Katmai National Park’s Zen Momma: 409 Beadnose and her cubs

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

We stood on the Lower River Platform one afternoon and watched a family of bears for some time.  The mama, a beautiful sow with blonde ears and a distinctive, upturned nose, occasionally lifted her head to check her surroundings and then returned to napping.  One of her cubs lay beside her.

The other cub, however, had no intention of taking an afternoon nap.

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs
Mom. Mom. Look at me. Mo-om.

This overtly round and furry creature was constantly moving.  She reminded me of the child who’s supposed to be napping but instead eats the entire box of left over pastries (donut rolls, apple strudel, and of course, a bear claw), scarfing them all down while mom’s watching Days of Our Lives in the den.

Yeah, this cub was on par with a child experiencing an acute sugar rush.  What do they put in that Alaskan salmon, anyway?

She spent a lot of time in the water, fishing out salmon as big as her head:

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

She brought them ashore and ate the yummy parts:

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

Then she’d go back into the water, get another fish, and bring it back onshore.

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

All while puzzling over the fact that mom was not watching her stellar fishing performance.  Look mom, look!  Hey!  Did you see me?  Mom!  

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs
Naps are SOOOO BOOOORING.
Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs
Why is no one watching me?
Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs
Sister, you’re such a mama’s girl.

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

The mother, a bear identified as 409 and nicknamed Beadnose, snoozed away, exhibiting little concern over the antics of her cub.  Beadnose is at least 20 years old and this is her fourth litter, so she’s seen a thing or two during her time as a mother at Brooks Camp.  Older moms are always so chill, ya know?  If the child didn’t want to take a nap, well, so be it.

After polishing off several salmon and leaving fish-bits strewn about the lawn, it was time for dessert—delicious grass.

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

And then onto the finale, a good old roll in the grass:

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

I gotta tell ya: I’ve seen these photos dozens of times by now, and I still laugh out loud every time I see them.  Is there anything more purely joyful than the sight of a bear cub rolling in the glass?

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs
The object in the top left corner is the Bear Cam camera, mounted on the Lower River Platform. I think this bear knew she was the center of attention and was hamming it up for the humans.

More about Beadnose, a.k.a. Zen Momma

I did a little research on Beadnose, starting with the description of her in the National Park Service e-book:

  • Bear #409 Beadnose is an older bear, first identified as a subadult in 1999.
  • She has a “long, straight muzzle with a slightly upturned nose.”  Her ears are light-colored, and even as her coat becomes a uniform brown in the fall, her ears will remain markedly blond.
  • She frequents the Brooks River in both July and the fall.  She’s habituated to people and doesn’t seem to mind them gawking at her from the platforms.
  • She’s a highly successful and skilled fisher and frequents various locations along the river, including the lip and far pool of Brooks Falls.
  • When she doesn’t have cubs to care for, she becomes one of the fattest females of the season.  As the National Park Service says, “Raising offspring is very energetically taxing for bears. Females with offspring must sacrifice body fat to raise cubs. #409, in recent years, has been able to devote more energy to her own survival as her overall size indicates.”
  • The cubs that we were watching, two females, were Beadnose’s fourth litter.  They are yearlings, born in the winter of 2015-2016.

Such was the extent of the information in the ebook.  I wanted to know more about Beadnose, so I turned to the Explore.org Bear Cam community.  Since I’ve started writing these Katmai posts, I’ve been engaging with the them on the Bear Cam chat.  They’re a great group of people, and their love for the bears of  Brooks River is obvious.

Beadnose in particular seems to be particularly beloved.  I asked them to tell me why and received some great responses.  They made it clear that Beadnose is a skilled fisher, an excellent mother, and a bear that’s just plain fun to watch:

Mazey described Beadnose as “Zen Momma,” and Grandmaj added a whimsical touch, saying, “She reminds me of an English lady. Very prim, proper and has the cuties cubbies.”  Umm, yes, that’s clear.

