Brown bear and cubs, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
Understanding wildlife behavior is an important part of wildlife photography. While it helps to do research on your subject, it also helps just to be observant and really watch what the animals are doing. Notice what they pay attention to, how relaxed or nervous they are, and be alert to unique behavior you can capture in an image.
In the spring, brown bear mothers or sows come out with their cubs to feed upon the luxurious succulent grasses along the Alaska coastline at high tide. As the tide recedes, the bears go out onto the mud flats and look for razor clams.
The sow here was in the tide flat munching grass while I photographed her. She was fully aware of my presence and comfortable with it. This area is one where fishermen have gone for years, so bears understand the humans present are not a threat. Still, she was cautious because there could be boar bears, big male bears that could chase her and her cubs. These boars frequently try to kill the cubs so that the female will come into estrus and breed.
Moments before this picture was taken, the babies were about fifteen to twenty feet behind the sow, playing and chasing each other. Suddenly she let out a bark, and instantaneously, the three cubs stopped playing and ran directly to her. It was obvious that they had been trained by the mother to stand there in the position shown and wait for further instructions. I love the shot here because I had never seen this behavior before, never seen three cubs stand with their paws right in alignment. The sow looked intently beyond me out into the grass. I kept looking back to see what she was seeing, and finally a river otter and its pups came rapidly through the grass causing quite a bit of commotion. When the bear processed the non-threat as otters, she relaxed and the cubs started playing again.
Canon EOS-1D X, EF 500mm F4 lens, f/18 for 1/320 sec., ISO 1600
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