Another Day … Another Adventure! (Part 2 Katmai NP)

Ready for some more bears from Katmai NP?  I know that I was … so off we went again on an adventure in search of coastal brown bears.

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From the get-go, I knew that this would be an excellent adventure … the skies were less threatening and we had an amazing flight over the Cook Inlet and across the vast landscape of Katmai, looking for the perfect place to land.  Translation … where the bears are congregating in numbers.  🙂

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As we approach our initial location for the day, one thing to keep in mind is that the float plane must land in a lake large enough to support a landing, but also a take-off.  The bears generally aren’t in those lakes, but in the ribbons of waterways that connect the landscape, as you can see in the this image.  Each winding turn in those creeks, can yield a bear … often unknowingly until they are right there.

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Once landed, it’s time to pull up our boots, de-plane (us and all of our gear … ugh … always a pivotal moment … please no butterfingers when transferring camera gear), and secure our anchor.  Once safely on land, the real anticipation for the day to come begins.

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The day always begins with a nice brisk hike in search of the bears.  About at this point, I realize how grateful I am that I have my “sherpa” with me (aka my husband .  Our deal is … he carries the camera gear, I carry the food, fluids, clothes, and other supplies.  I think I make out the best … his pack easily goes 60+ pounds.

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On this day, we returned to Funnel Creek, where we had photographed this same sow and her cub yesterday.  We tried to cross the river, but the river was still quite swollen and the water level was too high to do so.  We spent some time with several of the bears from yesterday, a family of yellowlegs, and a very curious red fox.  I was quite thrilled with the fox, but not able to get great shots, because it got so close, that we could have touched it.  Not sure who was more surprised … me or the fox.  LOL

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After some time, our guide Dave and Wes decided to load up and try another location that looked pretty good as they initially flew over.

When we arrived at the river, we could immediately see several bears going about their fishing.  Every bear using a different technique … some chase relentlessly … some sit on the side of the river and simply wait … many navigate the waters with their heads underwater in a behavior known as “snorkeling”.

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As we visually navigated the landscape for the bears, we spotted this one bear … an enormous bear literally in the river with its head resting on the bank while sleeping, we believed.  It’s hard to tell in this image, but it was so big and its name must have been Jim… you know, as in Jim Croce’s “you don’t mess around with Jim”.  LOL

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Before long, the bears were seemingly emerging from all different directions.  Over the horizon, through the vegetation, down the river, across the river, and sometimes even behind us.

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Each made its way down to the river in search of salmon.  All were respectful of each other and especially of “Big Jim”.

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They didn’t seem to mind that we were in the travel zone or photographing them.  They simply would observe us, and deviate from their course just a tad, and carry on.  Of course, we and our lenses, keep close tabs on their whereabouts.

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Directly across the river from us was a sow and her single cub.  They rested in the sunshine and cool air.  Then it happened … the cub climbed up on its mom and started to nurse.

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Before long, we could hear the purring from the cub, as it nursed and we all knew that our day was complete.  If you have experienced this for yourself, you know what I mean, but the sound of cubs purring while nursing will make even the most hardened heart melt!  I still get emotional just remembering that moment.

This image reminds me of just how vulnerable a moment that this is for mom and cub.  As you can see, mom tries her best to stay aware of her surroundings and any impending threats.

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After 3-4 minutes, the nursing was over and they both sat up.  If you look closely, you’ll see the “milk mustache” on the young cub.  Sows will nurse their cubs for the entire span of time that the cubs remain with the mom.  Such good mommies they are.

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Before long, onto their sides they both go, as they roll around and scratch their bellies and bottoms.  Such is the life of a bear!

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Mom awakens first, probably because she’s now hungry, as they cub remains on its back in bliss.  When we watched these two, I couldn’t help but notice that the cub constantly had to keep itself touching its mom the entire time … whether it be it’s head, back, or in this case, feet … and I can’t help but relate to how human children do the same.

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Want to see more images from Katmai? … stay tuned for Thursday night, when Part 3 of Katmai gets posted!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

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Katmai … Here We Come!

Rain, rain, rain … combined with fog, wind, and completely overcast skies.  That’s how it was the night before we were to fly over to Katmai NP.  When we woke up, it wasn’t raining, but the fog, wind, and heavy skies were still ominously present.  I told Tom that I wasn’t in a panic as I packed my gear, fluids, and nutrition … I was pretty sure that we weren’t flying out.  Thank goodness I was proved wrong!  Somehow, the fog on the lake lifted just enough and the trip was given a green light.

