I Saw A Bear Today

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I Saw A Bear Today

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I saw a bear today.  Not exactly what I was hoping to see so I was disappointed.  I had come here to see wolves.  After a few moments I started to take in my surroundings and I realized if you chose, at any given moment you could clear the mere yards between us and explain this encounter was on your terms.  I was a trespasser in your home.  Instead you continued to graze and look for grubs.  I saw strength, forgiveness and understanding.

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I saw a bear today.  I was standing by my car watching you, watching me.  Your gaze was intense, unwavering.  Then I heard the wrestling of brush behind me and within seconds a cub ran by.  When I didn’t think my heart could take much more, when I realized it wasn’t me you were watching but your cubs, the second one came from behind me.  I saw love, forgiveness, protectiveness and patience.

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I saw a bear today.  I watched as you spent over an hour searching for voles and grubs.  I watched people crowd you and watched as you altered your direction to avoid them.  I saw patience, forgiveness, strength, perseverance and a will to survive.

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I saw a bear today.  I watched as you carried your cub across a river too deep for her to swim.  I watched as you played with her and taught her lessons.  As she raced circles around you, causing you to stumble and stutter step; you reached out, grabbed her, pulled her close and sat on her.  I giggled and laughed.  I saw love, patience, intelligence and compassion.

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I saw a bear today.  This was one of the first days you were out on your own, alone, without your mom to guide and protect you.  I wanted to cry and wished that I could hold you and tell you that you were going to be fine.  I saw fear and worry.

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I saw a bear today.  You’re terrified and alone, so small, not sure which way to run or if you should hide.  You’re calling for your mom but sadly she can’t answer, her heart is silent due to the selfishness of one.  You’re hungry and worried about other big bears in the area but don’t want to leave where you last saw your mom.  I see fear, grief and uncertainty.

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I saw a bear today.  You’ve never known fear like the fear you’ve known today.  You heard an explosion and your cubs fall motionless.  Your instinct told you to get to your cubs and protect them but your fear forced you away, to hide till it was safe.  You call to your cubs but they can’t answer, their hearts are silent because of a lack of intelligence, compassion, courage and selfishness of one.  I see love, grief, concern and uncertainty.

IMG_4103I saw a bear today.  I ask for your forgiveness.  I’m so sorry that some “humans” are unable to share the same compassion and understanding you have shared with me.  I’m sorry that they lack the intelligence to see that you are not much different from humans; that you hunt to provide food for your family, that you protect your children at the utmost cost, that you experience fear and love.  And most importantly………………..you grieve.

“Forgive them Father…………they know not what they do.”

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Thank You For The Lessons

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I’ve been so busy the past 7 to 8 months that I haven’t even had time to think about this blog that I started; the horse show photography has taken off, new adventures have come along, more animals have crashed my barn and so much more.  We are gearing up for another wonderful trip and really looking forward to the wildlife, the hiking, the friendships new and old and the adventures.

This has been a relatively hard week for me, it’s been a year now since you’ve been gone.  They say time heals but I’m not so sure that is true.  I think about you nearly every day, I share your stories and the wonderful things you taught me, I think of all the things that I’ve accomplished this year and I want to share them with you but I can’t.  On the other hand I know that you know all that has gone on and I know you’re proud – if not for you none of this would be possible.

I received a message about somebody commenting on my blog a couple weeks ago.  The things he said about wolves were far from nice but then again he’s entitled to his opinion.  I have to say I think it’s a bit funny.  For one thing, you know absolutely nothing about me or who I am.  And it’s people like you who continue to make finding a solution impossible; rather than being a real man and discussing things and seeing both sides you choose to make rude jabs.  For all you know I could be your neighbor, your neighbor’s girlfriend or wife, one of your friend’s girlfriend or wife or the person who saves your life one day.  Your quick to make your comments and run without even knowing anything about me and it’s funny, I’m not much different than you.  Well, I’m not rude or disrespectful and I’m not afraid to have a civilized conversation with “the other side” so with that we are totally different.

