California Grizzly: Lost Icon

California Grizzly: Lost Icon

The bear is gone, but an echo still exists.

Ursus arctos californicus.

On our state flag. On the sports fields of our schools and universities. On the labels of our beer and wine bottles. This exhibition explores that echo in the form of grizzly bears from afar. The California grizzly shared many characteristics with its still surviving cousins in North America. The images depicted in this exhibition are taken from that ursine stock, prominently featured is the Alaskan brown bear, which the California Grizzly was especially akin.

The Grizzly, emblem of California, was once numerous and dominant, is no more, and unable to tell its own story. This collection of natural history photos attempts to explore how this iconic beast would fit into the scenes of the San Francisco Bay area.


To explore the lost icon of California and how it relates to us today. Does it even matter? And should you even care that the icon emblazoned across California’s finest institutions is gone forever? Exterminated, extirpated, made extinct by the modern California man.

Range of Ursus arctos: Former and Present

Photo Locations

Brooks River, Alaska, Katmai National Park
Margot Creek, Alaska, Katmai National Park
Naknek Lake, Alaska, Katmai National Park
MikFik Creek, Alaska
McNeil River, Alaska
Denali National Park, Alaska
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Glacier National Park, Montana

Not a California Grizzly
B1: An average of 6 men are killed yearly in California by grizzly bears, many more injured. “Almost all of these hurt or killed by a grizzly was trying to hunt it and enraged the beast by stinging it with a bullet.” – JS Hittel, 1863 
B2: “If you play with a bear, you must take the bear’s play.” A common saying in old California; and appreciated in full by those who tussled with California grizzlies.
B3: A group of 10 Spanish Californians, with a relay of horses, “lassoed and killed forty bears in one night” at the cattle slaughtering ground near the town of Mountain View.
B4: Bear and bull fights were held all-over early California, including San Jose. San Francisco sponsored this event until the 1860s. Monterey’s last official Bear and Bull fight was in 1881.

B5: Our home, the community of Mountain View and surrounding areas, was teeming with grizzly bears in former times.

F1A: The grizzlies of California probably resembled their counterparts elsewhere in North America, given some similarities in food resources and the landscape in the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia.
F1B: Bear traps, made of redwood, were still visible as recent as 1952, in the Santa Lucia mountains of Monterey County. Perhaps to this day there still exists physical evidence in these hills of the California grizzly?
F1C: The largest stock of information about the California Grizzly come from hunting narratives. Accounts of “How I killed the bear” in 1800s California are as verbose as they are today, when describing similar episodes in other regions.
F1D: “Youth yet unborn will pole up the Missouri with Lewis and Clark, or climb the Sierras with James Capen “Grizzly” Adams, and each generation in turn will ask: Where is the big white bear?”
F2A: 1924- When the last grizzly sighted in California was shot in Sequoia National Park. Less than 100 years ago and within the span of a human’s lifetime.
F2B: The grizzly is exceptionally agile with its paws. It can strike like a sledgehammer, and move boulders. It boxes with lightning-like rapidity….or it feels an itch, it will daintily use but one claw to gently scratch.
F2C: Grizzlies regularly made a habit of cleaning up the beaches of the carrasses that washed ashore, making grizzlies the major beach sanitarians of early California.
F2D: Before the arrival of Europeans, it is estimated that California had 10,000 grizzlies living alongside 130,000 Natives, making for an interesting bear-to-man ratio.
F2E: The hills surrounding Mountain View once provided the shelter needed by mother bears for their dens. There is a cave near Skunk Hollow, Santa Clara county that served as the maternity den for countless grizzly moms and their cubs.
F3A: In 1857, Grizzly Adams built a grizzly trap northwest of Crystal Springs and captured bear cubs he used in his San Francisco menagerie.
F3B: In Sept 1861, on Black Mountain in Santa Clara county, the state botanist reported seeing an abundance of grizzly tracks navigating through the chaparral.
F3C: In March 1776, the Anza expedition was making its way north up the SF peninsula and in the hills west of Millbrae and he saw many bears.
F3D: California’s state grass “Purple Needlegrass” was referred to as “beargrass” in the 1800s, perhaps because it was eaten by bears in spring, as sedges are today in Alaska coast regions.
F3E: The grizzly was a paradox. Attacked in the wild by man it was a deadly adversary, yet when left alone and with an abundant and consistent supply of food resources, it could be as docile as a sheep.
F3F: Starting in 1854, the salmon cannery industry grew rapidly in the Bay Area. In 1864 one cannery packed 2,000 48-lb cases of salmon, increasing to 200,000 cases by 1882. By 1916 all SF Bay commercial fishing operations had ceased

