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

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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

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!

 

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?