My grandparents who I spent a lot of time with owned a sporting goods store and gun range.  Oh my!!  Yes we not only supported hunters, but we also hunted.  We didn’t hunt for sport, the pure joy of killing or out of hatred – we hunted to put food on the table.  My parents taught me how to raise livestock and I still do.  Oh no!  I eat meat.  I can rope, ride and train colts.  I’m not afraid to grab a calf and push them into a chute and I have a great respect for that calf’s momma.  I’ve probably cleaned more pens and barns with my own two hands than most.

I’ve read the comments about how “city folk” don’t know crap about how you “real ranchers” live and need to quit interfering.  Well, I’m not a city slicker and I’m not a stranger to getting dirty and hard work.  I’ve been kicked at, kicked, stepped on, shoved aside, nearly ran over and bucked off with some of the best.  I didn’t go to college but I did finish high school and one of the things my dad taught me was is if I worked hard enough, treated people with respect, was honest and had integrity I’d climb my way to the top.  I’ve done that with 2 of my own businesses as well as the company I work for and call my “real job.”  And when I’m done there I still come home to the ranch and do my chores here.  I’ve stayed up with the sick ones and bottle fed the orphans while many walk away to let “nature take it’s course.”   Personally I think that’s an excuse for people to be lazy and not take responsibility.

I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot you with a revolver or a rifle any day, however I don’t shoot at live animals unless they have brought it upon themselves to harm my animals.  It’s a good thing that I take protective measures before I need to resort to this, that is called “ranch management.”  It’s not about tossing animals out onto green grass and hoping they reproduce, it’s about being responsible and foreseeing the future and what it takes to be profitable without assistance from the government.

My dad fought for your freedom and then came home and continued to “protect and serve” you.  That was another thing he taught me; when a person needs help regardless of who they are or how you feel about them you reach out to help them.  Might be something you might want to think about the next time your so quick to be rude and disrespectful to somebody you don’t know just because they support wolves and grizzlies being on the Endangered Species List and mustangs being left correctly managed on BLM land where they belong.  It would be horrible for one of us “city folk” to drive by you if your buddy shot you in the hip during one of your hunting trips on accident and waved as we drove on by just because we judged you as one of them “horrible, wolf hating ranchers” rather than a human being in need of emergency assistance.  I’m entitled to my opinion just as you’re entitled to yours; neither of them are any less important than the other.  I’m not that much different than you are sir.  I’ve busted my butt to get where I am today and to have the things I have.  I have seen and taken care of things that would make your stomach turn.  Thank God the people in my life have taught me about respect, courtesy and compassion not only for human beings but the animals we share this land with.  I was also taught to stand for the things I believe in and to do it in the right way and I will continue to do so.

So thank you for sharing your story by commenting on my blog the other day.  You have taught me even more very important lessons and I really appreciate it.  I’m more determined now to continue fighting for what I know is right.  The next time you are driving down the dirt road and you pass a white Dodge dually with a woman driving and she waves; that’s me telling you thank you!

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God Only Gives You What You Can Take………..

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Once again, I’ve been off line for a bit.  Just when I thought I had been given enough God added more to my plate.  So I wonder now, just how much does God think I can take?  I’ve devoted much of my life to fighting for animals.  The wild horses, wolves and many more who don’t have a voice, who can’t speak for themselves, who are being murdered or removed from the land that belongs to them.  So why does bad things happen to good people?

Those that know me know that I try to ride my own horses about every other night if not more.  I rush home after working an 11 hour day in Denver and if I don’t ride, I’m out walking, hiking or running.  Not only are my animals my top priority but in order to keep up with and photograph the wildlife I love, I have to be in good enough shape to get to them.

After returning home from California and my dad’s funeral all I wanted to do was spend time with Blueper, the horse who has been there for me through all my hard times, my best friend, a horse I rescued from abuse.  I never expected him to have a flash back moment and jump out and away from me a few weeks ago.  I landed on my left side; the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear.  After figuring out I hadn’t broken anything I walked over to him, lounged him for awhile and started to get back on when I realized I still couldn’t hear.  I put him away and went in to the house to sit for awhile.  The horse trainer I’m friends with always manages to call at just the right time and so he didn’t ruin that reputation, he called right on time.  I explained to him what had happened and that I couldn’t hear and after about 20 minutes of arguing I decided to go to the emergency room.  I wasn’t sure why.  I wasn’t hurt, I just couldn’t hear.