L1: Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there.
L2: In 1909 there were grizzlies in every major mountain mass, today only four states have any at all. There seems to be a tacit assumption that if grizzlies survive in Canada and Alaska, that is good enough. It is not good enough for me…
L3: In 1841, an observer noted that grizzlies were “an almost hourly sight” in the Sacramento Valley and that “it was not uncommon to see 30 or 40 a day”. Many other early observers recorded similarly remarkable descriptions of grizzly bear abundances.
L4: Only those able to see the pageant of evolution can be expected to value its theater, the wilderness, or its outstanding achievement, the grizzly.
L5: Aldo Leopold, through some of his writing, discusses ideas for why it matters the California Grizzly is gone. He promotes a nuanced thought process about appreciating your own backyard as much as you appreciate faraway, exotic locations.

O1: During 1850, a traveler en route between San Jose and Santa Cruz measured a bear track that was 14 by 8 inches in the chaparral. This print measures 14 by 11.
O2: The California Grizzly was a strong swimmer. In fact, in 1827 a boat near Angel Island in San Francisco Bay came upon one swimming that attempted to board the boat.
O3: In 1602 Father Ascension, Vizcaino expedition, was the first European to write about the California Grizzly. While in Monterey he saw California grizzlies, noting that they came to the shore at night to feed on the carcass of a whale that had washed up.
O4: Sometimes Mountain Lions would be taken in the live traps designed to catch grizzlies for the arena. When this happened a bear-and-lion fight would be arranged, as occurred in Castroville in 1865.

S1: The California Grizzly fished for river salmon…For instance, bears were said to come down at night to [Mountain View] streams, such as Steven’s Creek, when the salmon and steelhead ran.
S2: Spawning streams were already being destroyed as early as the Gold Rush days by hydraulic gold mining, railroad construction and lumbering operations. These activities left many streams badly silted or blocked by debris
S3: Grizzlies in coastal Alaska regularly fish the inlets for salmon, and those in California probably had similar ways. Bears were observed using their paws to fish along the coast in San Mateo County. 
S4: The livestock brought by white men proved a temporary boon to the bear population, and campaigns to exterminate the grizzlies sealed its eventual fate in 1924 of extinction in California.
S5: Aborigine and beast were competitors for the same kinds of food, a state of affairs that was bound to bring conflict at certain times of year.
Farewell and thanks. Please see for more information, print sales, and works cited.
Thank you to Ariana (@arianakamprad) for helping design the exhibition’s title card and California bear flag motif artwork!

Arctic Blast

Day 2 of the 7 day Photo Challenge
Arctic Blast
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
A red fox braces against the wind during a Manitoba blizzard. The high winds kicked up a lot of snow and decreased the visibility. To make this photo, I stopped down the lens to increase the depth of field, in case an errantsnowflake threw the autofocus off and waited for a lull in the gusts for a clear shot. The intensity of the winds can be observed by the horizontal streaks cutting across the frame. The fox’s bushy tail behaved more like a sail, and would catch the wind, altering its trajectory, making it move kind of sideways across the tundra. Note the beautiful lichens growing on the exposed part of the rock.
Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM, handheld
1/200s; f/10; 600mm; ISO1600

On my second day I nominate Meril Darees ofMnmwow – Wildlife Photography. Meril is a world class wildlife photographer and one of my closest friends. I have spent thousands of hours shooting with him in the field: Churchill, Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies, California, Svalbard, and 5+ trips to Alaska. Over all these trips I have learned a lot from him, and significantly improved as a photographer. Please check out his work and give his page a like!

I was nominated by Barrett Hedges of BearHead Photography
Day 1- Jack Cunningham

Polar Hide and Polar Seek

7 Day Nature Photo Challenge: Day 1
My friend Barrett of BearHead Photography nominated me for the Nature Photo Challenge. Barrett is an incredible photographer, and intimately in tune with nature. His beautiful work reflects this perfectly. Thanks for the nomination! Let’s see if I am able to keep up with this….the goal is to post one photo for the next seven days, all while nominating a new person each day.

