"A Sand County Almanac"

"THERE ARE SOME WHO CAN LIVE WITHOUT WILD THINGS AND SOME WHO CANNOT."
"FOR US IN THE MINORITY THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE GEESE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TELEVISION.".....Aldo Leopold




"LOOK DEEP INTO NATURE, AND THEN YOU WILL UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER".....Albert Einstein


Monday, June 9, 2014

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Seven days without Internet, telephone, television or a shower facility.  It might sound unpleasant to some, but such is the life of wildlife enthusiasts who want to experience the well known Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park...

 
There are many reasons for visiting Cades Cove, but for me, the main reason was to photograph some of the plentiful black bears that live in the area.  In the six days that we spent looking for them we spotted over forty bears.  Everyday produced new anticipation of bear sightings.  The next photograph is of one of the first bears we found just as it was getting dark...


Some of the bears were seen in such dark shadows in the forest that a decent photograph was impossible.  Luckily, many were in field edges. feeding on the bountiful vegetation... and were easy to see from the loop road...


Naturally, the bears attract a lot of visitors to the park.  One of the popular ways to bear watch seemed to be to place chairs in the bed of a pick up truck and load it up with family and friends...


All bear sightings were exciting for the many visitors from urban areas and foreign countries, many of whom had never seen a bear in the wild before...


 

The next photograph is of the largest bear we saw during our stay.  One park employee described him as an "old boar".  The entire time that he was visible he never lifted his head from the grass that he was feeding on...

 
The majority of bears that we saw were yearlings or two year old cubs.  By far, the most popular sightings were of the young of the year cubs..
 
 








 
The small cubs are accompanied by their mothers which adds a degree of unpredictability to the mix.  If tourists would keep a respectful distance from the animals and not feed them, ever, there would be no problems with bears.  Unfortunately, the NPS does not have enough staff to protect the bears from the uninformed or disrespectful humans...

 
Crowds like this gather at every sighting of bears and most create no problems for the bears or the park employees...
 

But, there is always someone who thinks the rules do not apply to them, like this couple who drove their car into a hayfield with a mowed area, provided for access by those in wheelchairs...

 
We frequently spotted a sow (female) with three cubs during our stay.  She became very well known, and popular, with the visitors, largely due to the predictability of spotting her at the road leading to the Abrams Falls trail head...

 

Of course, wherever the sow went, the cubs were sure to follow...



As they scampered after "mom" one decided to demonstrate the "cubby dance" for us...




Is there any wonder why the cubs are so popular?  How could anyone not be enchanted by their antics?

 
Sometimes the mother and cubs lose track of each other...
 



Their keen sense of hearing and smell soon have them reunited...

 
Of course, opportunities to see the bears always leads to the dreaded "bear jam"...

 
Bear jams often include foolish behavior, such as approaching the bears too closely...
 
 
At some point park personnel must intervene both for the safety of the visitors and the bears...
 

An employee fires a paintball gun at this sow in an attempt to move her away from the road.  The effort was doomed from the beginning because she had cubs in a nearby tree.  It is hard to imagine a sow leaving her cubs for any reason...

 
The next photo is of a small bear that I was lucky to have a chance to photograph without a bear jam forming.  I followed it a short distance from the road where motorists could not see it, and so, passed on by...
 
 
 
From the photos it appears that I am much closer to the bear than I actually was.  Using a 600mm equivalent lens, and cropping during post processing, I was able to get the close views that I always strive for when photographing wildlife...
 



All of the bears that we saw were feeding on vegetation of one sort or another...




 
This bear was digging at the base of a tree for insects that were hiding there...
 

Finally, on our last evening in the Cove, we came upon a jam unlike any other we had encountered...


NPS wildlife technician Rick Varner had tranquilized the mother with three cubs near Abrams Falls trail head.  Most people were only seeing the cubs in a tree beside the road, not knowing the drama that was unfolding just a few yards away.  In the next photo Varner carries the sleeping bear from the woods to have her located near his vehicle for the procedures to follow...



 
Before beginning their work, the technicians applied moisturizer to her eyes because she cannot blink while sedated...
 

A mask was placed over her eyes to prevent optical stimulation.  Even though sedated, it is thought that she can still be stimulated by activities going on in front of her eyes...



She was weighed, had measurements taken, had blood drawn, one tooth was pulled, a tattoo was placed on her lip, and an ear tag attached to her ear...


 
NPS technician Rick Varner, and his assistant, were very friendly and answered the numerous questions of many of the people forming the "jam" and observing the proceedings with interest...

 
The sow was loaded into a container and allowed to "wake up" before she was released to rejoin her cubs...



Many of us waited, hoping to photograph the reunion, but she gave us the slip...

 
We left early the next morning feeling fatigued by the long hours of looking for wildlife but refreshed by the rewards of our efforts.  In addition to photographs, we left with memories of interesting animal encounters and beautiful vistas...

 
 

Thanks for sharing our trip to Cades Cove with me.  Look for other posts about the Cove soon.
 
 

2 comments:

  1. Nice series Steve! The Cove is a special place for sure. Really enjoy the tagging pics thanks for sharing.

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  2. A very interesting post with a lot of good photographs and several outstanding ones. I have not been to Cades Cove sing 2005 and it was good to see it again in your photos. I always went in November for the whitetails and missed the great bear photography although there were one or two years that I did see quite a few in the fall.

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