I drove myself to the hospital, walked about a half mile around to find the emergency room, signed myself in and waited about 10 minutes to be seen.  I waited another 20 minutes to get a CT scan and while waiting during that 20 minutes I got very sore and stiff.  The doctors really hadn’t even touched me yet, but I they had already hurt me!  They came back to my room after getting the CT scan results, 2 trauma doctors – I almost felt special until they told me that I had a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain and told me I had to spend the night so that they could observe me in case I needed brain surgery.  Up until then I had no stomach upset but when you deliver that kind of news to somebody like myself, you can bet it will make a person puke!   Lucky for the horses and dogs I have great friends who stepped up to not only run and feed them but they also rushed to see me in the hospital.

By the next morning the bleeding had stopped, I still couldn’t hear and I had a wonderful headache and over night I swear a semi truck hit me.  Amazing how sore a body can get when your allowed to sit and do nothing.  I walked into the emergency room just fine, I was leaving barely able to stand or walk.  Over the next 10 days or so the headaches were enough to drop me to my knees, my hearing still hasn’t returned, I found out I lost my sense of smell, my new house finally closed escrow and my landlord needed me out of the home I was in a week after landing on my head, I had horse shows to photograph and animals to take care of.  Again, thank God for friends and family.  Friends pretty much moved all my things while I shot a horse show one weekend.  Pretty amazing.

The accident was about 5 weeks ago now and my hearing on the left side and sense of smell is still gone.  I still have my sense of humor when my head doesn’t hurt.  The support of my friends and family has been the best blessing ever and I’ve even met new friends who make me appreciate life even more.  A very wonderful wildlife photographer emailed me a couple days ago and let me know she was thinking about me and felt my tenacity and strength was amazing.  It made me think of the things I’ve been “given” lately that somebody above thinks I can handle.

Blueper has now made me go through all the emotions; what did I do to make him feel he needed to hurt me, is he in pain and I’m not seeing it, does he have a mean streak horses with his breeding are known to have, did he do this on purpose or did I hurt him to cause him to do this?  Fear has set in.  I wanted to start riding about 2 weeks after the accident, not him but my other horse, Reno who I feel I can trust but the doctors said I’m not allowed to do anything that might jar my skull; sadly that includes riding, running and even leading a horse.    For my lifestyle this is pretty much not acceptable.  I’ve been on my best behavior, I haven’t ridden but I’m leading and working my horses from the ground and I’m not running but I am walking with my wonderful dog Drifter again.  Walking has helped reduce the leg cramps a whole lot and also reduces my stress.  Drifter was really missing our journeys and is again a happy pup; if my animals are happy, than I’m happy.

After the pain reduced there was a time when I was sad when I realized I couldn’t smell anything.  I love the scents of fruit candles, cake and cookie batter.  I was proud that my house always smelled good when you walked in.  I love the smell of horses and the barn.  It’s always nice to be able to smell a bear, something dead or where a mountain lion marked it’s territory before they see or smell you.  The next day I realized how much I would be saving by not buying these candle scents.  And although it has to be done I often can’t handle the smell of cleaning the dog’s yard, now it isn’t so hard to do.

A couple weeks ago we spent a weekend with some friends of ours at their ranch.  They raise and train some amazing horses and I got to spend the day sitting on the fence to watch them ride; I may be a little bit afraid but my heart wanted to be riding one of those horses.  They also have a month old fawn they found as an orphan they are taking care of.  As I watched her run and play it really lifted my heart.  So tiny, so innocent, so precious.  I could have spent all day with her.

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On the way home from the ranch I thought of my friend’s message.  If this is what I’m “given” then I’m lucky.  This accident could have been far worse; I can still see which allows me to see the things I love the most – the wildlife, my animals and the horses I love to be involved with.  I can still walk and hike so I can see the animals I so love in the places I love spending time.  I can still take photos and capture amazing memories.  For a moment I thought about what it would be like not to be able to see Hobo, Quad mom with her cubs, Spitfire or the wild horses.  That was a thought I wanted to erase just as quick as it came.  That wasn’t what I was “given,” thank God it was a lot less.  I have frustrating moments when I have to adapt to different ways but they are moments that go away.  I feel lucky.  I can still do the things that mean so much to me.  I’m hoping that as the fracture heals my hearing will as well and hopefully my sense of smell will return.  Time will heal the fear and I’ll ride again.

