I have recently returned from a great trip to Alaska and Lake Clark National Park, travelling with the group from Natures Images. I also stayed on for two extra days once the group had left. The weather was something of a challenge as for most of the time it was grey, overcast and rain, sometimes it was torrential, horizontal rain accompanied by gale force winds! At the end of August and first weeks of September grizzly bears visit the creeks and inlets to catch salmon which are moving from the ocean into the river systems to spawn. Once this has been achieved some species of salmon return back to the ocean. It is at these creeks and inlets that the grizzlies are waiting. To see a grizzly catching salmon is dependant on tide times which determine the water level, salmon actually running and grizzlies being present. To photograph a grizzly catching salmon in that magical golden light we photographers dream of adds another factor into the equation. Getting everything to come together is a rarity and didn’t quite happen for us this time. However being in the presence and so close to these magnificent animals was a truly breathtaking experience.
We did have one magical day when the sun shone and the skies were blue and finally we could see the snow capped mountains which are just inland from our lodge. We certainly tried to make the most of this day.
There was one female bear in particular that we saw most days who fished the inlet close to our lodge. She had been nick named crimp ear by the lodge guides (her left ear was crimped!) and proved to be a star. It wasn’t unusual to see her stroll right past our cabins and through the lodge grounds, totally relaxed and unconcerned with our human presence. Here is an image of crimp ear on a typical rainy day.
One of the days the forecast was really bad – rain and gale force winds. A fishing group who had been staying at the lodge could not leave as the small plane flights were grounded and the plane at the lodge had been roped to one of the transport buggies to prevent it being blown away. From the lodge we could see crimp ear sitting in the bay and finally five of us braved the conditions. Within minutes we were soaked, we had to hang on to our tripods to prevent them being blown over but it was an exhilarating experience and I have one of my favourite pictures of the trip from this session.
When the water level was just right and the salmon were “running” the bears had easy pickings. It is vitally important that the bears eat as much as possible in the summer and autumn in order to build up sufficient fat reserves for surviving the winter denning period. When the bears were so full they could not eat any more they continued to catch salmon, quite often burying the fish in the soft sand and then lying on top of the mound.
On the last day at the lodge with the group everything almost came together, our first sunrise, a day of blue skies and clear views, tides in our favour giving us 2 hours of favourable conditions either side of mid day and most importantly bears fishing.
Our favourite bear, “crimp ear” looked wonderful in the autumn sunshine and certainly looks in fantastic condition in preparation for the winter.
This was certainly turning into a special day and as a grand finale a mum and two unbelievably cute cubs made a surprise appearance.
Like all youngsters they only wanted to play. Mum carefully steered them away from another bear but seemed completely unconcerned with our group of photographers and quite happily strolled through the middle of us, cubs eventually following.
The following day the group returned to Anchorage leaving myself, Sam and Phil at the lodge. The weather was back to its usual – wet and grey but the bears were fishing and I was still trying for a shot I had in mind of a bear having just caught a fish, looking straight at my camera. On my last day I got something close to this, then called it a day and spent a very pleasant (but wet) afternoon having a fly fishing lesson before catching four “huge” salmon with the spinning rod!
Despite the challenges of this trip, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the bears of Silver Salmon Creek. Thanks to Mark and Danny for choosing such a great location and lodge. Our hosts, David and Joanne were very welcoming and made us feel very much at home. Their team of guides were exceptional and the food produced by Julius and his team was delicious.
On my last morning, waiting for the plane to land on the beach which would take me back to Anchorage there was one last encounter with the bears. Heading straight towards us was a four year old female who we had seen quite a few times over the last ten days. She always seemed to be hyperactive and we never saw her catch any fish. Here’s hoping she finds enough food to make it through the winter.