Me holding up a gopro that was bitten by a bear. Photo Buck Wilde
Two summers ago I was hired by the BBC to guide the film crew for a production called the Great Bear Stakeout. My main assignments were tracking the monster male bear we call Van, tracking wolves and hoping to film them with bears, and most importantly, to help set up remote, unmaned cameras to get super up-close wide angle shots that would be impossible to film otherwise, or if we were nearby. Tracking Van proved to be extremely difficult later in the summer, and the wolves were elusive, although we did film an amazing scene of wolves watching Pushki and Parsnip which is about halfway through episode 2, but filming bears with unmaned gopro cameras was hugely successful! The highlights of the gopro footage appear in episode 1 that we acquired in the June filming season. While guiding Grizzly viewing trips for Natural Habitat in July and August, I continued using gopros to add to the BBC’s collection. I filmed one clip of a grizzly cub chewing on the gopro, but not damaging it, and this video went viral on youtube, and was featured on nearly every form of media in the world. I just found the hard drive with all the raw footage from that season, and put together a few more clips. My favorite is a mixture of bear footage and time lapses. I sped up the clips in adobe premiere to up to 3500% to show the passage of time, and the movement of clouds and sunlight, but slowed to normal speed whenever a bear came close to the camera. Check it out!
This footage is what I was trying to get. Bears doing their thing, ignoring the tiny grey boxes, which look so much like rocks I often had a hard time collecting them after their jobs were done. The bears almost always ignored these cameras. They were obviously not baited with anything, because 99% of the time if a bear did see one of the cameras, they would be crushed and destroyed, as bears have a bit of a naughty side and like to show off their strength. I also never want to distract a bear from doing what it would normally do, as they have a lot of work to do trying to gain enough weight to survive winter hibernation. Baiting cameras is also illegal, unethical, and can create dangerous associations between bears and people that can prove to be fatal for both bears and the cameramen. The secret is to go unnoticed by an animal who notices everything. Here is another clip of a female and two 7 month old cubs walking past the camera, paying it no attention.
Here is a short clip from different angles of a bear chasing salmon, including an underwater view!
And of coarse, here is one of the versions when ”a grizzly ate my gopro.”
I dont suggest anyone trying to get this type of footage of bears in the future here, as the use of unmaned cameras is illegal in Katmai. We had special, one-time permission from Park Service that summer for this documentary. But I will experiment with filming nature and scenery with gopros in the future, as it is a very safe, unobtrusive way of filming wildlife very close, without having an impact on their behavior. Gopro recently contacted me, and offered to sponsor me in various ways. Check out my friend, and fellow guide Justin Gibson’s very cool video of arctic and red fox checking out his gopro in Churchill, Manitoba!
Hey guys, check out some footage I shot with my canon 7d of a severe blizzard that pounded Churchill in November, 2013. The tempetaure was around 5 degrees far, and the winds gusted over 50 mph. The polar bears were difficult to locate that day, as the visibility was reduced to near 0 at times in blowing and drifting snow, but we did find a few large males who seemed to enjoy themselves. They spent half an hour sparring, as they werent as limited by overheating, as they normally in milder weather. I filmed these guys with my 300 prime f4. The end of the video shows us driving back to town in a whiteout on the airport road. It was pretty rough that day!
It was tough to find bears with such reduced visibility, but the ones we did find were great to photograph in such brutal, atmospheric conditions.
This is one of my favorite images I took during the epic 2013 polar bear season. I used a low aperture of f4 to achieve a shallow depth of field, so the mother bear’s face is sharp, and her tiny 1 year old cub is nicely blurred in the background.
Wow, sadly another incredible polar bear season is under our belts. It is hard to list all of the highlights, a there were so many. Although the sparring males were few and far between, and the bay froze early once again, my groups had amazing opportunities to photograph sows and cubs, foxes, arctic hares, and bears in severe blizzard conditions. I would also like to mention that I had the privilege to train a very gifted new guide- Sean Beckett. He just wrote the best blog post on Churchill I have ever seen- brilliantly insightful and creative writing style, and awesome images and videos- CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT! After you read that post, check out some of my best images of polar bear mothers and cubs, and polar bears in blizzards below!
A female and her 1st year cub turn around when they encounter vehicles on the outskirts of Churchill.
A beautiful female with her two healthy first year cubs (also known as COYS for cubs of the year) retires from the outskirts of town and heads back towards Cape Merry on a frigid, sunny morning in Churchill. Canon 7D, 300 F4 lens, picture was cropped to 1/2 size of original.
Ill have to say my personal favorite condition to photograph polar bears in is the full-on white out blizzard. The bears always look so at ease in such adversity. It was snowing hard, around 5 degrees far, and blowing around 45 mph.
Bears, above all else, symbolize wilderness. You can only capture this reality with images like this. A tiny bear among its vast landscape can be just as powerful as the tightest portrait. I learned this well while working with the legendary Andy Rouse in the past, and always encourage my travelers to build in these types of shots into their portfolios. This bear begins his long winter season of wandering the flat expanses of Hudson Bay ice, which was growing by the minute as the temperature sailed below zero (Far).
A large male polar bear takes a “snow bath,” or rolls and scoots in the snow to rub away dirt and oil from its coat to insure insulation during a blizzard.
A female polar bear and her COY take shelter in a spruce thicket on the outskirts of Churchill. The weather had begun to deteriorate to severe blizzard conditions that night, and it was as if the female knew it, and found a safe, sheltered spot to ride out the storm.
A polar bear traverses a frozen pond in the rugged taiga and Canadian Shield landscape.
Two giant male polar bears socialize and enjoy the frigid conditions during one of the numerous blizzards which pounded Churchill this season.
Blizzard conditions do not stop one of my photography groups from exploring Cape Merry as a Parks Canada polar bear gaurd keeps a watchful eye on the horizon.
A stoic Parks Canada interpreter keeps polar bear watch on Cape Merry during a raging blizzard.
NHA traveler Bill Gent enjoys experiencing and photographing Cape Merry in severe blizzard conditions.
NHA head naturalist and photography instructor Eric Rock and an NHA traveler photograph the aurora at the Inukshuk behind Churchill on a clear, fridgid night.
I stuck my 7d with 16-35 mm out the window and fired off a few shots. This one captures the moment of excitement as a bear walks past our rover.
Anna Sembach and her 13 year old daughter Elise with a bear in the background.
one of the many magic encounters this season with mother polar bears nd their cubs.
Arctic fox with Hudson Bay waves crashes in the background, Cape Merry.
Brilliant red fox near Cape Merry.
NHA guide Annie Van Dinther’s Tundra Lodge group gets an up close and personal visit by a large male polar bear.
This bear swatted at my camera from less than a foot away! Too close for comfort!
Brad is a naturalist interpreter specializing in bear biology
and ecology of the north country. He attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, graduating with a B.S. in wildlife biology in 1999 (continue reading about Brad...)
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