In the meantime I’m going to get back to working on the things that I want to accomplish; working on educating people and sharing wild animals with people who want to know more.  God wouldn’t give people gifts if He didn’t want you to use and enjoy them.

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Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Wildlife Lesson #5 – Bring Your Sense of Humor

Smile like this?

Smile like this?

There has been a bald eagle sitting in a tree in front of my place for a few days now.  I had seen him around Christmas time but was too busy to slow down to try and get some images.  Now he’s been back almost every night this week.  Day 1 ~ I wasn’t even allowed to get my camera before he knew I was coming and soared away.  Day 2 ~ He waited for me to be about 30 yards out of what I consider a good range, watched me, fluffed up, stretched out, then he tilted his head sideways to look at me and soared away.   Day 3 ~ Not even risking walking, jumped in the truck, drove up in front of the tree, rested the camera on the window of the door and took 3 dozen shots in bad lighting before he soared away.

Just kidding!!  You mean smile like this!!

Just kidding!! You mean smile like this!!

I’ve had a few friends who are entertaining the idea of getting into photography and they have been asking me lately how I get those great shots!  Tonight reminded me and I had to laugh.  The gorgeous bull moose above I nicknamed Bruiser.  I had tried several days to find moose on my hikes without much luck.  Then one late morning walking through a deserted camp ground I walked right up on him and 3 cows bedded down in some tall brush.  Sounds easy enough.  Took an hour for one of the cows to finally get up and when she did, she got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I was far enough away to know it wasn’t me she was mad at and after she stuck her foot in her ear several times she went over and bedded down with the other cows.  An hour after that is when Bruiser finally got up.  I have images of him on two knees, one knee, stretching, stretching more, shaking his head, stretching some more, smelling the flowers and eating willow; close to 700 images to be exact.  Out of them there are about 40 that I’m happy with.  A total of 8 hours, 8 miles or more over 3 days ~ 40 good images.  Not bad!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!!  My daddy can kick your daddy's butt!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!! My daddy can kick your daddy’s butt!!

Another hoofed cow who tends to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Bison are gorgeous in their own right however to get that “perfect” image it is pure luck!  I spend 10 plus days in Yellowstone and the Tetons and when I see bison in good lighting, I will stop and wait and hope for that perfect moment.  I’ll end up with 2 images I am proud of; the rest are every day bison, I’m so bored with tourists and photographers, behavior.  A total of 10 days in God’s country, I managed not to be treed by a bison, I get 2 nice images and I’m excited.

She wanted me in the picture!!!No, she wanted me!! I'm going to tell mom!! MMMOOOOOMMM!!

She wanted me in the picture!!!
No, she wanted me!!
I’m going to tell mom!!
MMMOOOOOMMM!!

One very uneventful wildlife day I decided I would not call it quits until I managed to photograph some sort of critter.  I had never seen many marmots before and had never photographed them.  I drag out the camera and get everything prepared in a nice area with decent lighting and a background where you could at least see what type of critter I was photographing.  I had been watching them for over an hour so I knew I was in a decent spot.  My problem ~ I did not notify the marmots of my intentions and explain the importance for lighting and background.  Instead of hanging out where I wanted them to be, they insisted on playing in front of the grey rocks where they blend perfectly.  A wasted afternoon?  Ohhhh heavens no!!  If anyone ever needs 300 images of marmot camouflage be sure to contact me, I know I can help you!

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

Those amazing mustang images, those are easy to get.  The nearest HMA is 4.5 hours from me……………………….one way.  On any given day the horses will be right next to the road but not on the days I normally visit.  I love to hike and the horses know that and just for me they normally position themselves about 2 miles up on a hill where I can see them so I know which way to hike!  Most of the time they will stay in that spot at least until I manage to get within good camera range, set up and manage to get several nice images.  If they don’t feel I’ve had enough of a work out, not just one or two, but the whole herd will start walking away from me in order to assist the calorie burning a little more.  I find it interesting that they know how important it is to walk farther uphill and away from my car, not downhill toward my car.  I have even skirted and nearly missed rattlesnakes while out photographing wild burros, this adds the high jump into the daily workout routine.  Later that evening when I’m reviewing images I come across maybe 60 out of 1,500 that I find exceptional or emotional.