With us this year, we had the pleasure of spending a few days in Katmai with Tom Blandford, a friend of mine whom I met through the world of photography.  In addition, we had 2 lovely ladies who had been shut out by bad weather for several days already.  As the plane lifted off from the surface of Beluga Lake, I began the anticipation of what was to come… like a child the night before Christmas.  🙂

Because the weather had been very rainy, the rivers were a bit more swollen than usual, so we landed at “Just Enough” lake … that is, just enough room to land and take off safely.  LOL.  We unloaded and began our trek through the wilderness of Katmai NP & Preserve in search of coastal brown bears and lots of salmon.  See, they go hand in hand.

While we got to peek at a few bears from a distance, it wasn’t until we came across one not too far off that we began to get anxious with our gear.  Anticipating a bear’s next move is always challenging, but we seemed to get it right and before long we were greeted by a fabulous specimen coming around a corner, catching us a bit by surprise.

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Or guide, Dave, made sure that we were respectful to the bears personal space.  Our goal is also always to observe the bears in their natural behavior, rather than having them adjust to our presence, we would adjust to theirs.

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That plan always works perfectly … this bear accepted us being there without any reservations and before long, began chasing salmon swimming in the creek.

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We remained patiently observing this bear and let it pass us by.  It’s always quite the thrill for me when our eyes meet for the first time … OK, actually every time … to me, it’s the validation that we’re connected at that moment … in each other’s world, if you will.  Always amazing as well how they pass us so peacefully, not like how many would be led to believe.  For bears are actually very peaceful and predictable … honestly!

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Often people want to know how close we get to these magnificent creatures.  My answer varies with each situation, location, bear, etc … but you can see in this image that it’s not very far away at all.

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Generally, the bears pass by and get on with their day at hand which mostly revolves around chasing down and eating salmon.  They are quite skilled at it too!

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Sometimes lens choice is an issue and your full image view becomes simply a head shot due to their proximity to us.  It’s a GOOD problem.

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Not all of the bears are chasing salmon, some are simply catching a siesta in the wilderness landscape.

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Of course, before long, they’re up and repeating the cycle … find salmon … chase salmon … catch salmon… eat salmon… and so their day goes on.

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Somebody looks as though they got caught raiding the cookie jar … or should I say the salmon pool.  LOL

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One of my favorite sightings of the day came with a sow and her young cub, probably a yearling.  We watched them as they made their way down the creek towards us.  The sow was a beauty too … a real blondie!

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Her cub followed her dutifully, not too far behind, and it was already checking things out for themselves along the way.

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As mom went on the hunt for salmon ….

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… her cub did the same.  It was amazing to me to see how it already had quite big paws and claws!

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When the young one would get a fish from mom, it would climb up on the shore to consume it, as mom continued to fish.

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Now on this trip, it wasn’t only bears of course.  There were a few birds … yellowlegs, juvenile harlequin ducks, ptarmigan, and of course, gulls.  The ptarmigan were so much fun to watch as they congregated in a group of perhaps a dozen and all took flight, with their beautiful markings showing the signs of the upcoming seasonal changes.

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Yes, it was a fun filled day so far and I for one, didn’t want it to end.  Looks like my new little friend didn’t want us to leave either!  LOL

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We pulled up our waders and made our way across the treacherous creek.  OK, maybe treacherous is a bit of an exaggeration, but the current was moving quite quickly and the water level was a bit higher than our boots!  The river rocks were also quite slippery and the water quite cold.  As I made it mostly across the creek safely, I quietly thanked goodness that Tom (aka my sherpa) had my gear safe and sound, and most importantly, dry.  What would I do without him?  I did however have a hole in my waders so I drained them out on the other side… woo hoo, it was quite refreshing!

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Heading back to the plane is always the worse part of the day, but we still had more time to spend in Katmai, so it was a bit easier to swallow.  Here’s a shot of Tom B. (aka not my sherpa Tom) and our pilot Wes of Beluga Air.

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That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more adventures from Katmai NP and my beloved coastal brown bears!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

 

My Birthday Present :-)

Continuing on with images from our 4-day stay on the Russian River, our 2nd day (which was perfectly timed for my birthday) was filled with lots of brown bear activity as well.  This time we saw a total of 6 different brown bears and I really couldn’t believe that we had been so lucky.

Almost immediately when we got down to the river we were greeted by the 2 cubs from yesterday.  They were already out fishing in the river and succeeding in making the fishermen scatter…. and the wildlife watchers spring into action.  Early in the morning, most days it’s usually just the “hard core” photographers who are on the river banks, since the mornings are cold, damp, foggy, and strangely, a bit eerie and isolated.DSC_1404

When waiting for the bears, it’s weird because sometimes you have no idea where they might be coming from.  I remember one year a black bear was eating a salmon under an elevated section of the boardwalk as people walked by looking for them.  Of course, to keep the hysteria limited, we pretended to not know where it was either.  LOL.

As the bears entered the river from the opposite river bank, we set up for a day full of activity.  Of course, they didn’t disappoint us.

