For our last day we returned to the falls again. Much to my relief the weather had improved substantially, but it is a double-edged sword. Sunny skies above means mottled lighting below, a most difficult condition for shooting black and white bears. We find the Queen fishing at the falls, her cubs safely treed a short distance away. It is another opportunity for me to try to perfect getting a shot with silky water and the bear in focus. Since this requires shooting at 1/10 second or slower I must wait for her stand still, something a bear seldom does while constantly scanning the white water for a perspective catch. It is a matter of luck and good timing (and many, many failures) before a good result is achieved.
The huge black male has appeared on the scene. He is now between the Queen and the forest where her cubs are treed. Immediately, she runs in front of him, putting herself in severe danger. She is dwarfed by this ominous dark shape, almost twice her size and I fear terribly for her and the cubs. As she crosses in front of him he attacks. She is pinned between him and a large fallen tree, but defiantly returns the attack. The entanglement is ferocious but brief and after whatever was exchanged, again in a language to which I have no conception, they part and go separate ways. The Queen returns to her cubs and the forest.
A while later, I decide to take a ‘nature break’ and tell the guide I will be back shortly. Once relieved, I scan my surroundings enjoying the solitude. A movement catches my eye and a lithe little brown creature freezes on a fallen log. It reminds me of an otter, but its ears are too large and foxlike. A pine marten! With no camera in hand, I make the choice to just observe. Normally, the pine marten is very shy and I am surprised when this one does not flee. I walk back and grab my big lens, and I am just in time to catch him scampering through the grass.
Soon, the Queen reappeared along with her cubs. I have seen many instances with the grizzlies in Alaska, where the female bears will often hang out with photographers, as a safe haven against aggressive male bears. Perhaps this was also the mindset of the Queen, as she brought her family in for some close-up interactions. A young freelance videographer with guiding experience was with us that day. He is set up alongside the river bank when the Queen presents her cubs to us. The cubs immediately go to Troy, and tuck in behind his legs. Mother bear, stands quietly observing, making soft huffs as if to say ‘be careful’, but then goes about her fishing duties leaving Troy to babysit. What an honour!
With mid-day upon us, the bears keep to their usual routine, retreat and leave us for a lunch break. After several hours with no bears, we become complacent and less attentive, chatting amongst ourselves of the days’ events. Then, with ghost-like stealth, the Queen apparates just metres away and behind the person I am chatting to. We quickly regain our composure, faces pressed into our cameras as if at her beck and call.
Two more black bears join in the entourage and they are all just metres away. I do not know which way to shoot, as so many splendid portraits are within my grasp. I have found the perfect location -except for one small detail. I find that I am perched upon a pile of dead and decaying fish and the unpleasant and constantly present stench is somehow amplified to a degree that I must breathe through my mouth and resist the urge to vomit. For those of you that think the life of a nature photographer is somehow romantic, please rejoice in the moment with me, as I fight to keep my lunch down, scratching the many now-infected bug bites, whilst standing in mud-covered rain gear overtop of rotting fish parts.
Not to diminish the incredible smorgasbord of photo ops before me… I took full advantage until the inevitable and unpredictable rhythms of black and Spirit Bear habits soon had them slip away again into their forest lairs. It was time for me to leave as well.
Our final shoot with the Spirit Bears was almost poetic. We arrived at the landing beach just as the ‘golden hour’ of setting sun had cast a warm glow over the cove. A male bear, having just finished his tideline foray, walked along the rocky shore. He paused to look back over his shoulder, and as we bid him farewell, the rim lighting caused his coat to glow.
I was happy that I managed to negotiate the challenging bear trails and slippery river beds without a fall during the whole trip. On the morning of our last day, we spent time in the village photographing the local people and scenery. It was a foggy morning (my favourite) and I walked out along the float plane pier and down to the dock. I carefully edged my way down the ramp and when I hit the bottom both feet slipped out from under me and I found myself flat on my butt, camera still in hand. I looked up from my involuntary sitting position and noticed the sun coming through the fog and a nice composition of fish nets and ropes in the foreground. I spent the next 20 minutes shooting from this position and being thankful for it. Ah, the romantic life of the nature photographer!
- (From Wikipedia) Coastal temperate rainforests are characterized by their proximity to both ocean and mountains. Abundant rainfall results when the atmospheric flow of moist air off the ocean collides with mountain ranges. The size of the Great Bear Rainforest is roughly 32,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi). The Great Bear Rainforest extends from the Discovery Islands in the south to the BC-Alaska boundary in the north. It includes all offshore islands within this range except Vancouver Island and the archipelago of Haida Gwaii. Its northern end reaches up Portland Canal to the vicinity of Stewart. To the south it includes Prince Rupert, most of Douglas Channel, half of Hawkesbury Island, and part of Gardner Canal. Kitimat is outside the region, to the east. Farther south, the region includes all of the coast west and south of the Fiordland Conservancy, Kitlope Heritage Conservancy Protected Area, Tweedsmuir North and Tweedsmuir South Provincial Parks—which includes Dean Channel, Burke Channel, Rivers Inlet, and the communities of Bella Bella, Bella Coola, and Hagensborg. The southern end of the region includes Knight Inlet but not Bute Inlet.