Ohh no!!  My hairs a mess!!  No pictures!!  No pictures!!

Ohh no!! My hairs a mess!! No pictures!! No pictures!!

To get this wonderful image I was standing with a couple dozen other photographers in the cold for a few hours one May day.  We played several rounds of “100+ yard rule weave,” the park rangers were our referees making sure that when she moved away we stayed far enough behind and when she turned to come towards us, we moved far enough the other direction.  At one point we watched her from the inside of our cars when she wanted to break the rules of the game.  Out of 600 images I think I found 60 with her head actually up.  It is obvious to me she is camera-shy and we made her nervous.

So now when somebody approaches me and is interested in photography I smile!  I tell them it’s very rewarding actually and has many benefits.  You will be forced to become healthier and you won’t even realize it.  You learn about patience and with each encounter you get better at it.  You learn to be creative and look for amazing moments.  You will learn who your worst enemy is ~ yourself.  Most importantly if your are lucky like me, you will find happiness beyond belief.

Yeah!!  I'm walking away from this conversation!

Yeah!! I’m walking away from this conversation!

The End!  Literally!  This is a bear butt!

Although this little story was told in a humorous manner, please be cautious when photographing wildlife.  Please be careful photographing close to roads as the animal could move into the road.  Be sure to give them enough space that they don’t feel threatened or alter their normal behavior.

Wildlife Lesson #4 – Lessons About Yourself

Tucked into a meadow near the trees this black bear was in great health!

Tucked into a meadow near the trees this black bear was in great health!

Black bears seemed to be the most seen animal on my May 2010 trip to Yellowstone.  We saw several near Tower, all gorgeous and healthy.  One evening late while heading back to Gardner we stopped to take photos of a black bear in a meadow; we were the only people there.  A park ranger stopped and as the hours of “good light” for images had ran out we talked to the ranger about the different bears and their personalities inside Yellowstone.  He talked about Rosie and how she used to seem to enjoy bringing her cubs out for everyone to view and enjoy and sadly she had been hit and killed by a park visitor the year before (once I returned home and did more research there was also reports that she had been killed by a male black bear as some wildlife photographers had seen her injured).  I wondered to myself then was her death due to becoming so habituated to people that she was no longer concerned about crossing the road or getting too close them and their vehicles?

A couple of days later I spotted another black bear near Phantom Lake in the later part of the day only this one didn’t make me smile.  The bear was pretty high on the side of the mountain above the lake and one of the first things I noticed was how dirty and burnt it’s black coat appeared to be.  All the other bears I had been fortunate enough to see had been jet black, coats were sleek and shiny and they appeared to be in good condition.  This bear was a lot thinner than the others.  After it finished digging around in some dead fall it turned and headed out of the tree line; the bear was limping very badly.  As I watched I noticed it was barely putting any weight on the right front leg, when putting its foot down it was using more of the back of leg than the actual foot.  It may have been injured for quite some time as it moved with a very hunched over back and the shoulder on the right was also a lot more apparent.  As it continued hobbling along the side of the mountain I wanted to cry; it looked like the bear was in a great deal of pain.  I knew the park didn’t intervene so this bear would not receive help.

This bear had an injured right paw causing it to walk on the back of its leg.  It's hair coat was a burnt brown and dull.

This bear had an injured right paw causing it to walk on the back of its leg. It’s hair coat was a burnt brown and dull.

When this bear disappeared into the trees and out of sight we continued on and less than a mile down the road we came upon another bear, this one a cinnamon black bear, in very great condition and about twice the size of the injured bear that we had just seen.  At the rate they were traveling, it seemed to me they were on a collision course and my heart ached.  What would happen if these two bears did meet up?  Maybe I really didn’t want to know.  Since then I have actually thought about this injured bear really often.  I thought I had seen tags in the bear’s ears and according to the information I found on Rosie once I returned home it indicated that they feared she was severely injured in a fight with a male bear; could this have been her?  What had caused this bear’s injuries and how long ago did it happen?  And of course I wondered if the cinnamon black bear and this injured bear did run into each other and what happened?  Is the injured bear still alive and was it able to heal?

