Bump Up Your Exposure! What to Do When the Bird is a Bear

Sterling Forest, New York 

MY FRIEND AND I DECIDED TO HEAD TO STERLING FOREST, AN HOUR OR SO NORTH OF NEW YORK CITY  TO PHOTOGRAPH THE LAST OF THE SPRING MIGRATING WARBLERS. WE WERE IN FOR A SURPRISE. IMAGE: ©JOE GLIOZZO 

Where: Sterling Forest Tuxedo, New York
What: Birdwatching & wildlife Photography. 
When: Spring for migrating birds, some warbler species nest here
Who: Adults & Young Adults
Tip: Know your black bear safetyBring bear bells, tick repellant. Stay on marked paths.

Just a Day Photographing the Warblers 

June.  This was our last chance this year to photograph warblers on their annual spring migration, so friend, Ray Guidetti and I decided to take a drive north to Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, New York to catch them.

During the ride, we discussed what we would hope to find. From our intel, we knew we could expect indigo buntings, great crested flycatchers, and chestnut-sided warblers.

OUR INTEL TOLD US THAT WE WOULD FIND INDIGO BUNTINGS IN STERLING FOREST, WE DID AND MORE. IMAGE: JOE GLIOZZO 

This spot is good - but over there might be better ...

Upon our arrival, we set up our gear. From the parking area, we could hear birds chirping away so, we set out heading in the direction of where those calls were coming from. We quickly found all three of the expected bird species, but the chestnut-sided warblers were not being cooperative for getting good photos. A change of plans was in order. We headed in the opposite direction and hiked over some creeks and up onto the side of the mountain.

THE GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER IS ONE OF THE SPECIES OUR "INTEL" SUGGESTED THAT WE WOULD FIND. WE DID!  IMAGE: JOE GLIOZZO 

Once here, we immediately knew it was the right decision. The birds were putting on a terrific show and kept us thoroughly entertained until.....

... we heard a sound coming from the thick woods behind us.

Ray and I were set up on a grassy path almost at the crest of the ridge. It was quiet there - except for the sound of some rustling in the leaves which I assumed was just a squirrel. After some time passed, I heard the same sound again ... but this time it was louder and heavier.

This was no squirrel! 

We turned to the right to look into the woods and about 50 yards away we could just see through the leaves ... 
This was no squirrel. It was big and black!

BUMP UP YOUR EXPOSURE! 

 HE DIDN'T NOTICED US AT FIRST.  IMAGE: JOE GLIOZZO

When Ray said to me "what should we do?" I responded, "stand here and get ready for a photo and don't forget to bump up your exposure compensation since it's mostly all black."

Looking back from the bear-less safety of my living room, I still cannot believe that's what I was thinking at this time. 

We Lost Sight - But Not Sound

Ray started backing up as it came closer but we still couldn't see it completely. We lost sight of him among the trees but didn't miss the menacing sound he was making.

Then, he came through the trees and into the meadow - heading our way.  Even while being on all fours and standing about 4 feet tall, the bear was easily camouflaged as he moved forward through the tall weeds.

All of a sudden, the 600-pound black bear broke through the weeds onto the road 20 yards in front of us, stuck half his body out and looked right down the hill. He didn't seem to know we were there at this point so I fired off 1 shot of his back hoping with the click of the camera he'd turn around for a good portrait.

Finally, he spotted us...

THE BLACK BEAR TOOK ONE LOOK AT US AND RAN LIKE A SCARED PUPPY. THEN IT TOOK US THREE HOURS TO SETTLE DOWN! IMAGE: ©JOE GLIOZZO

... and then he ran for his life like a scared little puppy.

Our hearts were pumping through our chest with adrenaline. It took us the better part of 3 hours to settle down. This all happened 20 yards from us! 

Rethinking My Camera Bag 

I think the worst thing about this experience is thinking that for next time I go shooting warblers do I need bear spray and bells along with my lenses?

Side note - the black bear images may be slightly soft due to photographer’s tremble of fear ...

STERLING FOREST IS A GREAT PLACE IN SPRING TO PHOTOGRAPH WARBLERS,  BUT WE PREFER TO DO IT WITHOUT  BLACK BEAR FOR COMPANY. IMAGE: JOE GLIOZZO 

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