“If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain,
Because today’s the day the
Teddy Bears have their picnic.” Jimmy Kennedy
The lyrics to this popular children’s song are probably familiar to us all, however I imagine you all thought it was a myth, it never happens. I can confirm this is incorrect, having witnessed one in the woods near Acadieville, New Brunswick.
In the company of bear whisperer Richard, and his wife “Mama Bear” Vivienne, of Little, Big Bear Safari, and a small group of clients, we visited their treehouse like observation tower. Even as we arrived there were already several bears, waiting, perhaps anticipating their picnic.
At least one mother was there, with two cubs, a couple of large males, and several smaller more nervous bears. We were soon safely watching from the observation platform high above the action, as Richard spread a feast of meat, and nuts on the ground, and hanging from a few trees. He was soon even feeding some of the bears by hand.
Apparently he has received some criticism for this behaviour, but while the bears are wild, he has been doing this for nineteen years, and has known all the bears since they were cubs. I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying this yourself, as the saying goes “all feedings here are performed by experts”.
It is amazing to watch however, and an incredible experience, with the bears seeming almost within touching distance at times. Often striding powerfully beneath out viewing platform, just a few feet below us. Sometimes even making eye contact, aware but unfazed by our presence.
There was an obvious hierarchy, many of the smaller, nervous bears scampering away when one of their larger cousins came close. One particularly anxious diner spent most of the time in a tree, keeping a safe distance, or perhaps practicing tree yoga.
The bears move with surprising grace, but their power is obvious, they pass between the trees, mopping up the piles of nuts, crunching their way through huge bones, and retrieving fresh meat, hung from the trees.
There was a mother with two older cubs, but Richard assured us there was also a number of cubs hiding out of sight in the upper branches of a high tree. He was proved correct, once most of the other bears had their fill, and moved on, a mother called her young cubs down to feed. Only a few months old, they began to descend, and as they came into sight, we all cooed with glee. Once they reached the ground, we were totally bowled over by their cute, antics, playing rough.and tumble when they weren’t chomping mouthfuls of nuts.
Photography with a relatively short travel zoom, in the diminishing light of a New Brunswick forest at sunset proved a challenge. Catching sharp images of a moving target in low light requires a steady hand, and careful use of ISO and aperture. It also meant taking plenty of pictures to obtain a few which were worthy of publishing. I was dying to get down on the ground among the bears, and try to get some close-ups, but wasn’t prepared to risk upsetting bear whisperer Richard.
It’s a memorable experience to get so close to these powerful animals, especially the cubs. Everybody present was enthralled throughout, one couple had been several times before, and would likely be back again. It’s an amazing two hours that I will never forget.