured I was out of luck by the time I finished my Smith Dorrian run. No problem – it was a nice drive and I appreciate the lengthening days of spring which allow me more light for driving.

Despite the lack of wildlife, I was feeling peaceful and relaxed as I meandered towards home. Memories of last year’s first grizzly and awe at how beautiful the mountains are were competing for space in my mind. I was startled out of my reverie by the sight of a bear bum on the opposite side of the highway.

‘Bear on highway 40!?,’ I thought to myself, ‘it can’t be!’ The front end of the bear rose enough for me to see the tell-tale hump of a grizzly bear. I pulled over to the side of the highway and watched…

The bear lifted her head occasionally, allowing me to see the radio collar and the #152 ear tag – then quickly lowered back down for more grazing. For the first frustrating minutes, all I could capture were several pictures of her bum. Don’t get me wrong – she has a beautiful bear bum, but I was so anxious to see her face!

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

One of the advantages of an evening drive on a weekday is the lack of traffic. Only a few other cars drove by, some stopped for pictures as well, and others just drove on (how the heck can a person drive by a grizzly bear!?). I basically had her all to myself for 10 to 15 minutes.

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

The presence of the radio collar made me worry that at any moment, a conservation officer would come, scare her off the highway, and give me sh*t for taking pictures. But luckily, that did not happen.

I watched her graze on the opposite side of the highway for a few minutes, and she eventually wandered on to higher ground, giving me a view of her full body. Then she walked across the highway to the opposite side, behind my car. I slipped into the passenger side of my car and positioned myself for more photographs. She drank from a little stream in the ditch and then took a nice healthy poo (seeing a bear poo – that was a first for me ;).

She was so beautiful and amazing to watch, I have to admit, I had a really hard time leaving her. I even considered pulling the car around to the other side of the highway to get a better angle and continue to watch. But when I turned on the car, she started a bit, and I knew it was time to move on. I did not want to cause her any stress.

I pulled away and watched in the rearview mirror – I saw her beautiful bear bum lumber down the side of the highway in the opposite direction, eventually fading from my sight.

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

Grizzly Bear, Kananaskis

What an amazing first grizzly of the year experience! I was left, however, with a bit of a worry. Watching a grizzly so close to the highway – grazing in the ditch, crossing the highway and walking along the shoulder – made me realize how susceptible they are to collisions. The only thing we as drivers can do is SLOW DOWN and be conscious of wildlife on the roads. Here is a post from the Fur Bearer Defenders with some simple tips to help protect wildlife on the road.

A few notes: I’ve been saying ‘she’ but I don’t actually know if this is a female bear. If anyone happens to know the sex and age of grizzly bear 152, please let me know – I’m just curious. Also, you may notice the missing ear tag and collar in some of these images – don’t worry, this was done digitally with Photoshop 😉  I just wanted a few images without all the jewellery.

Until next time, continue loving life and all things wild 🙂

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  • GordN says:

    We drive by because they have put the fear of god into “us” that stopping to look at wildlife creates havoc and mayhem and don’t do it!

    But I’m told I never listen.

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Stopping for wildlife can cause havoc for sure, but it can be done safely and respectfully in my opinion 🙂

  • Tracy says:

    Great photos! She was back on highway 40 this afternoon (June 13) grazing on dandelions!

    I was told by Alberta Parks interpreters that only female Grizzlies are radio collared. This is because it allows them to keep track of the cubs (since they can’t collar them) and also because males have very vast territories and thus travel greater distances than females and can go beyond the range of the transmitters. ; )

  • Rob Evans says:

    Thanks for this blog Kerri. I shot her today along the Highway right near the Centrex gas station.

  • Andrew says:

    You be happy to know she’s survived another year. I shot a few photos of her today, just outside Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. She was on the side of Highway 40, eating clover. No cubs visible though.

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Awesome! I saw her on June 15 close to there as well – looking very healthy and happy. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  • Rob Sowald says:

    Hey Kerri, my wife and myself saw her on July 11 2016 on highway 40 close to Kananaskis Village.

  • Rob Sowald says:

    We were told by park rangers that if the bear has a tag in the right ear it is a female. It seems that women are always right. This is how we were explained and easy to remember.

  • Patrick Kornak says:

    I got some great shots on July 20 as she wandered close to Hwy 40 munching on berries. I used the Sigma 150-600 to get head and shoulder shots from about 22 meters away. Most of the other shots were from about 50 meters away. You can see them on my Instagram. I am listed as PatrickSK Shortly after I got my shots a park services officer came by and chased everyone away and then brought out a rifle. I did not see what happened next but I am assuming that he shot some rubber bullets or something to scare it back into the bush.

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Thanks for letting me know Patrick – I saw your instagram you got some beautiful shots of one of my favorite bears 🙂 You are right that the rifle was rubber bullets to scare her away from the road – not a tactic I agree with but this is how the bears are managed in Kananaskis…

  • After going through my photos and seeing the tag, did a Google search for Bear 152 and found your blog. Saw her happily munching away on bushes north of the Smith-Dorian on Hwy 40 this morning. She looks great, just being a bear, doing her thing. Your photos are much better than mine, but then, I’m a painter, not a photographer. Great shots, BTW.

  • Chris says:

    Googled Grizzly 152 and your blog happened to pop up. Was driving back from Upper K-Lakes and we came across 152 in a small meadow on the side of hwy 40 heading north after the Centrex. No cubs with her. She lingered for a few minutes until other cars started pulling up and she was over it and wandered back into the woods.

  • Louise Marie Lahaye says:

    Hello, I just come back from Canada and went to Kananaskis finding to see a bear. We were sooo lucky because we met the female grizzli 152 as well. She stayed with us at least half an hour !!! I took lot of pictures !!!!!

    • Kerri Martin says:

      This great Louise – thanks so much for letting me know. Happy you got a chance to see her 🙂

  • LolaLucy says:

    If you’re still interested in knowing, Bear 152 is now 7 years old.

  • Sharon petty says:

    On holiday in Canmore from Australia. Took a drive to Kananaskis hoping to see my very first bear. Met 152. This memory will last forever. June 9th 2018. About 4.30pm. Eating dandelions on the side of the road

    • Kerri Martin says:

      I’m so happy for you Sharon! She is so beautiful. I also saw her again last night for the first time in 2 years 🙂

  • Dayle says:

    Bear 152 does indeed have two little cubs with her this year. Saw her yesterday.

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Yay! I heard she has cubs this year but have not personally seen her or them yet – thanks for the update! 🙂

    • Sharon Petty says:

      So glad to hear. Can’t wait to see pics so please post some. this was my first ever Grizzly and I will never forget her.

  • David says:

    Got a couple of photos last night about 8:30 of 152, on Hwy 40 near the Centrex. She had 2 young ones with her but I didnt get photos of them as I was shoo’d away by an angry Parks Officer after only getting a couple of shots of her.
    They all looked happy and healthy though 🙂

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Thanks David for the update – yes, Parks is generally guarding her and the kids because she lives so close to a fairly busy section of the highway. I actually got a chance to see and photograph her and the cubs last night! It was 9pm and they were in a location where I could completely pull of the highway. I managed to get a few nice images of her and the cubs – they all do look healthy and happy 🙂

  • Jon Noad says:

    the rangers say that lady bears are always right (ear tags)
    I was in K Country today (July 2020) and Bear 152 was around with two yearling cubs, in the Fortress area. The rangers told me, I didn’t get to see her.
    I have previously seen her by the wishing well in Kananaskis, also a wonderful sighting

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