How Many Bears are in that Pile?

We’d been watching several grizzly bears with cubs gorging on sedges near the water’s edge in Glendale Cove.  There were also a couple of single adult bears foraging further back from the water, mid-way to the tree line in the estuary.  In all, I could see 13 coastal grizzly bears from my seat in this flat-bottomed boat.  In front of me, a sow with three cubs had just retreated into the woods to give way to a higher ranking sow with her single cub.


Judging by the expression on her face, this cub seems to already know that she was born into privilege!Vancouver Island (668 of 1018)

We had come up Knight Inlet from our cabin on Minstrel Island in a motor boat this morning.  We stopped to watch some grizzlies foraging at low tide in another estuary along the way.

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We also passed a shy black bear on the rocks gnawing on mussels and barnacles exposed by the low tide.

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Shy Black Bear

Upon arriving in in Glendale Cove, we tied up at a dock in the middle of the cove to transfer to the smaller boat to navigate the shallow cove.  This area is a renowned for coastal grizzly bear viewing as it has a large resident population.  It was hazy and smoke from a record-breaking wildfire season in the BC interior obscured the mountaintops.  There was a good breeze blowing that left a chill.  I wore my winter ear band and gloves along with layers to stay comfortable.

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Marine cloud below hazy, smoky skies looking toward the back of Glendale Cove


Earlier as we approached the back of the cove, we had watched three bears swim across a side channel in the estuary to get from the steep, rocky east shore to the sedge flats in the middle. Now that the sow and cubs we were watching on the west side of the estuary had moved off, we decided to head over to see if those bears were still around.  There were two bears back along the river channel in plain view who appeared to be catching a mid-day nap.  As we rounded the point in the middle, we could see fur peeking above the sedges.

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Another sleeping bear?  As we got closer it seemed like there must be two bears there.

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Definitely two heads

Two young adult siblings on their own together? A sow and cub? Those are really the only combinations of grizzly bears that I’d expect to nap so close.  We creep closer.  A little bit more bear is revealed.  One is definitely on top of the other.

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Those little feet can’t belong to that big head.

Only cubs sleep in a pile! Our guide thinks maybe there is a sow down there with a nursing cub on top of her.  We can’t see enough of the bears to judge size, so it’s anybody’s guess.   We float a little bit past this ambiguous bear pile and get a perspective from the opposite side.

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Three ears

A huge head slowly lifts, gently regards us and softly lies back down.  This is a sow lying on her back, she picked up her head to look over her belly at us, the other piles of fur are two cubs nursing atop her.  Vancouver Island (741 of 1018)One of them stands up, stretches and turns his back on us as he gets back to the business of nursing.  The other stretches in place, kicking those adorable cub paws up into the air.  Vancouver Island (750 of 1018)They are so close to the edge of the sedges that we consider whether she is lying on solid ground or in the shallow waters of the sedge edge. Yet the sedges are so tall and thick that they are obscured.  A nursing sow with two cubs not 50 feet away and none of them care one bit that we’re here.  To be peacefully accepted as part of the scenery by an apex predator is humbling.  This feeling of serenity is the reason that I keep goping back to find bears in the wild.


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