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Before long they were chasing down the salmon and thrashing them about, ultimately leaving the river for the nearby bank and off into the wilderness, while they ate their prized catch.

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DSC_8017 This day, even mama bear came down to visit us … I think she was telling me “Happy Birthday”… LOL.  She was a big sow too and a bit grumpy at times.  No one on the river wanted to mess with her that’s for sure.

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She joined 2 of her cubs on the river for some fishing.  Eventually her 3rd cub came down to join the party, but didn’t stay very long.  As they made their way down the river, we scurried along as well.  For as much as I utilize the services of “my sherpa” Tom, when the bears are on the move…. I can manage by myself just fine.  🙂

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Both cubs began to fish out of the same hole and I sensed that something was about to happen.  Look at how cute this cub is as it glanced over to see its sibling with a nice salmon.

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Up onto its hind legs it went, as it struggled with that poor salmon.  I was so excited as it stood there, giving some different takes on their day of fun.

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I kept observing them and noticed that they approached each other again near that fishing hole.  I said to everyone in my immediate vicinity … they’re going to play fight … and sure enough they did!

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They were exchanging punches to the head, shoulders, and face … with the mouths open and growling.  I was so excited, I was hardly able to continue shooting.  You know, you get to that point when you question – should I shoot or should I simply watch.  Of course, my shutter finger won out, as it usually does.  LOL

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After 2-3 minutes of playing, they quickly gave themselves a time out.  Funny, it was pretty unanimous too.  Like boxers retreating to their corners, the action stopped and I feared that it was over.

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Then the bell rang again for Round 2!

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Eventually they tired of all of that playing around and they went on to fishing in the river.  Play time though is essential to their learning process and survival later in life.  Bears live in a dominance and hierarchy-based structure and even at this young age, you can tell who is already the dominant bear.

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Another sow and her solo cub were in the area and the cub came down to greet us also.

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It wanted so badly to enter and fish in the river, but mom was having nothing to do with allowing that!  So it sat down right in front of us …

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… and began to scratch itself and seemingly have a chat with us.  🙂  OK, I know that I’ve used a bit of imagination there, but it was quite the thrill for me and I believe that my heart melted with our encounter.

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Then the “Party Police”, aka the 1st mama bear, showed up on the scene again and I think she had lost sight of her 2 renegade cubs.  She was clearly upset and began huffing, stamping, and slobbering with a frothy saliva.  She eventually realized that they had gone quite a bit down the river, as young cubs love to test their boundaries.  Funny, how parents and their young, whether human or any wildlife, tend to be the same in that respect.

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I think that this guy, when he was spotted by the sow, knew it was it trouble.  LOL

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Of course, the more dominant cub hid behind a boulder in the river.  Not really, but it did seem to be engaging in a peek-a-boo behavior, doesn’t it?

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Eventually they returned to the area where they originally accessed the river earlier.

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Now that other sow, with the solo cub, came down to the river and though it wouldn’t let the cub, it didn’t hesitate to do a quick “dine & dash”.

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Though we saw the bears again very briefly the next morning, their appearances were limited and usually in the darker hours.  As sad as I was to depart the Russian River without a formal good-bye, I was so thankful of the present they shared with me … especially on my birthday.  I will always remember that joy I experienced that day.

Stay tuned for more bears … Katmai NP!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

8’s a Charm!

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.

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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.

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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.

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The action on the river was varied … whether they were simply traveling along the gravel bar checking out their surroundings …

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… or they were emerging from the hillside and entering the river …

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… or chasing down salmon …

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… 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Sometimes they would play for fun along the way.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Until the next blog post …. this will be the end!  🙂

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Stay tuned to more bears on the Russian River!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

Hot Dog !!!

One of the days, as we were traveling along in the Canadian Rockies, we came across a grizzly bear in the not too far distance.  “Stop the truck!” I said to Tom.  It was after all our first grizzly of our trip … see most of the bears we encountered were black bears.  So Tom, being a good sherpa, pulled over so I could observe and photograph the bear.  It sure was a beauty too.

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This bear was wandering around on the rocky landscape, in a location that I will never disclose.  I’m not being secretive about wildlife sightings, but it will make sense by the end of this post.  Promise  🙂

This healthy looking grizzly laid down on the gravel and began to roll around.  Oh, how cute, I thought … it’s scratching its side on the rough surface of the rocks.   I was ecstatic with the angle because I just LOVE bear paws and claws!

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It rolled over … kind of like a dog in the grass …

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… and it continued to roll around … over and over.  I was happily snapping off images and couldn’t believe what an awesome sighting this was.

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Every so often, it would glance over its shoulder to get a glance at the crowd that was quickly forming.  Most people were out of their cars.  Many tried to get closer to this bear, which made me very annoyed.  I mean, come on!  Here we had this gorgeous bear … acting like a bear!!!