At one of the spots where I encountered a black bear I was lucky enough to have front row parking.  This was where I was able to witness what I hope I never become.  I love photography but my love for animals is far greater.  I never want to harass them or be so close to them that they feel threatened or that it alters their behavior.  The equipment I had at the time was a pro/am Canon with a 300mm lens; not a bad camera by any means but the lens was not what professional photographers consider “playing with the big boys.”  I also didn’t know enough about the equipment I owned to compete with professional photographers, nor did I want to.  As I sat in my car I took several photos of the bear as it walked by and occasionally stopped in the tall grass and dug around, something told me that morning to stay in my car.  On the hillside in front of the bear, directly in front of the bear, were about 40 people.  A few had smaller cameras but most of them had 500mm or larger lenses, no rangers had yet to arrive.  I smiled as I watched them jostle each other around, each one getting closer and closer to the bear in order to out-do one another.  By the time the ranger arrived they were less than 50 feet from the bear who continued on in their direction.  The bear wasn’t aggressive it was just on a mission and that was the direction it wanted to go.  There were also several people with cameras down by the road in front of my vehicle which were in a ‘safer’ zone than those on the hill, I heard several comments go back and forth concerning the “aggressiveness” of the people on the hill.  It was then that I learned there are several different types of people who observe wildlife; the ones who love the animals themselves and observing them in the wild doing whatever it is wild animals do and the ones who don’t seem at all interested in the animal but more about what they will gain out of encountering it.  It was a lot of fun that morning to witness and observe some very true animal behavior, the actual behavior of a wildlife photographer.  It was even funnier to hear the descriptive words the park ranger used when he arrived on the scene!

Another gorgeous and healthy black bear content to search for things to eat as it wandered.

Another gorgeous and healthy black bear content to search for things to eat as it wandered.

Yellowstone and the Tetons are wonderful places to hike; that is one of the reasons why I visit the parks twice a year or more if I’m given the chance.  You never go without bear spray and you make noise as you hike.  Groups of 4 (or more in some areas of the parks) are preferred and encouraged.  I did take two hikes on this trip alone due to my friend hurting her ACL, they were only a couple miles round trip and I checked with park rangers before I left and people knew my plans.  All of these precautions are not for my safety however it is for the safety of the bears.  After my wildlife photography friend shared with me that accidentally coming across a bear and startling it could cost a bear its life and that is the last thing I ever want to happen.  I hike knowing the country I’m in and that coming across wildlife will happen and I’m responsible for what happens there.  Stories of wild animals tracking, stalking and attacking humans are few and far between but stories of people hiking and coming over a ridge in between a sow and cubs are many.

Sometimes the best things are not down low but up in the trees!  A Great Horned Owl in Mammoth.

Sometimes the best things are not down low but up in the trees! A Great Horned Owl in Mammoth.

One afternoon at Slough Creek I was standing with Rick and a group of the wolf watchers, they had all turned their scopes to face the river on the other side of the road thinking the wolves might head that direction.  I heard Rick whisper that something was not good as he scanned the hills.  We all watched as 3 hikers walked up the trail between a stand of trees and a large patch of snow.  At the very top of that patch of snow was a sow grizzly, her cubs were playing between her and the trees.  We could see them easily from where we were but the hikers could not see the grizzlies due to the rolling hills.  There was no way to get a warning to them from where we were and we all stood there waiting for the worst.  The hikers were obviously doing something right because at about the time they topped the hill where the sow was she suddenly picked up her head, looked for a quick second and then ran to her cubs and all of them headed into the trees.  From where we were we doubted the hikers had ever seen her or the cubs, they hiked along the tree line and disappeared over the mountain.  We never saw the grizzly again.  I hope that most encounters end that way where nobody gets hurt.

Mountain Blue Birds are so pretty and vibrant!  They are also very quick and hard to catch images of.

Mountain Blue Birds are so pretty and vibrant! They are also very quick and hard to catch images of.

