It Just Keeps Getting Better! (Part 3: Katmai NP)

Continuing on with Part 3 from our recent trips to Katmai NP & Preserve….

We last spent time with this amazing sow and her young solo cub, where the cub had one thing in mind … nursing on mom, while we were in awe of the purring sounds coming out of the cub while doing so.

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However, soon mom had something else on her mind also … salmon … and soon leaves her cub briefly to enter the river in search of something to eat.

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Doesn’t take too long before she has found herself a nice catch.

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Consuming the salmon is short work for these skilled bears.

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Meanwhile, the cub awakens and becomes curious as to where mom went.  Standing on its hind legs is generally reserved for danger, simple curiosity, or getting a better view of its surroundings, as in this case.

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Once it spots its mom, off it goes to join her.  After some tugging and growling with the mom over the salmon catch, the cub finally wins that battle … as it learns how to take care of itself.

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And so she goes … back for another meal.

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We observed numerous bears over the course of the day.  This particular bear has caught itself a fine specimen.

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Not just any salmon, but a female, as evidenced by some of the roe flying about as it is chomped on.

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As it emerges from the river, often shaking off the excess water is one of the first things that they do.

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We noticed that this bear headed straight towards us with its catch. Awesome cooperation buddy!

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Then we happened to see it glancing to its right.  That’s when we realized what was going on ….

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This even bigger bear had set its sights on it, and its salmon, as it came charging in, then halted.

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Right about then, this bear walked right past us, stared at us as if to test our intentions, then planted himself strategically on the other side of us, basically putting us between it and the other bear.

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From there it began to devour its salmon.  See, this was a smart bear, for it came by us and sat near to us, knowing that the other bear didn’t want to be near us.  Sows do the same thing often enough with their cubs.  Though not this year, but in years past, we’ve had them essentially drop them off with us for unofficial babysitting duties.  LOL

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Meanwhile the cub from earlier was up on the hillside, along with it entourage of gulls, which were just waiting for any leftover scraps from the cub’s salmon.

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As we began to leave (myself most unwillingly), I noticed the cub, its belly full of salmon and its mom’s milk, settled down and lounged back – it’s “buddha belly” all swollen and peered down at us.  It was one of the cutest things I had ever seen!

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So, was our time in Katmai National Park & Preserve!  Of course, our guide Dave was gracious enough to capture our farewell shot – Tom B, me, and my husband, Tom.  Yes, I believe there were smiles all around … even on Dave!

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If anyone is interested in bear viewing – day or overnight adventures – in Katmai, I highly recommend AK Adventures (www.goseebears.com).  Dave Bachrach is our guide, who came to us highly recommended by our other guides from years past.  We’ve ventured out with Dave for 3 years now and have enjoyed our trips with him immensely.  Of course, for flying out to Katmai, we also highly recommend Wes and Angela of Beluga Air in Homer (www.belugaair.com).  Flying in the bush can be a concern for many, but we always feel in good hands.

Until next year … I hope that the bears have a successful winter’s hibernation and remain free and safe in 2015.

Oh, and of course, watching all of those brown bears catching and eating all of that salmon made us hungry for our own sushi … Yummy!

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Up next in the blog … Homer, AK … my favorite town in Alaska!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

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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

 

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!