Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Grizzly And The Sheep

I've been meaning to write a new post for quite some time now, so apologies for the delay. The last two weeks have been pretty busy for me, and the lack of sleep is really starting to take it's toll!

However, I've had so many amazing experiences since being back in the Rockies, that it's all been worthwhile. I think that in the last six weeks, I've taken better photographs than I did in my entire first year in Canada! Next weeks post will include some of these favourites.

Today's post is about an incredibly rare encounter I had a couple of weeks back. I was out early one morning looking for bears with friend and master of Canadian wildlife photography, John E. Marriott. John's many years of searching for wildlife in the mountains have resulted in an amazing ability to spot animals. I used to think I was good at this, but now I'm not so sure. I dread to think of how many lynx or cougars I've driven past over the last few years, without even realizing they were there.

After a few hours of driving around without seeing anything at all, I was saying something to John about how our luck would change soon and that we would see something amazing one of these days. As soon as I finished my sentence, he stopped the car suddenly and pointed into the trees at the side of the road. I looked up and saw one of the biggest grizzly bears I've ever seen staring down at us from the top of a ridge.

(click on an image to enlarge)

Grizzly bear on a bighorn sheep carcass - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

The bear had just stumbled upon the remains of a bighorn sheep when John spotted him. I'm not sure what killed the sheep, but this early in the year, it was a great find for a hungry bear. As we started taking some photos, the bear put it's head inside the carcass and to our surprise, pulled out an unborn lamb foetus!

Grizzly bear with lamb foetus - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I've heard of a similar sighting in Banff National Park once before, which took place over twenty years ago, but I never thought that I would have the pleasure of witnessing this raw act of nature myself. The umbilical cord was still attached to the lamb and I was able to snap a few frames before the bear turned away from us and lay down to eat his snack.

After he ate the foetus, which only took him about five minutes, the grizzly returned to the carcass and began feeding on the sheep. I've only seen a bear on a carcass once before this and it was quite a distance away. To watch this from just a few meters away was unbelievable.

Grizzly bear feeding on the bighorn sheep - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Look at the size of this grizzly! - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

After feeding on the sheep for another few minutes, the bear decided that it had eaten enough so he left. John and I returned to the carcass several times over the next week but didn't see this monster of a bear again. I fact, we didn't see any other bears anywhere near the carcass which was a surprise. There were no ravens or magpies either which are usually the first to show up on a kill. Then one day the carcass was gone! Only the hide remained. The head and all the meat had vanished overnight, and we had no idea what had eaten it.

About two weeks later, I was browsing through some wildlife photographs on facebook when I saw a photo of a wolf standing over the very same sheep carcass. It was great to finally find out what had happened to the rest of the meat, but I couldn't help feel disheartened that I had missed the wolf. I still hadn't seen a wolf since returning to Canada and I was craving an encounter badly!

Luckily for me, the last week has been kind to me with not one, but two separate wolf encounters. Only one of these encounter yielded a photograph which I'm pleased with and I will be posting that in next weeks post along with some of my other recent favourites.

Unfortunately, I've very nearly run out of money now so I won't be shooting as much over the next few weeks. My main priority now is getting everything set up for my summer market stall which starts at the end of the month. I'm so worried that this postal strike is going to affect the time it takes for my card mounts to arrive from the states. Fingers crossed that I can get everything ready in time!

If you are visiting Banff this summer, don't forget to drop by the market to say hi. I will be selling prints there every Wednesday throughout the summer.

I will also have a petition with me for people to sign. I will be sending copies to Parks Canada as well as Canadian Pacific Railway to show them how many people are unhappy with the animal mortalities along the train tracks in Banff National Park, and with how little is being done to prevent these needless deaths.

If you haven't done so already, I would really appreciate it if you could send a few e-mails to Parks Canada and CPR explaining that this is an unacceptable problem in our protected parks. The relevant contact details can be found in my last blog post 'Another Banff Grizzly Dies'. Please take a few minutes to help make a difference.

Thank you!


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