Polar Hide and Polar Seek
Spotting wildlife is never guaranteed. In fact, at times it feels like Mother Nature is actively advising her creatures to hide from me. But every now and then, she surprises you with a scene that goes beyond your wildest dreams. This was the case for these courting polar bears in the high arctic.

On the final full day of my 11 day Svalbard expedition, we sailed to a location not typically known for hosting polar bears. I was sad that, in all likelihood, I had already seen the trip’s last polar bear. But it had been a good trip for bears; with 20 or so sightings around the archipelago, and the weather on this day was great. The low angle polar sun provided perfect photographic conditions. Lots of light, blue sky, and puffy clouds. We manned the zodiacs with the goal of bird photography. I observed these two bears and the agenda quickly shifted….

In this scene, a large adult male bear is following an adult female. The sexual dimorphism between them is striking. But despite his substantial size advantage, the male behaved like a nervous teenager that lacks the courage to ask for a date. The female played it cool. Mostly ignoring him as she sniffed the beach, occasionally giving him a playful glance back. This ballet went on for over 2 hours. These bears had each other’s full attention; my zodiac and I weren’t given a passing glance. At one point the female slipped behind this lichen covered rock, as if to hide from her suitor. With the line of sight on his target temporarily obstructed, he froze in his tracks, and waited for her to reappear. I was able to capture this moment, complete with his reaction.

The famous polar bear warning signs posted in Svalbard have the Norwegian words: “Gjelder hele Svalbard” and the image of a polar bear. Which means “Polar Bears to be found all over Svalbard”. The sweetest words in the Norwegian language!

I was nominated by Barrett Hedges of BearHead, and will nominate my friend and fellow polar bear photographer Jack Cunningham. Jack and I met shooting brown bears in Alaska and have traveled to Churchill for polar bears. Check out his website here

Eye to Eye: American Marten

I am proud to announce that I received Highly Honored in the Wildlife category of the 2015 Windland Smith Rice International Awards Photo Contest by Nature’s Best Photography. This photo of an American Marten is one that I am particularly proud of capturing; and to receive this distinction makes the experience even more special to me. On top of that, getting this news is a great way to celebrate my 32nd birthday!
Please read the description below for more details behind how this photo was created:
Eye to Eye: American Marten
Eye to Eye: American Marten
American Marten
Martes americana
Yellowstone National Park, USA

By Tim Auer
Mountain View, California, USA

The story:
Look closely into this marten’s eyes. If you look carefully, you can see the reflection of the forest scene before it.

A curious and playful species, the american marten is not an easy animal to photograph. It is small and fast with an ability to vanish as quickly as it appeared, and certainly won’t wait for you to switch to your telephoto lens. If a wildlife photographer wishes to capture this species in its natural habitat, s/he needs to be prepared upon encounter..

As is typical of special wildlife photos, this image is the result of preparation, and a bit of luck. While snowmobiling through Yellowstone, I stopped for a break near the Swan Lake Flat. Fortunately, my camera setup was optimal for such an encounter: 600mm F/4 +1.4x Extender, giving 840mm focal length. I had driven the snowmobile with this camera+lens on my lap all day, which, given the size of this kit, is no easy task to do while handling a snowmobile. But having it immediately available during the few brief seconds the marten was in sight made this shot possible. The marten bounded with ease on top of the 4 ft/1.5m deep powder snow, and appeared to play peek­a­boo from behind trees, while I post­holed clumsily behind it, keeping the lens barrel above my head to keep snow out. It was not easy to get into shooting position with such deep snow, in fact it was exhausting. But as I crouched deep in the snow, at eye level with the marten while flakes of powder snow fell softly, I clicked this sharp result.

The American Marten is classified as a furbearer by most of the state wildlife agencies in its distribution, but fortunately, several of the states it calls home do not have a trapping season for it. Still its presence is an important indicator of the overall health of its forest ecosystem. It requires a rather large home range for a mammal of its size, and its home range has been shown to vary as a function of prey abundance (Thompson and Colgan 1987) and habitat type (Soutiere 1979). In clearcut areas it requires 63% more area than it does in uncut or sustainably harvested forest land.

Outside of those in the fur trade, not many people are familiar with this member of the weasel family. In fact, many people, when they see this photo, have confused it with a baby fox. I hope by showing this snow-moustached portrait of the American Marten in gentle natural lighting, people will begin to recognize the species in a new light.

