Did You Think I Was Done With The Bears?

As I finish up on the bears of Katmai NP & Preserve, we have more images from our initial set of spring cubs and their mom.  We seemed to see these guys just about everywhere that we went….. not that I’m at all complaining … to the contrary, I was elated.DSC_8219 As they would move along the edge of the river, mom would pay close attention to the boars in the area … for though this is not breeding season, sometimes boars and young cubs don’t mix well.DSC_8292 When she saw something that she didn’t like, she would head up on the ridge line for better options.DSC_8296 Eventually, when the threat was gone, she would then return her and the cubs to the rivers edge for some more fishing.  This sow was not the best fish catcher out there … she should take some time to watch Flapjack … the most skilled by far!DSC_8319 When the cubs weren’t in hot pursuit of following mom, they would periodically use that time to get some playing in … way too cute!DSC_8345 One this particular day, we opted to carry only one tripod, so Tom would occasionally improvise while I was using it.  Quite resourceful, I say, using that big backpack as a backrest on the rocky shore.IMG_2927 Glad he did too, so he could get low profile images like this one!DSC_8371 Of course, sometimes he improvised in other ways … like using my head for his tripod!  Thanks Dave for capturing this very special moment.  To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less.  Nothing can distract me from photographing the bears…. just figured that I would deal with him later.  😉IMG_0984This little one is obviously an over-achiever in the making.
DSC_8614 OK, who can guess who the cub in the back is?  Of course, it’s the same cub who we often found standing up.  LOL.  When they stand, to me, they seem to take on behaviors like our own children.  Wouldn’t you agree?DSC_8392 Now for the 3rd set of spring cubs from this years trip … meet Ying & Yang.  I had seen them from the floatplane as we were beginning to land, but they were off running, the opposite direction, on the vast landscape, so I was thinking that we weren’t going to meet this sought after trio.  Luckily, we did.  Aptly named due to drastic difference in coloration.  What’s really cool about this is that I’ve never seen such a light colored cub!  It’s not blonde … almost a grey silver color!  Really, really unique! In 9 years of photographing bears, I’ve never seen anything like it.  Not only its extremely light color, but its fur was like a fluff ball.DSC_8888I was, as everyone else was, amazed and became entranced with their differences.  DSC_6577 Towards the end of the day, this mom led her cubs up on the hillside and searched for somewhere to lay down to nurse them, but the cubs had other ideas and we never got to see it before we had to leave.DSC_8507 DSC_8524 So all in all, 2015 was an amazing trip to Katmai NP & Preserve for us.  We had such varying photo ops …. whether it be simply solo bears chasing and catching salmon ….DSC_9120 … to not one, or two, or three, but 4 sows, each with 2 spring cubs (though only able to photograph 3 of them) …DSC_9207 … to photographing spring cubs playing together while mom was fishing …DSC_8958  … to being able to capture tender bonding moments such as this moment between sow and one of her cubs, it was amazing.  Unbelieveable how each trip is so different from the last.  For those that don’t understand why we keep going back … there’s your answer.DSC_8985 Back at the floatplane, just prior to boarding, we paused to get a shot of Tom & I, with Dave (www.goseebears.com) and Wes (www.belugaair.com), our friends.  We highly recommend the services of both of them.  🙂IMG_2982 Yes, we’re now back to returning past Homer Spit, and heading towards Beluga Lake, with nothing but a HUGE SMILE across my face … some things, never changed._DSC3084 The same goes true for a celebratory dinner at Fat Olives in town.  Yum yum!IMG_2956Next up:  2015 – Photographic Year In Review

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

Continuing on with the splendor of Katmai NP & Preserve …..

