Three weeks ago we returned from ten marvelous, as always, days in our favorite part of the world, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. 2014's marvels included hikes to fascinating locales new to us plus a few favorite places we haven't checked on in a while, our first (at long last) river otter sighting, catching up with beloved friends, and a photo ops galore. Premier among the wildlife-sightings was our favorite grizzly bear 399, known to her fans as Queen, or Lady, of the Tetons. She is the exceptionally fecund bear that likes to bring up her young broods near the roads in the 5-1/2 mile region spanning two visitor areas, Colter Bay and Jackson Lake. Last year we relished watching her three new triplets play along a side-road just far enough away to be considered safe. Indeed, 399 was wholly focused on eating grasses, roots, flowers, insects and worms while the kids alternately nibbled and grubbed and cavorted, all ignoring their thrilled paparazzi.
We got up early on our third morning to go look for wildlife, which is really just code for "look for bears." Only a mile or two down the main road we could see the indubitable sign of wildlife activity ahead: many dozens of cars parked along both the shoulders and people all running in the same direction, more or less loaded down with camera gear. Who should be eating and playing along the south side of the road but our most familiar and favorite grizzly, 399 and two year-old cubs. This how we learned that one of the three had not survived the winter. Big fierce muscular grizzlies, especially young ones, it turns out, are in fact very fragile and at high risk for death before they are sufficiently mature to reproduce. It's not known what happened to the third cub, though there is speculation that before the bears even denned for the winter it was separated from its mother. In their first and second years, grizzly cubs cannot survive alone, especially as winter approaches. Although they can feed themselves plant and insect material and eat from carcases (and, alas, human food supplies and garbage, though this no longer happens in Yellowstone/Tetons) they come across, they still need their mother to hunt meat for them and occasionally, to nurse them. In this photo, one of 399's axillary mammaries is clearly visible behind her left foreleg. Note her nice grizzly-style claws, too.
People often ask how close I was when I take these kinds of pictures. Here's a wide angle on this scene. Although it looks like there are no longer a lot of people around, in fact the rangers do not allow people to pull over near the bears, so as the family gradually migrated from one side of the road to to the other, to the pond, and along the grassy hill, the rangers regularly barked orders to the watchers to back up, and eventually, to move their cars well down the road as well. In this picture I am at the vanguard of a large crowd of photographers (many blessed with much better glass than I) with maybe 50 or 70 cars behind us.
since I first spotted them in 2006. This year we were lucky to see the family twice more before we left the park, though never as clearly nor for such a prolonged and fruitful bear-watching session. The rangers were certainly harried, and many park visitors contentious about not being allowed to just stop and get out of their cars, especially along a crowded intersection later in the day such that there was a great deal more traffic to contend with. It concerns me that the bears are utterly nonchalant about traffic, and so many people are either oblivious to their need for distance or alternately, not interested in seeing the bears and aggressively trying to get past the "mayhem," both set-ups for bear and/or people disasters.
3 weeks ago