Sunday, November 14, 2010

Black Bear

I have had quite a few encounters with black bears over the years but no good pictures to show for them. Two encounters stand out. First was when we were on vacation with the family in Olympic National Park. A black bear ran across the road in front of our car and I got out, camera in hand to follow it. Judy was quite upset with me (she envisioned the bear having me for dinner), but I was not to be deterred, it is not often an opportunity like that presents itself. I followed the bear for five or ten minutes and got a number of pictures, but none of them turned out too well - poor lighting and obstructed views. Particlarly fun was seeing it reach into low-lying tree branches for some kind of nuts or berries. The picture below is about as good as any I got of it.
The second encounter was at 11,000+ feet on Mount San Gorgonio. I was hiking toward the summit when a scrawny bear started to run about 20 or 30 yards from me. It took me a few seconds to fish my camera with a telephoto lense out of my pack and then I couldn't get a picture of it. I followed it up and over a ridge, but could not find it again. Another prime opportunity wasted. 

I've seen bears on three or four occasions driving on our mountain roads early in the morning or in the evening, when lighting or road conditions are not conducive for pictures. Specifically, I recall a large bear on the road up towards Angelus Oaks on my way for an early morning hike up Mount San Bernardino and another large bear on the road after leaving Mount Baden-Powell  after Judy picked me up from a 30 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Andrew and I were camped at over 11,000 feet, just below Kearsarge Pass, in the Sierras years ago. We were nearly at timber-line, all the vegetation consisted of bent over limber pines. I figured we were too high for bears (that was before my experience on Mount San Bernardino). We laid out a tarp and slept on it under the stars. We placed our packs at our feet. In the morning when we woke up, Andrew's pack was gone. He finally found it about 50 yards from where we slept, ripped open and the contents strewn about. A sardine can had a tooth indent in it and the marauding bear had gotten into Andrew's red drink powder (perhaps Koolaid) and red slime was all over his pack from the powder mixed with bear slobber. It was quite gross. Andrew did the rest of his hike with a ripped up pack, mended with duct tape and a film of red slobber, and donated food items to suupplement what he had left. What amazed us was that we never heard the bear and it was right at our feet.

On a hike with our young men between Lake Silverwood and the Cajon Pass, we found bear scat full of berries from some sort of berries that were ripe along the trail. The large seeds are very evident.
I have seen black bears in Yellowstone as a young boy and in Jasper National Park, including three cubs high in a tree.

Someday, I still hope to get a good bear picture.

Updated: October 30, 2013

On October 26, 2013, we took the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, entering at Swift Run Gap, about mile marker 65, and exiting at Rockfish Gap, about mile marker 105. Around mile marker 79 we spotted a black bear in a tree devouring berries. We stopped and for about the next 45 minutes I took photos in low 30 degree temperatures, loving every minute of it and not feeling the cold at all. The lighting was poor and the photos are not the best, but they are far better than any other black bear photos I've taken. So I present my favorites of over 100 photos I took that morning:
Shrouded by small branches, but the outline of a bear.
Reaching up and then climbing to a new branch.
A little more definition as it gets out from behind the small branches.
Claws are visible as it sits on a branch.
Muzzle definition and thick fur.
Fuzzy by light, but more definition.
Much better light, but still shrouded by branches.
It looks very small compared to the size of our California black bears, but I believe it is an adult. They just grow them smaller back east.
The berries the bear is after are visible in this closeup shot.


  1. "Here lies what's left of Bob Cannon. He finally got his good bear picture."

  2. I have never seen black bears. I only seen brown bears in alaska and this is one the my best trip. Pictures of black bear are wonderful. Thanks.
    alaska bear tours