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Hot dog!!!, I thought.  We sure did hit the mother lode opportunity.  This bear was giving us quite the show!!!  Didn’t think that it could get better.

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Well, you know when things seem too good to be true?  After not too much longer, I checked my screen and saw something that haunts me still to this day.  Something that was so inexcusable and disturbing.

That’s when I noticed that the grizzly bear was rolling around, like a dog when it rolls in something dead does.  But this was not your typical road kill.  This bear had been thrown hot dogs … not just one, not two, but 5 hot dogs!!!  Many of the images above were worked on to eliminate what was the reality, as seen in those below.

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Good Lord, who does that???  I’ve seen all kinds of things over the years, but I think that this is the thing that bothers me most.  Spending a lot of time in various locations photographing brown bears (grizzlies), I sure hope that whatever IDIOT person was responsible for giving this bear HOT DOGS! or any other kind of human food, will be caught and fined.  I mean, come on!!!

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This is clearly not the case of a bear who raided a BBQ grill, took the hot dogs to his own little picnic area, to sniff and roll around in.  This was deliberate!  I can’t even imagine why anyone would do this.  The reason that I will not disclose this location, and put this post out of order of our travels, is that this is not the fault of this bear.  Happy to report that he didn’t even eat them.

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When a wild bear is TAUGHT things that aren’t natural for them – like eating hot dogs provided by a human (no, make that spectator(s) standing within close vicinity – closer than regulations mandate), it can only lead to bad things for this poor bear.

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As I mentioned, this grizzly bear didn’t eat the hot dogs and eventually got annoyed with the onlookers, who were slowly, but surely, invaded its personal space, so it left the area and went off into the brush.  After we hadn’t seen the bear for about 5 minutes, Tom & I took a plastic bag and picked them up.  I didn’t want this bear – or another – to come back for it.

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Please remember that a FED BEAR is a DEAD BEAR !!!

After I wrote this post, I thought to myself, I could call this shot of the bear … Dead Bear Walking!  I know that this is not the norm for human behaviors and that especially anyone who is reading this post, would never do something like this, but I felt that I had to share this with everyone.  Let’s all get a dose of COMMON SENSE out there PLEASE!!!

More from our trip to come … so stay tuned!

© 2014 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

A Magical Place … Lake Clark NP

Every time we venture over to Alaska, we always try to do something different (sea kayaking, paragliding, whitewater rafting) or go somewhere different … and this year was not an exception.  OK, so it’s no surprise that we LOVE the brown bears.  We always fly over to Katmai or visit the Russian River to spend time with them, but we had never gone to the other area national parks, which are also renowned for their bears.  So, off we went to Lake Clark National Park for a new adventure.

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It was a short flight from Soldotna to Lake Clark and it was also an outstanding one – once we got off the ground.  The views were incredible!  That being said, for a few hours, I thought for sure that we would not be going, as the fog layer was quite thick in Soldotna.  That’s pretty much a way of life in Alaska … flight delays  😦  … and to make it worse, the weather was reportedly beautiful on the other side of the inlet.

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But we finally made it there.  We usually fly over in a floatplane to Katmai, so it was quite a treat to experience a beach landing!  Pretty nice arrival, I must say.

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We had plans to stay at the Alaska Homestead Lodge, hosted by James & Shelia Isaak, on the shores of the Cook Inlet, with Mt. Iliamna looming in the backdrop.  What a fabulous place with great views, great food, great lodging, great guests and great “neighbors”.

The first “neighbor” to greet us was a brown bear nicknamed “Trouble”.  How excited I was as I rushed to grab my gear to document the welcoming party.  It came strolling down the “road” … I say “road” because the dirt road in front of the property was also the “runway” for James’ personal airplanes.

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Trouble didn’t get that nickname for nothing, as he immediately found the barrel out in the garden and began to try to roll it around and mess it up.  To us, it was fun to watch though and quite comical.

What an innocent looking young bear!   ... Not!

What an innocent looking young bear! … Not!

Meet Trouble ... doing what he did best  :-)

Meet Trouble … doing what he did best 🙂

Eventually, with a bear just being a bear, it found the cover to the septic tank and began to gnaw on it.  Well, that didn’t sit well with the owners and he got yelled at and as it ran off, it tried to take the cover with him!  LOL

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After a quick orientation to the property, we were off to find the bears.  There were signs of them along the way, as we ventured out to the shores of the inlet.

Now that's a big one!

Now that’s a big one!

Before long, we came across our first brown bear … coming in from the water it was coming right towards us … and continued past us.  Trouble was also present and we thought that we might have an interaction between the two, but Trouble was quite the submissive one around other bears.

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Most of the time, we found this bear doing one of two things ….  sitting and looking around

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…. or resting on a pile of warm sand, probably with its fresh catch buried under the mound.

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But you couldn’t beat the view!

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The bears weren’t the only ones fishing off the coast, as one morning we were treated to a bald eagle flying in, hitting the waters surface, grabbing a fish, and flying off with the prize.

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Again, the bears wouldn’t be outdone by the eagles, so they would catch their own, carry it off, bury it, and of course, take a nap!

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During our stay, the bears were less plentiful than even just a few days ahead, but none of that mattered to us.  We were just so happy that we could spend our wedding anniversary in the most magnificent place around.  Our “30th” … maybe, but probably more like our 5th.  See, our hosts had a 30th celebration for us, which made us laugh, but we took that as a good omen to come.  Thanks to all at the Homestead that helped to make it special for us.  🙂

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Until next time …. we leave you with the serenity of Lake Clark NP

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Next up for the Blog …. All aboard in Talkeetna!!

Did You Want More Katmai Bears?

I don’t know about you, but I personally can NEVER get enough of the wonderful bears of Katmai NP & Preserve.  I keep emphasizing the “Preserve” portion of Katmai because this year, we were actually not in the Park, but in the Preserve.  See, it makes all of the difference in the world to these bears.  More on that later.

Another one of the bears we spent time with this year I nicknamed “Scruffy”.  He was a beautiful bear, a bit younger and smaller than the ones in the last post, and he was in the process of shedding his fur, so essentially was going through that “awkward” stage.  LOL.

"Scruffy"

“Scruffy”

As you can see though, he was quite skilled as a fisherman as well, so it won’t be long before he gets big enough to compete with the likes of the larger boars of the area.

Scruffy gets ready to pounce on a nearby salmon

Scruffy gets ready to pounce on a nearby salmon

Got 'em!

Got ’em!

It is amazing to me how … when there is plenty of salmon for everyone, all of the bears seem to really get along well.

Let the feasting begin ....

Let the feasting begin ….

Not a scrap goes to waste ... leftovers get turned over to the gulls for clean-up duty

Not a scrap goes to waste … leftovers get turned over to the gulls for clean-up duty

All sorts of bears were along the shores and the waters of the creek in an attempt to fatten up before the winter while the going was good.

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Just like us humans, these bears, after an afternoon of feasting ultimately will reach the point when they are full and a siesta is in order.  So you might just find them sleeping on the banks ….

Imagine running into this on your hike!

Imagine running into this on your hike!

…. or simply resting in the brush, allowing their food some time to digest.

Waking the sleepy bear

Waking the sleepy bear

Then of course, it’s time to do it all over again!

Going for Round 2 - or maybe 4 or 5, who knows!

Going for Round 2 – or maybe 4 or 5, who knows!

One bear, we nicknamed him “Lazy Bear” would apparently be so full and fat, that he would simply arrive at the edge of the water, sit down in the water, and fish from that spot.  I mean you could literally see him sizing up the fishing opportunities from his seated position, getting up only to actually capture the “sure bet” salmon.  I guess we could have called him “sedentary bear”.  🙂

This looks like a good place to fish

This looks like a good place to fish

"Sitting on the shore of the creek ... watching the salmon swimming away"

“Sitting on the shore of the creek … watching the salmon swimming away”

Expend no extra energy than necessary

Expend no extra energy than necessary

Before we left Katmai Preserve, we were treated to the only sow and cubs that we encountered on this particular viewing.  Of course, it was a special treat to see them.  I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that she had her young out in the open in that area, as the big boar are known to go after and kill the young, but I guess that’s more so in the mating season.  I’m sure she knew what she was doing.

Sow with one of her spring cubs hiding behind her

Sow with one of her spring cubs hiding behind her

I mentioned earlier that these bears and Funnel Creek were in the Preserve boundaries, as opposed to the National Park.  See, in the preserve, contrary to how it sounds, they can actually be hunted during the bear hunting season.  I don’t mean to get all crazy about it, but it does drive me nuts because these bears are clearly not afraid of humans.  Doesn’t seem like a very fair hunting practice to me, but it does occur and it’s BIG business.  If you’re not aware of this practice, you can read up on it by googling it … if you’re like me, it will bring tears to your eyes.  I pray for their welfare and safety.

Probably the worst part of our trips to Katmai is the farewell.  Not much of a mature farewell for me … I literally go kicking and screaming!  But in my heart of hearts, I know that I will return, maybe not to the same exact location, but back nonetheless.  Who knows, these bears have such an incredible range in which they roam, perhaps we WILL meet again.  As the Beatles song goes … “I’ll Follow the Sun”, I’ll follow these Katmai bears and I know that they’ll follow the salmon!

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One more trip back to the Sadie Cove wilderness to drop off our new found friends …

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As soon as our plane dropped us back off in Homer, it took off to pick up the last of the workers and supplies out of McNeil River … when Tom realized our RV keys were on the plane’s seat.  Sweet one babe!  But alas, our guide Dave saved the day by taking us to Fat Olives for some yummy salad and pizza (the best ever), while we waited for our plane to return with our keys – hopefully.  It did return … they were on board … and life was good again!

For anyone that might be heading off to Katmai from Homer and needs a guide, I highly recommend Dave for “above & beyond the call of duty” service!  You can find out more on his website at http://www.goseebears.com.

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Until next year ….

NEXT:  The town of Homer

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing Like Katmai!

Nothing says “bears” in the vast open wilderness like Katmai National Park & Preserve.  From our first visit in 2007, and every year since, we have indulged in the natural beauty and magical moments of the various places within Katmai.  Every year has been different – all have been exceptional!  It’s always a nail-biter situation, for not always are you able to fly out when you plan to, as unplanned weather delays and cancellations are a way of life in Alaska.  We arrived at Beluga Air on the Beluga Lake Seaplane Base and were concerned when we saw it through a thick layer of fog … but luckily as the sun made its appearance, it quickly burned off the fog.

Beluga Lake Sea-port

Beluga Air waiting on Beluga Lake

This year, we were treated to a special side trip to pick up a couple at a remote location within Sadie Cove, in Kachemak Bay & Cook Inlet.  Such a beautiful piece of paradise over there.  We know because we took a sea kayaking tour over there on a past trip.

Remote paradise encountered within Sadie Cove - totally "off the grid"

Remote paradise encountered within Sadie Cove – totally “off the grid”

Off we were to Katmai NP & Preserve … to wherever the bears happened to be congregating in the greatest numbers.  The bears follow the salmon run & being later in the salmon season, that means that they’re more inland than on the coast.

Aerial view of the beauty possessed with Katmai

Aerial view of the beauty possessed with Katmai

What a gorgeous landscape - meandering streams, glacier carved valleys, glacially fed lakes ... heaven on earth!

What a gorgeous landscape – meandering streams, glacier carved valleys, glacially fed lakes … heaven on earth!

Once we landed and our “business” was taken care of, we began to hike towards Funnel Creek.  Our guide, Dave, suggested that we hike about a mile or two before we began our bear pursuit.

Tom leads the pack as we hike out to photograph the brown bears

Tom leads the pack as we hike out to photograph the brown bears

But it didn’t take that long before we saw our first brown bear grazing  for berries on the tundra just ahead of us.  Of course, we were in hiking mode and I only had a wide angle lens on my camera at that point.  We hiked to a respectable distance, then let the bear have the right of way.  Once it went by, we continued on our hike.  The other couple with us had never seen wild bears before … never been to Alaska.  How fun it would be to watch their excitement grow.

Nothing but open tundra covered in berries and bears!

Nothing but open tundra covered in berries and bears!

We began hiking through the creek, as it winded back and forth in an on-going “S” fashion.  Soon we encountered our first close bear in the water … and he was quite the big guy.

This boar surprised us as it emerged through the dense brush from one turn of the creek

This boar surprised us as it emerged through the dense brush from one turn of the creek

To be quite honest, I think that he was the BIGGEST boar that we had ever seen!  Our guide estimated that by the end of the summer, he would be ~1200 pounds!

Look at the size of this guy!

His belly was practically hanging in the water!

Our guide knew this bear well – even had him nicknamed “FlapJack”, earned by the pancaked ear, a result of an injury some time in the past.

"What was that?"

“What was that?”

This was a big healthy boar all right.  He didn’t get that way for no reason … he was quite a skilled fisherman and though he looked like he couldn’t get around easily … that was not the case!

First interest peaks and plan of action is determined

First interest peaks and plan of action is determined

The sight of this big guy readying to stalk its dinner, then the sound of it splashing … not more like thrashing through the creek waters was undeniably eerie.  I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity being in the water with the bear, but he had one thing on his mind and it wasn’t me.

The chase sequence is activated

The chase sequence is activated

Success!!!

Success!!!

Can't imagine how hard it was for this bear to haul itself out of the water!

Can’t imagine how hard it was for this bear to haul itself out of the water!

"I have no idea what happened to that salmon ... honestly"

“I have no idea what happened to that salmon … honestly”

Every so often, he would shake himself off … like a dog when it gets out of the water … and it was quite amazing to watch that big boar shake!

S-H-A-K-E !!!

S-H-A-K-E !!!

Of course, there were many other brown bears in the creek.  It seems like at every turn of the creek, we could either see or hear one racing up and down the stream chasing the salmon.  It was literally excitement at every corner!

Well, hello there ... as we encounter another big boar!

Well, hello there … as we encounter another big boar!

Triple Trouble!  Not!  Triple the FUN!

Triple Trouble! Not! Triple the FUN!

The landscape of Katmai is spectacular in itself … with so many bears calling it home – and moving around the landscape following the salmon.  Such a special place, for the bears and for us as visitors to their home – a privilege that I take seriously and with great pleasure.

Beauty in the wildlife ... and the surroundings

Beauty in the wildlife … and the surroundings

More to come in the next Blog post!

Do you think that we're happy?

Do you think that we’re happy?

Special Moments on the Russian River

Have you ever awaken in the morning and got that feeling that the day was going to be a special one?  Well, for me, it was just that kind of day.  By 6:00 am, we were off to the Russian River boardwalk to begin our “bear stroll”.  We walked to the confluence, where the Russian & Kenai rivers merge, and we were treated to early morning heavy fog and mist, with the early morning light beginning to emerge.

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We sat down to enjoy the view and wait for the sun to rise – or at least the bears to emerge.  There was an wonderful sense of tranquility on the river, so quiet, nothing but the sound of the gulls and eagles calling out in the distance.  Each year on the river, we meet great people, some from the far stretches of the world, some local.  All have their reasons for being there – wildlife, fishing, adventure, seeking peace and enjoyment of the wilderness of Alaska.

The seagulls were the only ones around

The seagulls were the only ones around

This year, we met some new friends from Anchorage – Renee and Alton – and we were there for the same reasons, which included photographing the bears.  We walked along the path alongside the river, but the bears were in hiding.  After some time, we felt that they were going to be no-shows.  We turned around and this is what we saw …

It was truly a magical moment!

It was truly a magical moment!

See, I always say that things happen for a reason … and if you’re open to it, you’ll be treated to something even more special.  It was such an amazing moment and our equipment was changed out accordingly to be able to capture it.  The sunlight rays were simply beaming through the trees and the misty atmosphere simply added to the view.

Sunbeams and rays - doesn't get any better than this

Sunbeams and rays – doesn’t get any better than this

Before long – all lost in the magical moment – we hear Tom interrupting with … “we have bears!”.  What????  I have to laugh at how quickly our reflective moment turned into pursuit.

Backlit bear crosses the river not far from us

Backlit bear crosses the river not far from us

What a encounter we were treated to that morning!  The air was cooler that morning and I remember that the boardwalk was actually covered with a thin layer of ice in spots.  I think that the bears really enjoyed the colder weather, especially with the sunlight out.

Lots of action on the river

Lots of action on the river

Catching, then ultimately eating, the salmon was the favorite activity of these amazing bears.

Those poor salmon never stood a chance!

Those poor salmon never stood a chance!

Yum, Yum, Yum ... a bear's sushi bar!

Yum, Yum, Yum … a bear’s sushi bar!

During their break from fishing, they would interact with each other through sniffing, soft pawing, and gentle biting.  Nothing like watching sub-adult bears – not quite adult behavior and still open to playful encounters.

Gentle encounter between young sub-adult bears

Gentle encounter between young sub-adult bears

To get the best angles on these bears, one must get low to be on their level.  The position of the sunlight is also a consideration.

Sometimes the bears just seem to know, and go, right where you want them

Sometimes the bears just seem to know, and go, right where you want them

Of course, the bears dictate where you can be and if the bear wants to be where you are, you gently relinquish your spot to them.

Bear approaches the stairs where we were sitting

Bear approaches the stairs where we were sitting

Funny how bears will sheepishly walk towards you to get a better look - or sniff.

Funny how bears will sheepishly walk towards you to get a better look – or sniff.

Probably one of my favorite actions exhibited by the bears is what I call “the shake”.

I always wonder what makes them think that they can shed that excess water off of them while they're in the water!  LOL

I always wonder what makes them think that they can shed that excess water off of them while they’re in the water! LOL

This one particular bear was having a ball in the water.  It would find the hole where the salmon were congregating and catch one …

Such skillful fishermen the bears are

Such skillful fishermen the bears are

… then get on its back and begin to devour it, as the river current floated the bear down the river, all feet in the air, grasping its prize …

Lazy day bear

Lazy day bear

… then it would do it all again!  Got to love it!  🙂

What fun these bears have ... just another day in the life of a bear!

What fun these bears have … just another day in the life of a bear!

So we had a great start to our Alaskan adventure during those 3 days spent on the Russian River.  Met some awesome new friends, enjoyed their company, had lots of funny moments, and of course, got to spend some incredible time with the bears.  🙂

Yes, they sure do have the life!  Then again, so does Tom!

By mid-day, Tom takes a well needed rest on the Russian River banks

By mid-day, Tom takes a well needed rest on the Russian River banks

Today is a special day as well … it’s my sherpa’s birthday!  Today’s post is dedicated to my husband and best friend – Tom.  Happy Birthday baby!  Love you!  xoxoxo

Next will be our visit to Katmai National Park & Preserve for more coastal brown bears!

Our 2013 Alaskan Adventure Begins

My passion ... brown bears of Alaska!

My passion … brown bears of Alaska!

It has become a summer tradition … our annual trek to the magnificent wilderness of the US, known as Alaska, or what others might call the “last frontier”.  To us, it is paradise and it seems that we can’t let a year go by without it.  This year was no different, so off we went to spend 26 magnificent days … where my spirit would soar, my energies renew, and my heart would go a-flutter.  🙂  For the next month, I will try to share with my readers our memories from 2013.

This year, our adventure was a very different one.  For one thing, we had more inclement weather (i.e. very drizzly and overcast, especially in the beginning) and lots of concentrated wildlife sightings, with lots of nothing in between.  Let me start with our time on the Kenai, specifically our 3rd and 4th days staying at the Russian River in Cooper Landing… one of the hot spots for brown bears … at least while the salmon is running.

Our first morning at the campground, we ventured down to the boardwalk, in search of bears.  Wasn’t long before we got our first sighting.  See the fisherman were leaving, warning us of the bear ahead, so off we went for some bear photography.

Sub-adult bear seeking privacy to eat its salmon snack

Sub-adult bear seeking privacy to eat its salmon snack

We observed it from a respectable distance, often making eye contact with this magnificent creature.  Before long, it decided to head back to the river, so up the boardwalk it went, as we backed off accordingly.  It took a leisurely stroll to the next stair access to the river.

"Share the Road" - brown bear style ... got to love that paw pad.

“Share the Road” – brown bear style … got to love that paw pad.

The river was a virtual “floating buffet line” of salmon, as they made their way upstream in their ultimate last deed before becoming part of the circle of life.  Problem for the bear was simply which one to grab.

Checking out "What's for Dinner?"

Checking out “What’s for Dinner?”

Ultimately, the chase begins….

Such intensity on their faces during this feeding frenzy period

Such intensity on their faces during this feeding frenzy period

Even during the pursuit, there are many decisions to be made ... like which one!

Even during the pursuit, there are many decisions to be made … like which one!

Once a salmon is successfully caught by the bear, it’s quite a thrill to watch them as they efficiently and skillfully devour it, in a very targeted approach.

What a prize ... can't you just see the pride in the bear?

What a prize … can’t you just see the pride in the bear?

Of course, the seagulls are always hanging around to dutifully pick up any scraps left behind by the bears.

Quite the conversation these two are engaging in ... such a racket too!

Quite the conversation these two are engaging in … such a racket too!

Even when the bears aren’t chasing salmon in the river, they are always a thrill for us to observe them as they go about their daily ritual.  Such activities include getting around in the slippery river rocks and over, on and around the trees.

So fun to watch them navigate the fallen tree branches ... not always to perfection though.  LOL

So fun to watch them navigate the fallen tree branches … not always to perfection though. LOL

Such a peaceful creature, as it pauses to assess the "goings on" around it

Such a peaceful creature, as it pauses to assess the “goings on” around it

The morning hours on the Russian River are especially rewarding, even if the bears haven’t arrive yet.  Tom & I don our hip waders and venture out into the river alongside the fishermen.  Not once have we thrown out a line to catch anything, though Tom has been known to catch a few with his bare hands (catch & release, of course).

How many Florida boys own hip waders?  Especially guys who don't even fish!

How many Florida boys own hip waders? Especially guys who don’t even fish!

Over the years, I feel like we’ve gotten to know some of the local bears.  This year there were 2 sub-adult bears hanging out together quite often.  After looking at some shots from last years adventure, I can’t help but feel that these are actually the 2 yearling cubs we photographed last year, but without their mom.  See, the bears usually keep them for 2 years, then kick them out to fend on their own.

Not completely sure, but I believe that these are the siblings that we photographed last year  :-)

Not completely sure, but I believe that these are the siblings that we photographed last year 🙂

It’s fun to see how good of fishermen they have become … yes, mom taught them well.  🙂

Mine!  Mine!  Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Further down the river, past the confluence, is the Kenai River, which is world renowned for its “combat fishing” – standing shoulder to shoulder, while fishing lines are being tangled, patience wanes, and tempers flare.  Of course, late August is not peak time for salmon fishing for the humans … but for the bears, it’s like a little bit of heaven.

What a life!

What a life!

Signing off for now … be sure to check back next week and beyond for more posts covering our 2013 Alaskan Adventure.  Hope that you enjoy.

Taking a break on the Kenai River on one of the most glorious days we encountered.

Taking a break on the Kenai River on one of the most glorious days we encountered.