by Stan Tekiela
March 30, 2012
Photo by Stan Tekiela©
Over the past couple of months I have been working on writing a new book about bears. I love this time of year, because it forces me to sit in front of my computer and write. Thousands of words pour out of my fingertips. Every day I go though my routine of early morning writing. For better or for worse, this is what I do. But sitting behind the computer is just a very small part of the book writing business. Getting out and studying and photographing my subject is what I live for and provides me with the richest education on earth.
A couple days ago I was writing the sections of the book that covers bear dens. What size, shape, location, etc of a bear den. While writing, my mind wondered to some past conversations I've had with a colleague about bear dens, so I gave her a call. Low and behold she told me of a couple dens with bears that she and her family had scouted out on private land during the deer hunting season. Knowing how difficult active bear dens can be to find, I knew I had to plan a visit. Since it was nearly a three hour drive from my house I had to plan my trip carefully.
My colleague and her family were kind enough to meet me in the woods and show me the way to a den. The woods had a fresh blanket of snow but with the paltry snow we've had this season it made traveling easy. After a relatively short walk, I could see a large mound of dirt covered with a light coating of snow. Approaching slowly, I started snapping a few images of the den entrance, I was amazed at the beauty of this den. A large hole in the ground framed perfectly by some roots and rocks. It looked like a picture out of a book. Hey wait, I thought to myself, this will be a picture in a book--my book. Cool.....
Slowly we approached and I got a few more images now looking down into the den entrance. The dirt in the entrance was smooth and clean. Of course I wanted to see if I could get down into the den and get a few images of the bear within, so I got down on my belly and slowly poked my head down inside the den. Sure enough about four feet away was not one but two bears in happy slumber, or so I thought!
I was able to snap a few images making adjustments to my camera on the fly and without being able to see any feed back if I was obtaining any publication quality images. It was then I could see the head of the closest bear lift and start looking at me. It looked to be a fairly large female about 300 or more pounds.
I have been in several other bear dens in the past and have never had any troubles with the hibernating occupant so I wasn't too worried. However right away this bear huffed and puffed at me. If you know anything about hibernating bears at this point you should be saying to yourself, this bear doesn't sound like she is hibernating. And you would be right. During hibernation they are slow and lethargic and really don't do a lot of huffing and puffing. As this thought was going through my head she took a swipe at me with her large front paw sending me up and out of the den.
This gave me a chance to check the images on the back of my camera to see the quality. To my extreme disappointment none of the images would work for the book. I backed off and retreated to my truck to retrieve a different camera to try again. Armed with a different camera and high hopes I returned to the den and once again silently approached the den. I lowered my head and upper body into the den and tried to get my camera to focus in the darkness within the den. Again she huffed and puffed and was swiping at me again sending me back out. Dang, I was hoping for a hibernating bear but apparently the mild winter temperatures has kept the bears from going into a deep hibernation.
I gathered up my courage for one more try. Head first down into the bear den with my camera out in front of me. Snap, snap and then BAM, once again she swiped at me, this time her paw landed on the ground just about 12 inches away from my hands. Ok that was good enough for me. Clearly this bear was uncomfortable with me. Since I always want to keep the best interest of the wildlife first and foremost I gave up. Unfortunately I didn't get any images within the den but I am making plans to return when the temperatures drop and my bear friend drifts off into a deeper hibernation. Wish me luck.
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the US to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on twitter and facebook or at his web page at www.naturesmart.com
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