Playful predator in fall foliage
After almost 10 years, I returned to one of my favorite places to film and photograph the largest land predator in the world. The only known animal to actively hunt people to eat. An animal so big that the adult males can weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds. That’s right, you read that correctly. I am talking about the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus).
As I mentioned, it has been almost 10 years since I last traveled to the sub-arctic to see and photograph Polar Bears. The last time I was there was in early winter, snow blanketed the ground, and the temperatures were well below zero. In fact, several mornings where -32° F. This time, I went in mid-September, and I was hoping to catch the tundra in its autumn splendor. I got lucky and hit the fall colors perfectly, and to top it off, the Polar Bears did not disappoint.
I flew into a remote area of northern Manitoba, Canada, where I met up with a couple friends and a guide, who was there to keep us from being eaten by a Polar Bear while we were busy operating the camera gear. The days were pleasant with scattered sun and a light breeze. Not good weather for Polar Bears, since they like the cold and snow.
But, on the fourth day, we woke to heavy clouds and a strong wind from the northeast. The day looked promising for a good Polar Bear encounter. We traveled many miles by an off-road vehicle, down rut-ridden roads, stopping at any good vantage point to get out and scout the area by binoculars. Just when we thought we might go a day without seeing a bear, we spotted what looked like a large, white rock on the shore of the Hudson Bay.
We quickly set up our camera gear and tried to get comfortable. The wind was brutal, and we tried to hide behind a rock outcropping for some shelter, but nothing seemed to help with the wind. At this time of year, the Polar Bears are waiting for the ice to form on the Hudson Bay, so they can move out onto the ice pack and hunt seals. This means the bears often sleep for several days before getting up and moving around, but we were willing to wait it out and see how it goes. And, this bear looked like a big male, so we were willing to wait and see what happens.
A couple hours later, the bear started to roll around on his back. His huge paws waving in the air as he rolled back and forth. Since he was in some short vegetation, the images were not great. We whispered about how it would be amazing if the bear woke up and walked up onto a rock wall, with the Hudson Bay in the background, and then move over to an area where the autumn colors of the tundra would contrast perfectly with the white bear.
And, just as if he heard us, the bear got up and shook off. He looked around and started to walk towards the rock outcropping we hoped he would climb, and sure enough he did. No one said a word. The wind was blowing over 25 mph and light rain was causing some issues with the camera gear. I had to stop frequently to wipe off the front element of my lens and clear the view finder so I could see what I was filming.
The bear slowly and deliberately climbed up this large cliff face and started heading right to the spot where the tundra met the rock cliff. The bear stopped often and looked around allowing for great video and pictures. Eventually, he made his way over towards us and right into the blazing colors of the tundra plants. No one could believe what was happening.
This bear looked to be a younger male, coming in around 900 pounds. So, not a huge bear, but a very respectful-sized boy. As the bear moved closer, our guide, who was armed with at least three different bear deterrents to keep us safe, stepped up, and we all gathered together so we looked bigger as a group. The bear moved into the perfect spot and sat down. He then proceeded to play with a small bush. He grabbed the branches of the bush with his mouth and pulled it right out of the ground with shocking ease. It was obvious how powerful this bear was. He took the branches in his mouth and then rolled onto his back and started playing. Again, no one said a word and just concentrated on the job at hand.
This went on for about 30 minutes. He then got up and shook off again and climbed up onto the rock wall into an area that was protected by the crazy wind and light rain. He laid down and fell asleep. We were all stunned and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Let’s just say, that evening we had a few beers and toasted our Polar Bear friend. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the world to capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.instagram.com and www.facebook.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.