Located in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park (GSMNP) is a lush valley named Cades Cove. The Valley is surrounded by scenic wooded mountains and is home to a variety of animals, Birds, and plants. One of the animals is the Black Bear. There are many black bears throughout the park, but one caught my eye this year. Hazel, as the locals call her, had four cubs this spring. The first time I saw her and her four cubs was in a field. She was by herself at the edge of the field near the woods. I was not sure if this was the black bear with the four cubs that we were hearing about. Then one small two-week-old cub, then the second one came out of the woods and joined mom in the field. I grabbed the binoculars and watched the two cubs with their mom for a while then I noticed movement in the woods and saw two more cubs, now we knew the bear was Hazel. It was not long and the other two cub joined mom in the field and starting moving across the field along the edge of the woods. Every few minutes they would stop and eat things in the field. After crossing the field and climbing up a knoll, Hazel noticed a log, went right to it, and rolled it over for the cubs to get at the food that was underneath. After sometime, Hazel decided to move back away from the knoll and down across the field going by a tree. As she neared the tree two cubs, where up in it almost instantly. After passing by the tree, she took the four cubs, went into the woods, and disappeared from view. I imagined that she was going to nurse the cubs after feeding in the field.
Back the next day at roughly the same time as the day before. Glassing the field and into the woods I see her, and the cubs, roughly 60 yards into the woods. They are going back and forth not really waiting to come out of the woods. I believe she was showing them how to roll over logs and rocks to find food. She and the cubs continued to assault everything worth checking out for a meal for quite some time then she decided to head diagonally up the hill. I saw my chance and moved up on the hill, gathered my camera gear and headed out to meet the bear coming to me. As I eased out the trail moving slowly so as not to alarm her and cubs I was dumbfounded as I found no bear moving through the woods. I stopped and scanned the woods nope no bear. I said to myself “where did she go, I could not have missed her”. I stayed put, waiting for her to come up, but no sign. While I was stopped and scanning I saw movement and noticed some people where i n the woods as well. I decided to go up to where the other people where and see if they saw the bear. As I started moving up the trail, I noticed Hazel between some large trees lying down. I moved on up the trail to where the others were.
They she was, bedded down with her cub’s right under her. I assumed she was nursing. I setup my gear and started taking photographs of her and wishing I could get a few good cub shots. Every occasionally she would move around, raise her head to sniff the air, turn her head around but she did not rise up. Hazel was really quite tolerant of us humans being there as we were 50 yards from as the rules require.
After a few minute she rose and a cub climbed right up and over her paw to get some more nursing down. Then another cub popped up between mom legs. Then suddenly, she leaned back against the tree threw her head back and I could see the cubs feeding. She then turned her head toward me and then further to the right, staying in the sitting up position nursing the cubs. After a few minutes, she lay back down and I could not see the cubs then one would pop up and try to work under her for more milk.
See went back down on all fours and stated to leave the spot, after she was moving off three of the four cubs jumped up on the tree looking to see where she had gone. They dropped back down and off the tree, the fourth cub jumped up on the tree and got a little higher to where the other had gone. Once he located down he came and away they went.
It was one of those days that you will always remember and be thankful for. I got the opportunity to photograph Hazel and her cubs in their natural environment undertaking something natural as nursing.