Fourth of July Bearworks

May this intelligent animal always have a place. We need to better understand bears.

~Mike McIntosh

Hope you had a good holiday weekend. Mine was special in many ways – good food, good friends, and a memorable trip to my favorite place in the East, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. It was a long day trip on July 4th. What better way to celebrate our country than to spend time out in it, enjoying some of the spectacular wild places that we have set aside for ourselves and for wildlife. And so we hit the road, arriving at the refuge about 11 a.m. (pretty relaxed timing for one of my trips down that way). Much like the amazing victory of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team last night, things happened fast and furious as we drove onto the refuge, and within the first five minutes we had spotted nine bears!

first bear

First bear of the day (click photos to enlarge)

I photographed the first bear of the morning feeding in a soybean field on the refuge. The other eight bears in that first few minutes were farther out in this same large expanse of soybeans. I am always amazed that these large black animals are active in the middle of the day when it is 90+ degrees. We drove through the refuge roads and spotted a few more mid-day bears before leaving our air-conditioned car and walking down one of the many dirt roads that bears frequent. It was hot (no, correction, very hot), and humid, typical summertime conditions on the refuge. The bears didn’t seem to mind the heat as much as we did, because the day turned out to be the best day of bear spotting I have ever had. We walked several trails and roadsides, drove the refuge roads twice, and were chased back to the car on two occasions by intense rain storms, but it was an incredible day. Throughout the day we also saw hundreds of Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies, countless dragonflies, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkeys, White-tailed Deer, a Great Horned Owl, and a Bald Eagle. But, the bears stole the show and made this a most memorable holiday weekend.

Here are a few images from the day…

first cub looking shy

As we walked down one of the refuge roads, a large bear suddenly came scrambling down a tree next to the road. We looked up to see one of her cubs shyly looking our way.

first cub looking up

The cub looked up at its sibling high above.

second cub

Second cub higher up in tree.

second cub yawning

Second cub yawning.

bear in bean field 1

While watching the cubs in the tree, another bear came through the field behind us.

young bear in corn

We had to retreat back to the car to avoid a heavy downpour. On our second walk, a young bear swam across the canal and sized us up from the safety of the corn.

large bear standing in corn

In another field, we saw a large boar bear standing in the corn.

bear coming down tree

While watching bears in a different field, we were again startled by a bear scrambling down a nearby tree (note to self, look up in all nearby trees).

tiny cub in tree

A tiny cub was in a nearby tree.

bear watching other bear

A bear walked toward us and then became distracted by something down in the canal.

bear cooling off

The source of the distraction – a very large boar bear cooling off in the canal.

bears everywhere

More bears near the canal…they just kept coming out of the woods and fields.

huge bear

The final bear of the day – a very large boar feeding on corn.

15 thoughts on “Fourth of July Bearworks

    • Yes, a great day. I now carry bear spray with me on my outings down there. My advice is travel in a group, don’t push the bears (especially the big ones), and let them know you are there if you think they are approaching too close (best to avoid getting in that situation in the first place though). They deserve our respect and tolerance and they usually give it in return.

    • More thoughts on safety…bears can be easily viewed and photographed from your car in several of our refuges. And though I have bear spray with me, I obviously hope I will never get in a situation where it is needed. I like the advice from a ranger in Yellowstone – bear spray isn’t “brains in a can”…use common sense and be respectful of the bears.

    • Great images. Were you shooting handheld or tripod? Handheld I suspect??? What focal length lens? Usually being near the cubs,even in trees, requires the most vigilance since the sows are so protective–any issues being so close?

      • Thanks. Most of the shots were on a tripod with a 500 telephoto and a 1.4 teleconverter (and a cropped sensor camera). Most are also cropped in post. I am very respectful of the bears and especially the cubs.

  1. Great photos!! I was down there that morning. We saw 12 feeding in the beans and corn. Went back last night and saw more. Love your photos!

  2. That is an amazing number of bears, Mike. We’ve never been to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, but obviously it merits a summertime visit. Your descriptions made it sound like they were quite close — was that so? Can’t really tell as you photography is its usual outstanding.

    • Pocosin Lakes is about 2.5 hours from here, just southeast of Plymouth, NC. It is worth a visit anytime of the year, bears are certainly evident in summer and then, in winter, you get thousands of waterfowl, as well as smaller numbers of bears.

  3. Stunning photos! The bear cub in the tree is adorable and I love the photo of the bear standing in the corn field. Can’t wait to get down to Pocosin sometime soon!

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