Usually when we visit in late August, we get lots of males or single females without cubs.  When we see  sows with cubs, they’re usually yearlings (cubs just over 1.5 years old).  So you can imagine my excitement when out of the bushes emerged this gorgeous blonde sow and her two spring cubs.  These cubs are about 8 months old and just the cutest things ever!
DSC_7596 I mean … how CUTE are these two adorable sibling cubs?  Sporting those natal collars and inquisitive expressions … all the while keeping their eye on their mom, but also watching us, full of wonder.DSC_7645 They are so curious about everything that they encounter … fish, rocks, branches … doesn’t matter.  Usually they tend to stick close together when moms not right next to them.DSC_7639 They’re pretty obedient too.  When you watch the command that these sows have over her cubs, it makes you wonder where many humans went wrong with their own young.  Sure these cubs test the limit every now and then, but they are quickly reprimanded and they learn quickly where the line is drawn.DSC_7647 DSC_7642In case you’re wondering why these two cubs look so different, it’s because they probably had two different fathers.  See, these sows are quite promiscuous and mate with different boars during the season.  So it’s not at all unusual to have cubs that don’t resemble one another, color-wise.
DSC_7677Mom keeps them quite close, catching salmon for them to feed upon and modeling the skills needed for survival.  While they stay quite attentive to her, passing distractions, like this bird, sometimes win over the attention of the young curious cubs.  LOL
DSC_7764 Sibling cubs can also have quite different personalities too.  This one cub in the back was always the more cautious one between these two and often we found him standing up to investigate the situations better.DSC_7942 However, both interact together and though they might bicker about who’s fish it is, for example, often they share … or take turns.DSC_8051 As with most young animals, they can be quite animated and silly.  This little one had just fallen over and was trying to right itself … quite the rolly polly … you can’t help but be entertained watching them.DSC_9243 Sometimes, in their anxiousness to be more grown up, they tend to bite off more than they can handle.  Case in point, this little springer picks up this huge salmon … already dead … and tries to drag it around and impress the others.  LOLDSC_9096 These two sibling cubs, another set, had the best time ever playing in the creeks waters, as mom chased down salmon nearby.  DSC_8965 DSC_8958 So curious they were … climbing, chewing, shaking, and pouncing on the nearby shrubs in the creek.DSC_8954 Now back to the original two siblings, they found their own trees to play with on the banks.  Of course, their mom stayed nearby as well.DSC_6668 DSC_6758 Again, there are more images to share, including another most interesting set of cubs.  Yes, we had a great time out there and the weather, though more threatening on this day, was still not bad.  Life is good.  🙂IMG_2980Up Next:  Polar opposites … no, not polar bears (that will come later).

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

The Happiest Place on Earth … Katmai!!

Always a favorite adventure for me each year is our return to Katmai National Park & Preserve for some amazing bear encounters and photography.  As we have for the past 3 years, we enlisted the services of Dave Bachrach of AK Adventures to serve as our guide and Wes Head of Beluga Air to get us there safely.

On this trip to Alaska so far it had been pretty good weather, so we hoped that our luck would continue.  Sure enough, on the day of our departure for Katmai, the skies were clear and we were psyched to board the Beaver floatplane for the leisurely trip over.  Beluga Lake was just about as calm as could be.

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Of course, I kept some gear in the cabin with me, ready to take some aerial shots along the way.  This image is of Homer Spit which is a road that extends into Kachemak Bay, with the amazing mountain and glacial views as a backdrop.  Gorgeous!_DSC3085 Mt. Augustine, situated in Cook Inlet, is the most active volcano of the Eastern Aleutian arc.  On our way to Katmai, we always fly over it, but don’t always have such a clear view. Last eruption was in 2006, which can play havoc for aviation in the area.DSC_6155 Once we landed in the interior of Katmai NP & Preserve, Tom was able to pull up his hip waders as he exited the floatplane.  His steady hands and feet are always appreciated, especially by me as we transfer our backpacks, camera gear, and tripods._DSC3054Almost as soon as we began our hike from the lake to the river and creek where the bears were congregating, we saw evidence of their presence … the bear print … one of my favorite sightings.  🙂
DSC_6182 Once we reached the river, our first glimpse was that of this sitting brown bear … stationary in the waters and just chillin.DSC_6161 Though it’s hard to judge the size of a sitting bear, once they stand up, it’s much easier to tell that this was no mini bear.  LOLDSC_6171 As we hiked off the beaten path, in search of bears a bit more secluded, we ran into this beautiful, yet scruffy looking, bear fishing for salmon in the creek.  My favorite part of photographing bears is when they look at us … and our eyes meet and we become unitied in place and time.  Bears eyes are so captivating to me, I find it hard to get behind the lens because I want to see them firsthand.  DSC_6195 While we remained still, simply observing this bear, it decided that fishing was a bit slow and it would sit along the creeks bank and wait for some salmon to swim close enough to it, that it didn’t have to exert too much effort.  Again, the stare vacillated between looking for salmon and checking us out.DSC_6282 Eventually, it found what it was looking for and in a quick lunge, it was over for the poor salmon.DSC_6518 Many different solo bears were out and about, staking a little bit of geography as their fishing spot … all the while the occasional human fisherman were out there as well.DSC_7026 Everyone was catching salmon, but none more proficiently than the brown bears.  🙂DSC_7055 DSC_7046 Preferentially, the bears seek out the female salmon, since the eggs are quite the delicacy. When they find one, they go straight for the roe.  In this image, you can see the eggs flying out of the fish as the bear tears into it.DSC_7071For some strange reason, I had just asked Dave about an unforgettable boar from a few years back.  To my surprise Dave said that he had seen him earlier this year.  I was quite thrilled because he was quite large and older, so I was happy that he had made it over the last two years.

