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Fall 2011 Photo Tour Results — Be Sure You Get My Good Side

October 26, 2011
Say Cheese!, David Thompson Country

Say Cheese!, David Thompson Country

The Canadian Rockies are excellent for wildlife viewing, as most people know or presume. Yet because animals have their own movement patterns, driven by their own needs or whims, it’s tough to guarantee a sighting of any particular species, let alone a good photo opportunity on any given day. (For someone who makes it look easy, check out the web site of Canmore-based John E. Marriott.) Still, when good fortune serves up such an opportunity, it’s important to be ready for it.

That’s why one of our tips when out on a photo tour is to always keep a camera body with a mid-range telephoto zoom lens close at hand, especially inside the vehicle in case we see something interesting while driving along. Animals will rarely wait for you while you get out, pop the trunk or unzip a photo pack in the back seat, and fumble around swapping bodies & lenses. In fact, getting out or even cracking the door often can be a bad move, spooking the subject back into the safety of the woods. Typically you’ll have a few seconds, or perhaps a few minutes if lucky, and so chance favors the prepared mind is a good adage to apply beforehand by making sure a camera is ready to go and within reach. (If a good viewing opportunity comes up and a camera isn’t at hand, consider just sitting back and watching with appreciation, rather than fussing around with gear and losing both the enjoyment and the photo op.)

Case in point, this nice looking Grizzly Bear encountered on our recent Fall 2011 Photo Tour! We had finished up an afternoon of photography with a stand of golden aspen further up the Icefields Parkway, and were heading back to our base at Aurum Lodge for the evening meal. Coming along a certain stretch of the David Thompson Highway, we could see a few cars stopped up ahead, and a dark shape on the side of the road along the edge of the trees. Sure enough, it was a Grizzly, the first one I’ve seen on this road. (Usually I see Black Bears, always cool enough in their own right.) Since a “bear jam” of vehicles was already developing, even though there’s not much traffic along this highway, we didn’t stay very long. But we did take a few minutes to get a few shots as the bear steadily moved along the edge of the forest. I can tell you, even from inside the vehicle, the animal had a pretty imposing physical presence, especially when eye contact appeared to take place! From the movements of the bear’s head and snout, we could tell it was sniffing us out, too.

Vehicles — yes, we certainly didn’t exit the vehicles. Around wildlife, especially big ones like this, it’s important to think of safety — not just your own, but also that of the animal. Human / wildlife encounters can often end up with a sad — usually fatal — outcome for the animal, either at the time or some point in the future, regardless of what happens to the humans. Most times I don’t stop for roadside encounters like this, to stay clear of the “bear jam” phenomenon as well as to avoid adding any further human or vehicle acculturation to the experience of the animal. I broke my rule of thumb in this case, but we moved on when a pearl-white Cadillac Escalade started moving somewhat erratically / aggressively around the group of vehicles, while a passenger inside popped away with a point & shoot digicam. I support anyone’s right to responsibly enjoy wildlife viewing, but the key word is responsibly. Usually when a bear jam (or moose jam, wolf jam, etc.) develops, it takes only a few minutes for common sense to go out the window with someone. Fortunately in this case, nobody got out of their car to chase the bear on foot along the grassy verge, which I’ve seen several times before.

Anyway, our group got some good images of this bear and then we headed along back to the lodge as planned. It had been a great day of photography already, and we felt even more exhilarated by this glimpse of one of North America’s most impressive animal species. Here’s to you, grizz, long may you roam! See the photo results posted earlier from tour participant Barry Ryziuk for another look at this bear.

Have an opinion on stopping for roadside animal views or photographs? Just like seeing bears? Wish the animal would move out of your landscape shot? Share your thoughts…

Here's Looking At You, David Thompson Country

Here's Looking At You, David Thompson Country

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 27, 2011 09:21

    This is a subject that I feel strongly about. Animals like grizzly bears — or indeed, any creature — were not put here for our personal enjoyment. Too often, people act like they are at a zoo with some of the aggressive tracking behaviours that you describe. I especially detest that trophy mentality whereby the photographer cares nothing at all for the animal but is more interested in the back pats and accolades they get when the put their trophy print on a wall. I think, as viewers of wildlife images, we should hold photographers up to a higher standard (and as photographers, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard). Next time you see an amazing wildlife image, ask the shooter: was this taken ethically, with the animal’s well-being foremost in mind? Did you get too close, pursue or otherwise stress the animal? Was this animal baited? Was it flashed? Did your actions contribute to a ‘bear jam’ or similar group of people that got out of hand and pressed the animal?

    As a photo guide, I think you struck the right balance in giving your participants access to a wonderful moment while ensuring the safety of your shooters and the health of the bear as much as possible. In general, thinking less of our images and our needs and just giving animals more space and privacy would be a welcome change in attitude for all visitors to nature.

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