Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Word from the Khutzeymateen

Ok, so technically, this blog post is more about the drive to the Khutzeymateen rather than my time in the Khutz.  In fact, it's about my incredibly serendipitous first-and-only encounter ever with a mainland white kermode bear! 

I know it's hard for most of you to believe that the guy who's posted wild wolf, wolverine, lynx and cougar shots over the past few years could possibly find something as dull as a white black bear, but I figured I'd start off my Khutzeymateen stories with a pic or two of a spirit bear versus a boatload of pics of grizzlies doing boring stuff like fighting and mating.  Hope you're all ok with that....

When I left for my trip to the Khutzeymateen on May 5th, I purposefully scheduled in three days before my boat trip to explore the Smithers/Terrace/Stewart/Prince Rupert/Kitimat area in north-central British Columbia (a vast swath of wilderness interrupted by the occasional logging road or rural small town) to search for my first mainland kermode bear.  I quickly discovered that it's not quite like going on my Spirit Bear Photography Tour in the Great Bear Rainforest, where often, one simply shows up and waits until a white bear appears.  That trip costs big bucks because of the probability that you will be able to find a white bear; one in every five to ten black bears there is white, thanks to a double recessive gene -- by contrast, exploring the area I was in on the mainland is much more of a crapshoot, where only one in forty or fifty is white.

So the question became, could I find the forty to fifty black bears that would give me the odds of finding one that was white? 

The first few days didn't look good.  Just eight bears, all black. I couldn't even track down any good rumours of white bears, let alone sightings. A few people had seen one "in 2006" or "three years ago down that logging road," but no one had spotted one in the Spring of 2012.

I determined that part of the problem was that these bears were wild, really wild.  Where bears back home in the Rockies often saunter out to the roadsides and have a good feed while a rodeo circus evolves on the pavement beside them, the black bears I was seeing were taking off like a man on fire ever time a vehicle came along.  It wasn't just a casual stroll back into the woods, but rather a panicked fleeing befitting an animal that gets hunted regularly in this part of Canada.

As such, I had just about given up by my third day of searching.  I had decided it was time to head to Prince Rupert to get on with the Khutzeymateen trip, but convinced myself to take one last drive before hitting the pavement again.  And of course, that's when the magic happened.

Driving down a bumpy logging road in the middle of nowhere, I caught a glimpse of something white-ish over a little hill.  I slowed down as quickly and quietly as I could and glanced back.

To my astonishment, a beautiful white bear stood there on a small grassy knoll staring intently at me as if getting ready to run.  In a second I had my lens out of my sunroof and was twisted into position like a pretzel, "Tffttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!" My motor drive banged off quick nine shots in a second and a half, before 'POOF!', the bear vanished down the hill into the forest.

A white kermode bear eyes me warily seconds before disappearing into the forest down the hill

I sat there for a minute, still not even sure I'd just seen what I'd seen. Had that been a kermode, a white bear?  And had I captured it in that flurry of action?  The back of my camera answered both questions for me; it had indeed been a white bear, and I'd definitely nailed the shot!  I had a wave of exhilaration go over me, followed by about fifty whoa-I-can't-believe-that's.

For the next few hours I drove and hiked back in forth in the area hoping for another glimpse, while also somewhat reluctantly acknowledging that my presence there was probably stopping the bear from feeding roadside on the only fresh greenery in the area.  Long before the hours of golden light, I left the area so the bear could feed again.

I didn't return to that spot until after my Khutzeymateen trip concluded on the morning of the 16th.  I scoured that road up and down and sideways, but could find no trace of my beautiful white bear.  I did find a whopping 53 different black bears over the course of four days, but never did see another kermode.

In honour of a special friend of mine that's battling cancer right now, I've decided that I am going to auction off a signed 16x24 unframed print of this white bear image to the highest bidder to help raise funds for him.  If you're interested in bidding, please visit the auction site on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LarryRenshawLarrysLoveLounge If you're not a member of Facebook, yet want to bid on the photo, you can still look at all of the items up for bid and email the auction privately at larryslovelounge@gmail.com to put in a bid.  Bidding currently concludes tomorrow (Friday) at 5 pm MST, though there is a chance we'll be extending it to Monday evening due to the recent surge of donations and bidding activity.

I've also donated a full day in the field with me as a bidding item.  Just you and me, one-on-one, in the field in Banff looking for creatures and scenics from dawn to dusk.  What's that worth to you?  You can check it out here for more details.  And there are a ton of other great items up for bid, including ski passes for Panorama in BC, a golf package in Canmore, handmade furniture, greeting cards, coffee table books, yoga packages, and 90+ more items!

Stay tuned for more Khutzeymateen photos in the days to come and thank you to everyone for all of your support over the years, I really appreciate it.

Happy shooting!

John

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and beautiful creature this is.

May 25, 2012 at 7:23 AM  
Anonymous Richard Seeley said...

congrats, great shot and story.

May 25, 2012 at 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Dallas Architectural Photographer Les Wollam said...

john--

how old are you to keep venturing into the wild like this! i really admire it, and love the pics you bring back.

Dallas Architectural Photographer Les Wollam

May 25, 2012 at 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow what an incredible image John and such a wonderful story with it.
Sounds like you had quite the adventure on this trip
I hope this image makes it in to your next book
Steve Woods

May 26, 2012 at 2:44 AM  

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