When my wildlife photography friends arrived we took several hikes together, the sights and sounds away from the road are amazing.  We looked for great grey owls and other wildlife and what we found were coyotes, mountain blue birds and bison.  We weren’t about to waste time or great hikes and not take any photos so we practiced landscape shots and I learned more than I had ever hoped.  I studied different tracks in the snow and mud of bears, wolves and other smaller animals and in my mind I could see the animals actually walking by that left these tracks.  This inspired me to want to learn more about animal tracking and it also makes you more aware of your surroundings.  You could take away my camera and I would go on these hikes regardless and I could spend hours sitting and observing the behavior of the wildlife I encounter and never become bored.

Twisted, dead tree near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Twisted, dead tree near Mammoth Hot Springs.

The first morning we had arrived in the park I had found 3 bison carcasses in a pond, part of the winter die off.  The days hadn’t been very cold and we would stop by and check in on the carcasses about 4 times a day.  I was hoping that eventually the Blacktail Plateau Pack would arrive on the scene but after 8 days in the park the only things that had stopped by were a few coyotes and another bison who almost met its demise the same way.  After watching him swim around for over an hour and finally making it out on solid ground all of us watching him from the turn out cheered!  Three dead bison was plenty, we really didn’t need another one.  My friends asked me to extend my trip; we were having so much fun hiking and taking photographs from sun up till sun down.  If it weren’t for having a job and my own animals waiting for me at home I would have in a heartbeat.  I had learned so much on this trip and the most important lessons were about me.

A male coyote stares off at his mate who was across the river.  He waited for 30 minutes before he decided to swim the river.

A male coyote stares off at his mate who was across the river. He waited for 30 minutes before he decided to swim the river.

This coyote was seen near Canyon hunting for voles in the snow and he was very successful.

This coyote was seen near Canyon hunting for voles in the snow and he was very successful.

 

 

Wildlife Lesson #3 – Expect the Unexpected

How do I get down?Black bear cub looking for a soft spot to land.

How do I get down?
Black bear cub looking for a soft spot to land.

All the recent wolf issues and holidays took me away from why I originally started my blog; to share my photography and stories of my encounters with wildlife.  I apologize but the wolves are very important to me, I’m passionate about them and wild horses, and if I feel that I am needed or that I need to speak on their behalf, that is what I promised I would do.  Things have been quiet today; the state of Wyoming has evaded requests for data on their Wolf Management plan so that leaves me thinking about other things.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I want to go next.  About once a month I become fidgety and feel I need to escape.  I want to go see new wild horse herds but they are all under snow at the moment making that a bit difficult so I considered going “home” to Yellowstone for a long weekend.  I feel I need to spend time as close to the wolves as I can get right now.  I’m not sure that will be possible however due to commitments here regarding both domestic and wild horses.  When I get like this I normally look through my past Yellowstone trips as they bring back wonderful memories of the people I met and the animals I was blessed to spend time with.

After meeting my “Hellroaring” bear the start of my trip in May 2010 I encountered several more black bears, about 2 every day.  One of my favorites was a black bear sow with cubs of the year.  Nothing can make me smile as much as a baby animal out exploring their new world and playing.  When we saw the black bear she had just crossed the road near Tower and headed into a little meadow.  It didn’t take long for a park ranger to arrive and establish a safe viewing spot for people.  This ranger has since become my favorite ranger inside the park as he is friendly, does his best to educate people and has a wonderful sense of humor.  He has shared many stories with me, most of which have made me laugh hard enough that I cry.  I stood near the road that day and took over 400 images of the sow and cubs.  She was an awesome mom, aware of all that was going on around her, protective and yet seemed to be comfortable in showing off her two young ones to people.

After about 20 minutes she took a nap with the cubs at the base of a lodge pole pine and while we waited for her to wake up the ranger shared a few of his experiences he has had with photographers in the park.  The conversation turned to photographers when a lady appeared carrying two tripods; one for a very expensive camera with a 600mm lens and convertor and the other a video camera equipped with a microphone.  Many people parted a path for her so that she could set up and after a little while somebody finally asked if she was filming for a production company.  When she replied that she wasn’t, that this was simply all for her I think everyone was stunned.  Why would you invest that much money in equipment if all of it was for yourself?  She stayed about 10 minutes and then packed everything up and left.  I was exhausted just watching her carry all that equipment back and forth.  I told myself then I was happy with my little Canon and 300mm lens.  At this point I had only been in the park two days and this was only my second bear, far too early to remain rationale.