Soutiere, E.C. 1979. Effects of timber harvesting on marten in Maine. J. Wildl. Manage. 43:850-860.

Thompson, I.D. and P.W. Colgan. 1987. Numerical responses of martens to a food shortage in northcentral Ontario. J. Wildl. Manage. 51:824-835.

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM, Canon Extender EF1.4× III

1/160s; f/5.6; 840mm; ISO200
Post Processing done using Lightroom 5.7.1
Feb. 8 2014

Svalbard: Lilliehook Glacier

The first morning out….August 20, 2015, Svalbard.

After a rough night sailing through stormy arctic seas (motion sickness medicine was a lifesaver).  The ship, Sea Spirit, made its way through the Krossfjord and King’s Bay, finally entering Lilliehöökfjorden. We dropped anchor and manned the zodiacs to explore the Lilliehöök Glacier. We faced a horseshoe shaped wall of ice. 7 km across, 80m tall, and stretching to the horizon with jagged peaks poking through the ice and clouds.  

Arctic, beluga, birds, glacier, ice, icebergs, Krossfjord, lilliehook, Spitsbergen, svalbard, whales, wildlife
Lilliehook Fjord, massive glacier bay with mountains poking into the clouds, and ice stretching as far as the eye can see.

The only place ice didn’t meet the sea was where a mountain stood instead. In-between these mountains, glaciers spilled out into the fjord.  At least 14 glaciers!  This was the biggest glacier bay I had ever been in.  Of course, this “accomplishment” would soon be “defeated” by other, more massive fjords of Svalbard, it doesn’t detract from the impression this fjord made on me.

The green-blue water was silky smooth and looked thick with glacial silt.  The underwater housing was working, but the  “thickness” of the glacial water limited visibility. Nonetheless, I practiced using this new piece of equipment.  Afterall, this was my first time doing underwater photography in the field!  A bearded seal swam lazily around the smooth water, coming close to a zodiac that I was not in.  Shortly after spotting the seal, a pod of beluga whales surfaced for a few minutes, before diving deep and moving on. 

In terms of photography, the stop in Lilliehöök provided a gentle warm up session to get into that “photo-mindset”. Not all the zodiac expeditions would be nearly as smooth and easy.  In fact, many times the arctic sea conditions were not conducive to producing interesting photography, that is, unless the photographer was adequately prepared and exercised sound judgement in the field….For me the learning process never ends. and the conditions I experienced in Svalbard forced me to re-evaluate and adjust some of my preparations.

McNeil River: Site Description and Preparations

And so to the Alaska Peninsula we come, seeking the limits of the known world at the ends of the Earth…A cloud-cloaked landscape, the Alaska Peninsula is accessible only by air or water. 

– John Grabowska, Katmai,  2013. Alaska Peninsula

The McNeil River portion of the trip will consist of 5 days off the grid, without running water or electricity dropped by a sea-plane in a (relatively) remote corner of Alaska that is crawling with brown bears…sounds like the perfect way to celebrate Jenna’s birthday!

Location of McNeil River
Location of McNeil River
Detail of lower McNeil River and Lagoon, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, Alaska, USA
Detail of lower McNeil River and Lagoon, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, Alaska, USA

McNeil River Game Sanctuary is about 210 miles southwest of Anchorage down the Alaska Peninsula, and 100 miles west of Homer (where we are coming from) across the Cook Inlet.  The Game Sanctuary portion of the McNeil River State Park consists of the McNeil River and Mikfik Creek drainages.  Near the beach where we will camp is McNeil Lagoon, which is formed by a long spit that almost entirely separates the lagoon from Kamishak Bay, an arm of the Cook Inlet.  Both McNeil River and Mikfik Creek drain into the lagoon, which is channeled mud flats at low tide and entirely submerged at high.    Due to the drastic variation in tides here, our seaplane landing/departure must coincide with the high tide (SELLERS, R.A., AND L.D. AUMILLER. 1993).

McNeil River is most famous for its high density of brown bears gathering to feed at the McNeil Falls during the peak of the Chum salmon run in July.  (PEIRCE, J., et al. 2013.)

The Chum salmon run isn’t the motivation behind our mid-June trip…but observing early season bear behavior is. This means, God willing, spring cubs and families, mating, and territorial disputes.  