Revueltos described herself as a “Beadnose fangirl,” and Fencepost said that it was Beadnose who got him hooked on the Bear Cams.  “I found this site by serendipity and at first wasn’t sure what I was watching. Then I saw Beadnose on the lip [referring to the lip of Brooks Falls] snatching fish out of the air. That did it.”

Maria G. admires Beadnose for various reasons.  “She’s a pro lip fisher, makes it look so easy.  She even has a signature move on the lip: the paw slap.”  She’s also “cute, confident [and] fun to watch…[and] I love her glow-in-the-dark cupcake ears.”  Cupcake ears!  Fantastic.

One of my favorite responses came from KCanada, who points out that Beadnose is a remarkable bear compared to both other sows and mature boars.  “409 has made it to over the age of 20, without…major injury or ill health, has had four known litters of cubs, and has had great success in raising her cubs to the point of emancipation.”  Beadnose is around the same age as Otis and yet she “looks and acts years younger,” in spite of the sacrifices and challenges she’s faced raising cubs.  And KCanada then added what has to be my favorite analogy: “I think Beadnose is like the Ginger Rogers of bears.  She’s doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.”  Yes.  As I pointed out in this love letter to my favorite bear, girls rule.  😉

Finally, Stacey offered so many great observations that I decided to share her response in its entirety:

I’m one of the people who love 409 Beadnose!

Here’s why:

  • 409 Beadnose fishes the lip like a CHAMP! She positions herself far out on the edge, front left paw poised daintily yet powerfully, then waits patiently until— BAM, at precisely the right moment, she makes her move! Almost invariably, she catches the leaping fish in her mouth—the equivalent, I’m told of you or me catching a huge bag of flour in our jaws after it’s thrown from 10 feet away.
  •  When fishing the lip, she’s rarely frustrated. But when she is, she slaps the water with her left front paw, just to make her point.
  • She takes turns! Before 868 died, 409 and 868 would stand together on the lip— not friends, but effective fishing partners. She’d catch a fish, then step aside to eat it; then he’d step up to the lip, catch a fish, and step aside for 409 to move in. Bear efficiency at its best.
  • 409 Beadnose is a comfortable and confident mother. And her cubs are always super cute.
  • Plus, she’s one of the few bears I can fairly regularly ID! She has a very recognizable profile—a muzzle shaped like a ski jump, with a button (or bead) on her nose. And she has light-colored ear tips that give her away.

409 Beadnose. A wonderful bear!

Well said, Stacey.

Nap time’s over

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

After Beadnose had gotten an adequate nap, it was time to move on.  The cubs, however, were ready to nurse.

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

Beadnose ignored their entreaties and walked away:

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

 

Katmai National Park--Beadnose and cubs

I’m not sure if she was weaning the cubs or taking them somewhere more private to nurse, but in the video that Dale shot (below), you can hear them bawling and protesting, clearly impatient for mama to feed them. Unperturbed, she crosses the road and continues into the brush.

For us humans, Beadnose also demonstrates one difference between male and female bears (they urinate differently):

Taking it personally

If the details above, about pastries and Days of Our Lives, seem awfully specific, well then, I suppose they are.  I’m identifying with this bear family, drawing examples straight from my childhood.  We really did call our living area a “den,” and my mom was also older (I was her fourth child) and very laid back.  She loved bear claws and afternoon soap operas, and I binged on sugary treats and hated taking naps.   Oh, I was also a serious mama’s girl.

Am I identifying too much with these bears?  Probably.  But it’s hard not to.  One of the most amazing things about visiting Brooks Camp or watching  Explore.org or looking at these photos is that you have the opportunity to witness intimate moments, such as this one, between a mother bear and her cubs.  These bears have given me a gift.  No matter what stressors exist in my “real” life, I feel happy when I look at these photos.  They offer me a moment of Zen, straight from the heart of a Zen Momma and her two adorable cubs.


We’re not biased; we love all kinds of animals.  Want to see more beautiful Alaskan wildlife?  Then check out these posts: