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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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
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”.
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
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.
Each made its way down to the river in search of salmon. All were respectful of each other and especially of “Big Jim”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Want to see more images from Katmai? … stay tuned for Thursday night, when Part 3 of Katmai gets posted!
© 2014 TNWA Photography