Historically, bears begin to arrive each year to McNeil in late May, immediately concentrating their feeding on the protein rich sedge flats.  This food source is readily available this time of year,  and a bear goes where the food is.  A few weeks later they capitalize on an early run of red sockeye salmon in Mikfik Creek in June.  The feeding behavior shifts in late June to mid-July to coincide with the chum salmon run in McNeil River (SELLERS, R.A., AND L.D. AUMILLER. 1993).

A bear stand motionless on the top of a rushing waterfall, hold her paw up and ready to swipe a jumping salmon out of the air.  It is amazing feat of strength that this bear is able to stand so still in such a rushing torrent.
A bear stand motionless on the top of a rushing waterfall, hold her paw up and ready to swipe a jumping salmon out of the air. It is amazing feat of strength that this bear is able to stand so still in such a rushing torrent.

With regard to our trip, we have chartered a 3-seat plane out of Homer, scheduled to depart in the late evening on June 10, arriving to McNeil at the high tide.  There we will meet our guides and the 7 other visitors we will share the park with.  The biggest constraint on this trip, when compared to others, is the weight restriction of our tiny aircraft. We are permitted a payload of 775 lbs for gear and people.  Quite the challenge, considering I can easily bring upwards of 70-80 lbs of camera gear alone, not accounting for other Cub Profilenecessities, such as tents, clothing, and food. However, as this is Alaska, you are wise to must prepare for the worst and expect it. If we are lucky, the days will be spent viewing bear cubs playing in the warm sun surrounded by mosquito-free air.  While I hope a few of the days are like this, it would be unreasonable to plan on it.

Alaska Rain
Alaska Rain

 Given the current weather forecasts, we should expect a significant amount of rain during our time in the far north….we are prepared, and so are our cameras.

[The Alaska] peninsula endures a maritime climate described as “notoriously miserable”: long winters, cool summers, frequent storms . . . and sudden bursts of wind called williwaws — so fierce, bush pilots say, they can rip the numbers off a plane.”  – Grabowska, John. 2013.) 

Literature Cited:
Grabowska, John. 2013. Katmai: Ends of the Earth. Alaska Peninsula.

PEIRCE, J., et al. 2013. Interactions between brown bears and chum salmon at McNeil River, Alaska. Ursus Journal 24(1):42–53.

SELLERS, R.A., AND L.D. AUMILLER. 1993. Brown bear population characteristics at McNeil River, Alaska. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 9(1):283–293.

SCHEMPF, J.H., AND J. MEEHAN. 2008. McNeil River State Game Refuge and State Game Sanctuary management plan. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Special Publication No. 08-01, Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

McNeil River: An Overview

Introducing McNeil River
NOTE: All photos posted here were taken in Katmai NP
McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Preserve is internationally recognized as being the world’s premier brown bear viewing destination because of its uniquely high concentration of bears living within their natural environment (Sellers and Aumiller 1993).  

Created in 1967, this game sanctuary, managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, has the stated goal to “provide permanent protection for brown bears and other fish and wildlife populations and their habitats, so that these resources may be preserved for scientific, aesthetic, and educational purposes” (Schempf and Meehan 2008:3).  

In other words, in McNeil the bears come first. Period.Katmai: Green Fog Bear

This mission statement is consistent with the mission statements of other ecologically significant parks across North America (such as Yellowstone, Glacier, Canadian Rockies, and even Katmai). For example mission of Glacier NP is stated as follows:

To provide opportunities to experience, understand and enjoy the park consistent with the preservation of resources in a state of nature” –

A difference between parks like Yellowstone and Glacier and McNeil River is that the management responsible for McNeil River has taken drastic steps to enforce their vision.  In 1973 it was determined that human visitation to the preserve was adversely impacting the bear population.  In response, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game established a strict permit lottery to limit human visitation (Faro and Eide 1974).  The bears have responded positively, and the lottery has become more and more competitive each summer. 

At any given time, only ten visitors are allowed in the viewing areas of McNeil River Preserve, which has an area of 6000 mi^2 and is 500 mi^2 larger than the state of Connecticut. 

10 people, dropped in the Alaskan bush by float plane, spend 5 days in tKatmai: Bear Screamhe midst of thousands of coastal brown bears.

