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July 05, 2021

Bears and Babies May 2021 - trip report

 Bears and Babies May 2021  trip report:

I've just completed another very successful Grand Tetons photography trip.  I conducted two tours and the grizzlies were out in force. 

 Unfortunately, I was just one of thousands of tourists trying to see the bears.  Bear 399 and her four cubs have become an internet sensation and she was very accessible during the entire trip.  There was one point where I saw her 10 consecutive days and had followed her traversing all around the park.   The problem was there were typically several hundred other vehicles and occupants also doing the same thing.  

I really don't know how this bear deals with all the looky-loos.   However, for all of you who think she is just really cute, she showed on a couple instances why you need to stay 100 yards away.   First, there were two photographers who decided a closed road, only applied to cars and not hikers and so they hiked back into a meadow area where 399 and the cubs were known to be.  Soon a ranger went after them, but not before 399 took things into her own hands and did a full on "bluff charge".   Needless to say, those photographers needed to buy new underwear that evening.   

Then near the end of the trip 399 showed her hunting prowess and captured a young elk calf right in front of hundreds of witnesses.  Unfortunately, I was not on site when she made the capture, but arrived as the family was devouring the meal.

Enjoy a series of photos that I took of the family throughout the week.

399 provided up-close photo opportunities right from the road.  Notice the rear view mirror.  One of the cubs literally walked right below my car's window as my friend was shooting images above.

Well, as much as "399" and family were the stars, there where many other bears in the area and 3 bears had new born "cubs of the year"  (COY)    This is where bears get their "cuteness" from.   It didn't take long to find them, infact before I even reached the National Park, I ran into my old friend Felicia, otherwise known as bear #863.   If you have read my report from last year, she and a big male had provided some wonderful photo opportunities many of which were featured in my published magazine article in the PSA Journal  (Photographic Society of America).   This year she had the results of her frolicing, two COY of her own.

Felicia is a favorite of mine as she is so accessible by staying near the Highway.  This is also a problem with the National Forest Service as she roams mainly east of the National Park near a 65 mph highway 26.   The forest service has been hazing her trying to drive her away from the roadside.  This is having limited success.  The NFS's next step will be to try to re-locate her and the cubs, but this also could create a stressful situation for the family and put the cubs in danger.  According to the NFS, the final solution would be euthanization.  There has been a large outcry via the internet and Facebook media and finally a dedicated wildlife director was appointed to help oversee Felicia & family's highway crossings. 

I do have to say the time I spent photographing her, most of the photographers were very well behaved and  did not pose any highway obstruction at all.  That said, there were some cars passing by  with cell phones reaching out windows, and they would stop on the side of the road, but the shoulder is quite large (15+ feet wide).   

We'll have to wait to see where this story goes.   There is a Facebook Group that is hoping to  help matters.

Two other mothers made multiple appearances.   Bear #926 a grandchild of 399 had a pair of COY.  She also would show up near a busy highway 89.  But this highway is within the National Park and so the wildlife brigade would come and monitor her appearances and police the tourists.

The last mother (bear #962) only had a single cub, but my group came upon her very early one morning and there was only a handful of us there to photograph them and so it was a very nice interaction for more than 20 minutes.  The little cub was very photogenic.
"Calm down people, I'm only digging for Grubs"

I saw 962 on another day but she was in a heavily wooded area and my only good photos came when she popped out on a hillside in a sage brush area and her cub was typically hidden by the plants.

There was a number of other bears sightings and photographic opportunity, including an episode of "Do bears do it in the woods?"   Well, here is the answer.

Even with snow in May, the bears and flowers are out in the meadows.

There are a lot of animals other than bears, however the bears were the primary subject for this trip.  Elk was plentiful, although some of the ewe's were going into hiding to give birth.   

               Herd of elk on Willow Flats

Moose was another animal where the mothers were just starting to give birth, although I only saw one newborn.

Pronghorns had arrived in the valley, but no babies were seen.

Bison and long horned sheep were the other large animals, that did make a couple appearances, however they often stayed back in far valleys most of the trip,

And there was an assortment of other smaller animals, like coyotes, foxes, a pika, and various birds.  I did get a new first photo of a species on this trip.   A kingfisher in the wild!

And then off course there are always the Landscapes that are as good as they get.

                   Chapel Bay.

                         Oxbow Bend with one of its finest reflections

                     Schwabacher's landing upper beaver pond - see timelapse below

Grand Teton and Pilgrim meadow

Snake River overlook...  

Schwabacher's landing lower beaver pond

                     Jenny Lake

                              OxBow Bend with weather approaching.

              A timelapse of Schwabacher's landing upper beaver pond:

Another wonderful trip to the Grand Tetons.  

A sad reminder:
Unfortunately while I was in the Tetons, one of the bears I photographed was euthanized, since he had become habituated to humans and kept coming back to many residences.   This was one of  610's offspring that she left this spring, which I photographed last year and again on the second day of this trip.  He had started his mischief around homes earlier and authorities captured him, collared him and relocated him to south Yellowstone, however he found his way back within 10 days.  Later on he was found once again in a garage eating birdseed from a container and the decision to euthanize was made.  This is just one of the realities of grizzlies and people.  We need to learn to co-exist.

Lastly, this really saddens my heart.  Bear 962's cub has been lost and no one knows what happened.  Recently (as of 7-4-21) 962 has been seen alone multiple times with a boar in hot pursuit.   Rest in Peace my little friend.



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