Sunday, March 17, 2013

Polar Bears- Days Eight, Nine and Ten

Days 8-10
Day Eight:
The forecast lied. It was supposed to be sunny and warm up. Instead it got windy and really cold!

 A video team from CBC showed up a couple days ago. They are filming a program called 'Wild Canada' that should broadcast sometime in 2014. They gathered some great polar bear footage in the few days up at Wapusk National Park. They also did some amazing Northern lights time lapse videos. Today the winds picked up and the snow was blowing hard across the tundra in  the morning so our images were a little soft. They died down in the afternoon and we had a good evening of shooting as the cubs played on the bank. After supper the northern lights were pretty impressive so a few of us had fun with them as well.

Day Nine:
The winds continued and didn’t die down and was brutally cold out. The bears were smarter than we were and didn’t leave the earth den all day. Day nine was the first and only day that we didn't at least get a glimpse of the bears.

Day Ten:
The family hunkered down and slept for most of the day. Again it was really cold today! Mom got up for a little stretch in the early afternoon, looked around then cuddled up in the snow bank again and went back to sleep. Finally at around 5:30p.m. mom got up and went for a walk. We had our best active series with great light during this walk about. Her walk probably lasted for about 20 minutes. One of the photographers who had come in from China must have been careless with his gloves because by the time the shoot was over, he had a thumb that was so badly frostbitten that it had turned black. One of the doctors in the group was pretty certain that he would lose at least part of his thumb.
In the past three days the weather has been in the neighbourhood of -50 degrees with the wind chill making changing batteries and memory cards really painful. Anytime we touched the metal cameras the cold metal burned our fingers through our gloves. I had to take off my glove to change my memory card during the last series of photographing the bears walking. My timing couldn’t have been worse and just from the couple minutes that it took to change the card, my hands turned bright red and are still red two days later. Our hands got so cold that our dexterity became very limited making it difficult to even change a card. In fact my thumbs and first two digits are still quite tender to touch as I type this. A minute or two of changing memory cards, then a minute or two of handling the camera and changing camera settings and my hands were really burning. As usual, this has been a learning experience and I will go back next year with more ideas on how to keep warm while handling the cameras.

Although we only saw the one family this year. In previous years we would have decent photography opportunities on average about 30% of the days out. This year we saw this family on nine out of our ten photo days. The mom liked to take her cubs for walks and the cubs were really active. They loved to spar, chase one another and climb trees making for some pretty great photography opportunities. This family was rare in a lot of ways. Normally the families will only stay around for a few hours or a day or two once they leave the den, but the trackers and photographers have been watching this family since February 20th. Most bears also like to keep their distance from us, where this bear liked to come to check us out and the guides would have to discourage them by driving a van or ski-doo between them and the photographers if they came too close.

I hope they make their journey out to Hudson Bay soon as I can't imagine how long momma bear can live off a few bites of tundra moss daily.

This year would have been a great year for videographers. The cubs loved to climb trees, but their methods for getting down were less than graceful. They would climb up about 6 or 7 feet, then climb down a couple feet and just drop the remaining four feet. Tuck and roll. That is pretty much how they jumped off snow banks too. The antics were somewhat lost in still footage, but would be really entertaining in video.

This year was my best polar bear year yet by a long shot. I may be spoiled for next year now, but after a slow year last year, I will take what nature gives us and hope for the best.

Visit my wildlife photography website for more images of polar bears from previous years.

1 comment:

  1. Polar Bears are one species becoming severely stressed by global warming, as their habitat changes and their seal hunting, on which their lives depend, is hampered. Plans are being made to semi-domesticate some polar bear clans by artificially supplementing their food, in hopes that they will not become extinct by the time humans (optimistically) reverse global warming.