Over the entire season the preserve will host only around 200 people.  Applicants may have less than a 4% chance of winning a permit. There is a limit of three people per application, and each group specifies their preferred date blocks, according to a schedule.  If you do win a permit, you may not enter the lottery the following year, so I cannot apply in 2016.  In January 2015, when I sent in my lottery application, I was not holding my breath that I would win.  McNeil River is a big deal in Alaska and an even bigger deal in the world of wildlife viewing.

The Peninsula of Bears

On the Alaska Peninsula, McNeil River State Game Preserve shares a border with Katmai National Park (I have made 3 trips to Katmai over the last 2 years).  Both parks boast high densities of brown bears. This is no coincidence, the two parks have been instrumental in the other’s success (Sellers, R., and Aumiller, L.).  The wildlife conservation efforts of the Alaska Dept. Fish & Game and NPS are to be commended. Katmai: Stroll along river

While I have not yet been to McNeil River; my knowledge is limited to the academic journals describing the region.  Based on my research, it is fascinating how divergent the bear behavior can be between McNeil and Katmai. I am eager to explore this new region on the Alaska Peninsula, and document the behaviors of the brown bears that call it home.

More to come in next blog post (time permitting):
 – Site Description – Food: sedges, chum, sockeye
 – Bear Behavior
 – Preparation
 – Goals
 – Post Trip Follow up

Literature Cited:

FARO, J.B., AND S.H. EIDE. 1974. Management of McNeil River State Game Sanctuary for nonconsumptive use of Alaskan brown bears. Proceedings of the Western Association of State Fish and Game Commissioners 54:113–118.

PEIRCE, J., et al. 2013. Interactions between brown bears and chum salmon at McNeil River, Alaska. Ursus Journal 24(1):42–53.

SELLERS, R.A., AND L.D. AUMILLER. 1993. Brown bear population characteristics at McNeil River, Alaska. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 9(1):283–293.

SCHEMPF, J.H., AND J. MEEHAN. 2008. McNeil River State Game Refuge and State Game Sanctuary management plan. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Special Publication No. 08-01, Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

Memorial Day: California Bears, Sequoia National Park

Memorial Day weekend 2015

As I am apt to do before a big trip, I try to get into the right mindset and hone my skills as much as possible.

With an Alaska trip centered around brown bear photography at McNeil River State Park set for early June (less than two weeks away), it is important to ensure you are in top condition for bear photography.   Additionally, it was Jenna’s first time seeing a bear in the wild AND doing bear photography.   The single day trip to Sequoia National Park was wildly successful. Not only did we see bears, but we were able to get close to bears, and photograph them doing what bears do.  It was wonderful practice for McNeil River.

And while the american black bear is a different species from what we will see in McNeil, and has different behaviors and environments, it is still a bear, and within the genus ursus. 

When considering all 50 US states, California probably jumps out to the casual observer as the most “bear proud” state of them all. Their flag brandishes a grizzly, the top state universities’ have grizzly bear mascots, and California’s extremely short-lived independent nation was named the “Bear Republic”.  Given all the love there seems to be for the California grizzly bear, it is somewhat astounding that this subspecies was extirpated by humans.  Hunted completely to extinction, the California Grizzly lives only on the flags and mascots.

But I am not writing about California grizzlies here. I am writing because California still has plenty of bears; albeit the less ferocious and smaller type: the American Black Bear.

When comparing brown vs black bears, many people may shrug off a black bear sighting in a location where both inhabit (such as Yellowstone or Glacier NP), some even consider it as being the less interesting species, unworthy of their attention. The black bear is more common, has wider distribution, and can be a nuisance (especially in the Sierras). The grizzly is rarer, requires a larger range, and is more dangerous.  Given all of my past trips to Alaska devoted to brown bear photography, I am also guilty of this too…but it isn’t for my lack of love for the black bear.  Yes a black bear is more common and more accessible than a brown(grizzly) or polar bear, but the bottom line is that Black Bears are difficult to photograph.

A black bear is not typically a bold animal.  Among all the large north american predators, the black bear is probably only behind the mountain lion in terms of “shyness”.  This species does not like to be seen by humans. This characteristic makes it especially difficult to achieve top quality photos.

The behavior of some of the bears we observed this past past weekend in Sequoia National Park was mixed in terms of typical “flight initiation distance”, but the relative abundance of bears present, and gave good odds of making quality images…