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A stellar day of photography

Four Grizzly Bear Cubs in Yellowstone National Park

Four Grizzly Bear Cubs in Yellowstone National Park

The spring of 2010 brought a nice surprise to Yellowstone National Park, A grizzly sow with four new cubs put on quite a show in Yellowstone’s northwest corner. The sow was dubbed Quadra Mom and I needed some photos of this extraordinary grizzly bear family.

Snowy Bison, Yellowstone National Park
Snowy Bison, the picture abject misery

I heard about the whereabouts of four grizzly cubs, and I certainly wanted too photograph them but I had just taken my winter tires off during a overoptimistic bout of spring fever. I awoke late at 3 am, a peak out the door revealed a miserable stormy, sleety, snowy and my bed started calling out to me to return. I fought the urge though as I had long ago discovered my best days of shooting where during days of physical misery because miserable weather often makes steller photogrpahs. I set off anyway an hour late for a good arrival time in Yellowstone but Yellowstone in spring is full of wonderful surprises.

The weather driving through Grand Teton Park, and Yellowstone was abysmal and the driving slow and technical fraught with migrating elk and bison in the predawn hours, I did my best not to hurry my effort often meeting failure and near collisions.

Since I was late anyway I swung through Mary’s Bay and Sedge Bay at the north end of Yellowstone Lake to check for grizzlies. I found no grizzlies; however, I did photograph a depressed looking, snow encrusted bison. They closed the road behind me while I was in there but was able too get out. Shortly there after I bumped into a wolf north of the Hayden Valley I got too photograph at point blank range from my car. This wolf of the Canyon Pack was traveling along the road because when possible they like to use the Artist Point Bridge to cross the Yellowstone River.

Grey Wolf, Yellowstone National Park
Snow covered Grey Wolf, Yellowstone National Park

I arrived at the site of the grizzly and four cubs just as they laid down for a nap. The weather wasn’t as bad here just south of  Mammoth as it was in central and southern Yellowstone. I had a hunch the sow, and cubs would be snoozing for a while so I rolled the dice took off for the Lamar Valley to check on some other action up there and I got to check on another grizzly/wolf feeding site and Tower Junction for Black Bears. At Tower Junction I found fat black bear to photograph then I returned to south of Mammoth to where the sow, and four cubs were still snoozing.

The sow and four cubs awoke a half hour after my return and they put on a good show for about a half an hour 100 yards from the road then they disappeared into the trees. Our extended wait for the next appearance of the cubs came during a downpour of frozen snowballs that came at us sideways but very few of the dozens of us assembled where about to leave.

The sow and cubs came out again later but farther away but in better light and they slowly worked their way beyond the useful range of my equipment so on a hunch I decided to go to the other grizzly/wolf feeding site for golden hour shooting.

A sub-adult grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park

A sub-adult grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park

Upon my arrival, I found a monumental bear jam to match the one I had just left. A  two-year old cub/sub-adult was on a bison kill, his mother who had been mothering him until the previous day had just kicked him out on his own and was mating with a boar on the hill not far away. About now I found out my 16 gig SD card was full and my extra was in my car ¾ of a mile down the road – I started field editing to make room on my card and could no longer shoot video.

While photographing the sub/adult on the kill some a bison walked by and the cub perceived as a threat so he stood up and growled at the bison. Shortly there after his mother and her new love interest chased the newly independent and confused cub off the kill. The sow took a couple of bites but more interested in the bison on the hoof close by and she left the carcass to inspect them in wonderful light and left the ripening winter kill to the boar.

As the sun fell below the hill the boar grizzly took a dip into the pond where the bears had been keeping the winter-killed bison out of reach of the wolves, ravens, and coyotes. Before going in he had pawed around and put his head under water where he must have seen more groceries at the bottom of the pond. The boar appeared to be trying to get a hold of part of a carcass with his rear feet  – a feat in which he failed.

This culminated one fabulous day of shooting and I almost didn’t go because of bad roads and miserable weather.


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