Yes, 8’s a charm … our 8th trip to Alaska for our photographic journey into the wilderness and all of the fabulous wildlife, landscapes, and adventures that it holds. Each year, we try something different … perhaps a new geography, a new drive, a new activity … whatever it may be. Almost immediately we realized that we left our camera-carrying backpack at home, so first of all, there was a trip to Stewart’s in Anchorage to remedy that. On our way back to the RV, I spotted a totem pole, which sported 3 definite sightings that were high on my wildlife list … a good omen, I reasoned.
After getting some necessities at the local Fred-Meyer, off we started on our journey, headed to the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula for 4 days of bears, we hoped. As we checked in at the campground, the attendant told me that for the first time in seemingly weeks, there were bears sighted on the river that morning. EXCITED didn’t even begin to summarize how I felt. In less than 30 minutes, we were on the boardwalk in search of bears.
Before long we encountered fishermen telling us the whereabouts of the bears … a sow and her three 2nd year cubs. The anticipation was mounting. Once we reached the gravel bar area, we caught our first glimpse of one of the cubs.
The action on the river was varied … whether they were simply traveling along the gravel bar checking out their surroundings …
… or they were emerging from the hillside and entering the river …
… or chasing down salmon …
… and leaping into the air and pouncing onto the schools of salmon, as they were swimming upstream for the spawning, many of which had already reached that red & green, spawned out salmon look.
Though spawned out salmon are beautiful to look at, being all colorful and impressive looking, they are not fit for human consumption. The bears, however, seem not to mind. Once they grab the salmon they then prepare to consume it, or in some occasions, simply seem to “play” with it, seemingly tormenting the poor thing.
Of course, it’s also fun to see them moving about the shoreline and across the fallen logs that they encounter along the way. I’m always impressed with the way that they can maneuver the landscape so gracefully. This is the bigger of the three young ones … quite big in my book!
The 3rd and larger cub tended to stay more with its mama. The other two cubs tended to hang out together quite a bit, fishing together along the banks of the shore, reaching into the fishing holes and under the ledge shelves of the banks.
Sometimes they would play for fun along the way.
Sometimes it was more personal and the encounter would be a bit more testy, if you will. See, the smaller cub was the better fisherman as far as I could tell, or at least the most determined to go out and catch the salmon. Problem was that the other cub would know when it caught one and would venture on over and assert it’s dominance over the other one and ultimately would end up with its salmon. You can see it doing so in the next image.
To me, there’s something about a bear’s eyes. When you’re able to see them and capture the catchlight in their eyes, it’s an amazing moment. You feel “connected”, or at least, we do.
Funny thing about the river, bears, and salmon … there are always gulls around ready to pick up the scraps left behind. Most times they loiter in the background, though sometimes, they get in the way, especially for the photographer. So many times, I found that my images captured were photo-bombed by the gulls. Even the bear seems to agree. LOL
It really gets exciting though when you’re sitting on the bottom of the river access stairs, photographing the bears, and one turns and heads directly at you. Now some might be a bit nervous about that, but by now we know and are pretty confident that the bears aren’t interested in us with so many salmon around…. but it still makes your adrenaline peak and your heart race, as well as the endorphins release secondary to the joy of sharing this adventure with the bears.
We absolutely love “visiting” with them, in their natural environment, as they go about their day. Most visitors to the river feel the same, whether there for photography or fishing, though once in awhile you get that person who doesn’t feel the same. I’d like to think that they would feel differently if they saw bears the way that we do. It’s all about being educated about their behaviors, reading their signs, and giving them the respect that they deserve.
Until the next blog post …. this will be the end! :-)
Stay tuned to more bears on the Russian River!
© 2014 TNWA Photography