Yellowstone Grizzlies

quad mom, grizzly sow

Grizzly Sow With Cubs : Prints Available

 "Quad mom", a Yellowstone grizzly sow who had four cubs in 2010, rests on a hillside with the two surviving cubs, now sub-adults. I had just watched these rather large bears breast feed in the sage. They'll be on their own soon and the sow will mate again.

I just returned from two weeks in Yellowstone National Park, where I was working on my Sage Spirit book project. I was mostly focused on grizzly bears that are in the lower elevation sagebrush flats and meadows in spring. As summer heats up, it’s more difficult to find grizzlies as they move higher. I visited “Quad mom” every day for the first week, observing the sow and her two surviving, and nearly grown cubs foraging in the sagebrush on Swan Lake Flats for hours each day. The bears would rock back and forth as they pulled on roots and dug for bugs, bulbs, rodents – anything to satisfy an omnivorous appetite. They spent a couple of days on a bison carcass across the meadow a half mile distant. I only saw the sow and sub-adult cubs one more time after they ran to the forest one evening. Maybe she sent the cubs out on their own and prepared to mate? We’re fortunate to be able to observe these noble creatures – long may they roam!

Three grizzly bears – “Quad Mom” and cubs sniff the air in near darkness. The sow stood before the bears ran full speed for the forest. Ursus arctos horribilis

quad mom, grizzly bear, swan lake flats

Running Bears : Prints Available

 In near darkness, a grizzly bear sow and her two year old cubs run from Swan Lake Flats. The sow, known as "Quad mom" gave birth to four cubs in 2010. The two survivors, now sub-adults will be on their own in 2012 as the sow prepares to mate again. What were they running from? A large boar was seen in the meadow a few days after and she may have been protecting her cubs from him. Ursus arctos horribilis

This grizzly boar was seen in the meadow two days after the sow and two cubs ran for the forest. Marla and I watched him travel the length of Swan Lake Flats to a bison carcass at the edge of the willows, pausing to sniff the air, then turning and rapidly heading to the carcass. We thought he was there to feed; but he rolled in the carcass, then emerged with a blond female grizzly. She led him uphill, traversing from sage to forest, then back to the sage where we watched them mate until they faded into night.

grizzly bear, gibbon meadows

Grizzly In Trees : Prints Available

 A large grizzly bear travels through stands of trees in Gibbon Meadows while foraging on a spring evening.
Ursus arctos horribilis

grizzly bear, endangered species

Grizzly Portrait : Prints Available

 Although the direct stare of a grizzly bear is intimidating, this bear was moving from one foraging spot to another. We watched him turn over rocks and dig for forty-five minutes before he ambled into the forest. The grizzly bear is a keystone predator and an endangered species. Ursus arctos horribilis
Marla brought good luck in the second week and we shared a great experience watching this beautiful bear that was unconcerned with photographers nearby.

Even grizzly bears need to take a break…

38 thoughts on “Yellowstone Grizzlies

  1. What a grand collection of grizzly bear photos! I was thrilled to be able to experience this with you. Love, Your Good Luck Charm

  2. Dave and Marla,
    Wow, thanks for sharing your great photos of the grizzlies…love them and your dedication to bringing nature to everyone. Your message is so needed.

    1. Thanks a lot Eva. It’s joyful to share the images and the story behind them. I was mindful throughout that these bears represent the true wild that remains in the West. So powerful, the top predator (other than humans), yet vulnerable unless we protect enough habitat so the great bears have freedom to roam.

    1. Thank you, JB! Yep, I’m thinking front country bear photography is cool. But it’s amazing how many people hike the Yellowstone backcountry without bear spray. Yikes!

    1. Thanks Jackson – I too am drawn to big animals in a much bigger landscape.Puts things in perspective, particularly when you consider that each bear needs 30 square miles.

  3. Dave,
    Wonderful images. I am glad your two weeks were productive. I love the running bears right at dark; great work.
    Thanks for your efforts on behalf of “the wild”.

    1. Thank you, Bob for sharing your “backyard” and the magic of Yellowstone. We had a great day of exploring, stoking the fire for the next expedition. It’s funny that our chance meeting happened by wandering over to your truck to see if the black spot on the mountainside was a bear butt. Keep chasing the good light!

  4. The second image with them all standing erect and sniffing the air is my favorite. I’ve not had the fortune to photograph any bears but would enjoy that opportunity. Your post reminds me how important it is to just observe animals in their daily struggle in life. Each day is about surviving and some do not make it through that day. The best classrooms are in our natural world. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

    1. Thank you for your poignant comment, Monte. I couldn’t have said it any better. Two of the “Quad mom’s” cubs didn’t make it, yet we see these remaining sub-adults ready to grow up to be full-grown grizzly bears and raise cubs of their own. The risk when posting a bunch of bear photos is the illusion of abundance; that coupled with a strong recovery and some conflicts outside of the park, leads some to shout for de-listing and a hunting season. The reality is that the park is the only place where a photographer can make grizzly bear images in a finite amount of time. They live secretive lives elsewhere, like the Absaroka Front, offering occasional glimpses into their lives, and I’m grateful to even see a footprint or a tuft of hair on a branch. We don’t know how grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will respond to the loss of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and white bark pine nuts long term, whether they’ll find new protein sources and continue their recovery. The National parks simply aren’t big enough to sustain the wildlife that make our visits rich and memorable. It’s critical that the great bears, the tens of thousands of elk, threatened bighorn sheep, declining mule deer, pronghorn, wolves, and migrating birds have a home base at Yellowstone and Grand Teton, with freedom to roam throughout the ecosystem. A new culture that values functioning, sustainable ecosystems without imaginary lines drawn around alpine wonderlands is what’s needed in the West.

  5. I really love your two shots at dusk. The “spirit” in those images captures well the power and the mystery of Yellowstone’s grizzlies and brings back some special memories being mesmerized by similar twilights on Swan Lake Flats a few years back.

    1. Thanks Ed, I find that space betweeen light and darkness fascinating and we know so little about animal movements after dusk. Photographically, we have tools that allow us to explore the edges and I hope to do more.

  6. Amazing photos…Loved them & your descriptions!…Seems a little dangerous to a city boy like me…Hope you were 1/2 mile away with a telephoto lens

    1. Thanks, and yeah I was a respectful distance… and there were other photographers, sometime rangers around. If anyone has ever seen a Yellowstone bear jam, it’s quite a spectacle. The bears were very chilled out and focused on eating. I use a 600mm lens that is sometimes paired with a 1.4x teleconverter, which gives everyone some space. The last thing I want to do is stress out a gorgeous grizz.

  7. Hi Dave,
    These Grizzly Bear photos are beautiful. Denny forwarded your blog site to me because he knew I’d be interested in these amazing photos and the terrific work you continue to do! How wonderful that you were able to share this special experience with Marla. I enjoyed all your Grizzly photos, but I have to say the photo of the big male, I believe, just sitting back relaxing is special. Your photo descriptions as well as your blog comments are very detailed and meaningful. It’s great to see people like you working towards educating the public so they realize these great animals are a limited resource that should be respected and taken care of. After all, aren’t we the ones who are creeping into their habitat as opposed to the other way around? Great work, Dave. I’m so glad you found your passion! It beats the heck out of selling screws :). Talk to you soon.
    Dave Andersen

    1. Thanks Dave, for your kind and thoughtful comments. If the response to this post is any indication, maybe we can channel our energies to sharing, educating, and telling elected officials and lands managers that the wild matters, that you can’t just chop, fragment, compartmentalize, and draw lines around mountain ranges, that the whole business – from the sage to the highest peaks, from where the great rivers start as a trickle are all connected. Ecosystems are only as healthy as the predator poplulations, and grizzly bears exemplify that. The kicked back grizz? She’s a five year old female in great health and expected to mate this season.

  8. Dave, that was a great blog with some very cool photos. I’ve seen black bear in the wild but never grizz. Thanks for sharing those photos! Glad your trip was successful and that you made it back safely.

  9. Holy bazooka Batman! A 600mm with a 1.4 teleconverter! That is about as close as I would want to get too. Nice setup and nice work! Gorgeous images.

  10. Hey Dave,

    As always I enjoy seeing your work. I like all of these, but a couple stand out.

    First off, the one of them running is cool. It reminds me of a modern art class I took in college. The professor always advised art wasn’t necessarily about how a pieced looked but what emotions/feelings it cultivated in the viewer. The color, the movement, you can feel the bears exhilaration. Nice work.

    I also like last one of the grizzly taking a break. We went to the zoo ( I know that is blasphemy around these parts – it was a free trip if that helps) this past weekend. The brown bears they had reminded so much of Bailey (our Cocker Spaniel for others who may read this). Anyway, despite their size, power and predatory nature their is something innately sweet about these animals. That picture captures that essence perfectly. (The splash of fall color and depth of layers is dope as well)

    Keep up the good work. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Josh, Louise, Jay, J, and Mike G! And Josh, I appreciate the feedback on the running bears and the relaxed sow. I’m really happy with the running bears shot too – it was a special moment that challenged my ability to make an image in the dark, panning with a big lens at 1/15th of a second. In a flash those bears were up the side of a mountain and gone. Power, speed and grace. Zoos do important outreach, education, and conservation work and provide an important connection to wildlife, especially for kids. Thanks for the thoughful comments.

  11. I love grizzly bears. I know they are wild, huge, unpredictable, and dangerous, but they still seem like great big dogs I would like to hug. I love the shot of them standing around in the near darkness. The twilight is my favorite kind of lighting and they just look so impressive standing out there. As always beautiful pictures of beautiful creatures. Love you! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Kells, very sweet of you to contribute here – and you’re right. There was a point when I was watching the sow who’s “taking a break”. She was really close and all fuzzy, and for a moment I forgot that she’s a grizzly bear, that wild creature of our nightmares, right? She was eating grass and looked quite huggable. It’s important that we see predators as multi-dimensional and complicated, just like the rest of the world. Sure they command our respect, hopefully our admiration as well. Love you too.

  12. Your pictures have us looking forward to seeing Yellowstone again in September. I was last there seven years ago with Jessica and remember a traffic jam where dozens of people were gathered near a cub on a hillside, looking around for the mother. We didn’t stick around for what should have been. They are beautiful, graceful and thrilling to see. Thank you.

  13. I’ve been looking on you site for some flyfishing photos. Seems like you told me about some shot around Cody?

  14. Wow, Dave. Absolutely stunning photos. The photos, coupled with our conversation with you and Marla the other night, make them even more meaningful. Thank you for your commitment and hard work. It certainly translates to spectacular images.

    1. Hi Sally and Greg! Thanks very much for your kind words and interest in my conservation photography. It’s a team effort and we enjoyed “lingering” with you two Saturday night.

  15. HI Dave,

    I love the second picture, “Three grizzly bears” are you going to sell it ? I would love to have, at least, a high definition version.

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