Tom called out a large bear coming around the corner of the creek, so we watched for it as it approached.  I couldn’t believe my eyes … it was my long lost friend, Flapjack!  The same boar that I had just asked about.  Now I was over the top ecstatic as he got nearer and nearer.
DSC_7220I know it sounds crazy, but he got pretty close, then just stared at us, and I felt that perhaps he remembered us.  LOL.  People tell me that I humanize animals a bit, but it was truly a magical moment for me.  I remember the first time, 2 years ago, when we encountered him.  He was, by far, the largest boar I had ever seen.  Quite identifiable by its right ear injury, which left his ear split and flat … like a pancake … hence the nickname “Flapjack”.
DSC_7449 A proficient fishing machine, as you can well imagine by his size, he still had great technique and was catching more than his share of salmon.  He was also quite quick in devouring it.  🙂DSC_7491 Yes, we were quite happy so far with our adventure … especially since it was my birthday!  I considered Flapjack’s visit as my present, as well as the amazing brown bear activity and the awesome weather.  So many images this year, so the blog will feature 2 more posts of these amazing creatures.IMG_2929Not to be outdone by the bears, we celebrated our bear viewing with some sushi of our own.  🙂  Oh, and I can’t forget about that amazing appetizer of brussel sprouts too!IMG_0978IMG_0975

Next Up:  Cubs, Cubs, & more Cubs!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

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

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?

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.

2012 Review: PART 3 – Brown Bears of the Kenai Peninsula & Katmai

Of course, our sights were also focused on our return to Alaska – our 6th annual trip!  This time we visited with our good friends, Todd & Susan, who were experiencing Alaska for their first time.  Really made it fun to see and hear their thoughts on a place that has become so near and dear to us over the years.  We spent about a week on the Kenai Peninsula – visiting with the Russian River bears (always a thrill), eagle watching in Homer, walking Bishops Beach near Home Spit,

Hanging on to the prize

Hanging on to the prize

Like a child playing in their bathtub

Like a child playing in their bathtub

Out on the Russian River

Out on the Russian River – photo courtesy of Todd Stein

and of course, spending some time with the coastal brown bears in Katmai NP.  This year, we spent time at Kuliak Bay, where we were treated to numerous bears, including some sows and their adorable cubs.  What a sight these cubs were, as they scurried by us, not sure of what we were or what we were doing in their world.

Spring cub is not too sure about us

Spring cub is not too sure about us

Salmon fishing at the falls

Salmon fishing at the falls

Chasing down the river towards us (after the salmon, of course)

Chasing down the river towards us (after the salmon, of course)

Retreating into the tall grasses to rest

Retreating into the tall grasses to rest

No matter how many times we visit Katmai NP, it’s never the same.  We have been fortunate to visit new locations within the vast Katmai landscape each year and 2012 was no different.  We even got to spend some time with crew members of the BBC film crew shooting a documentary in the area.

... missed ....

… missed ….

The skillful fisherman

The skillful fisherman

The flight over to Katmai is always a treat for the eyes, but this year we were treated to an incredible fly-over of the glacial landscape and mountains of the coastal areas and a bit of the interior of Katmai – on an amazingly beautiful day.  I can’t thank Jon enough for that added bonus thrill for us!

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What an incredible place!  Make it a destination for yourself one day!

Stay tuned for more of the 2012 year in review!