The sow’s nap didn’t last too long, she had two growing cubs who wanted to see every little piece of the park and they were soon up climbing all over her while she remained down and would occasionally push one off.  When that didn’t work to get her up they tested their tree climbing skills, it was obvious that going up was far easier than coming down.  One cub managed to climb back down while remaining up right while the other stayed on a limb watching the cub who was now on the ground with mom.  A few minutes later it attempted to climb down again; head first didn’t work as gravity was rushing in.  It got back up right, slowly got about half way down, glanced over his shoulder and checked out the ground.  After he figured out where the softest landing spot was he leaped backwards letting go of the tree and landed right on top of mom!  As he rolled off of her the other twin was right there to pounce on him!  There wasn’t a huge crowd of people there and the ranger was wonderful, keeping us a safe distance but allowing us to get in position for great photos and filled us full of wonderful bear facts.

The cubs (cubs of the year are called coys) eventually got bored playing at the bottom of the trees and decided exploring the river bank would be far more fun and as they ran off, mom slowly strolled behind.  She eventually caught up to them in a meadow that was more open for viewing and photography and while they played under a tree we watched taking it all in.  An occasional car would drive by but we were all safely off the road and had nothing to worry about when a tow truck driver came by.  Our backs were to the road when the tow truck back fired, I had my eye on the bears, the ranger and I leaped what felt like 5 feet in the air and the sow had quickly gathered up her cubs in one swoop of her paw and was headed up the nearest tree.  My heart was racing!  I was amazed at how quick and agile the sow had been in gathering up two unruly cubs that were going different directions and start up a tree.  I never took my eyes off of her but I wasn’t able to see half of what she did.  What a great mother!

Safety in the tree!After the tow truck backfired I was almost climbing up the tree with her.

Safety in the tree!
After the tow truck backfired I was almost climbing up the tree with her.

As we stood there another hour a herd of bighorn sheep crossed the road right behind us, came within feet of us, grazed for a few minutes very close by and then went on down to the river the opposite direction from the bears and spent awhile there drinking.  We had been so focused on the bears that most of the people didn’t even notice the bighorns until they were crossing the road behind us.  The ranger talked about how quickly things can change here; one minute you have what is considered a safe distance of a 100 yards and then the next minute something can change and within seconds that 100 yards has become 10 feet.  I have worked with animals my whole life, I knew how quickly things could change and yet this was even more different.  I had heard the bighorns behind us and was aware of them but I didn’t expect them to cross the road and come so close to us especially when a black bear was so close.  Expect the unexpected.

Bighorn Ram waiting to cross the road to get to the river.

Bighorn Ram waiting to cross the road to get to the river.

I considered myself pretty good at being pretty aware of my surroundings.  I’ve ridden horses all over in different terrain and really keep my eyes open for potential horse eating objects and dangers that seem to be around every corner.  I have worked with all sorts of different livestock growing up and know that sheep and goats have it bred into them that carnivores are to be feared, ran from and kept away from.  Watching how quickly that sow grabbed and protected the cubs made it clear that bears, even though they are so big and may not appear that they can move quickly, can do what they need to very quickly to protect what is important to them.  I watched at how the cubs darted in and out of brush and could imagine if they could run off that quickly, mom wouldn’t be far behind them to make sure they remained safe.  If the cubs were to run in our direction, mom wouldn’t hesitate to come and get them.  The sow wasn’t afraid of us at all but she wasn’t aggressive either; we had rules and we were expected to follow them.  If we followed our rules then there would be no reason for her to fear us or become aggressive.  The bighorns crossing the road and getting so close to the sow was interesting to me; it was as if they were tempting fate.  Then I remembered the elk right outside of the wolves den the day before.  Odd that prey animals would be so close to the very animals that could kill them.

Pausing to look around before heading to the river.

Pausing to look around before heading to the river.