Juneau Bear Viewing

Bear Creek Outfitters… Part Two

Those of you that follow my blog and those of you that are new will find out what others already know I am an avid photographer. With this in mind this post is going to focus on photographing Kodiak bears.

This has been a Bucket List item for me for many years. I have lived in Yosemite National Park for a number of years and have photographed black bears. I have also gone on numerous tours in Ketchikan, Alaska and also have photographed many black bears there. However when in Alaska you have the chance of capturing on film, to coin an old phrase, Kodiak brown bears, which are typically larger, then their cousins the grizzly bears found in the Lower 48.

To accomplish this I again contacted Matt Boline of Bear Creek Outfitters in Juneau, Alaska and booked a trip. As before the excursion starts at the ship where you are picked up by a private van and taken to the Juneau airport.

The major difference this time is that you are not donning fly fishing gear and grabbing a rod. Again you will meet your pilot and guide and be given a short lecture on safety and what to expect while on your bear viewing adventure.

Once on your floatplane and airborne you marvel at the views of the Mendenhall Glacier. Continuing your flight over the ocean you enjoy mountains views that surround the plane on both sides. Several islands line your path along the way with the shoreline covered with numerous coves and the occasional stream or waterfall cascading into the sea.

Your pilot gently lands on a large channel of water near an island and taxis to the shoreline. You are once again briefed on safety as your guide grabs his rifle and you begin your short hike to a nearby stream.

The hike is not very far and it is not very strenuous but it is not flat either. This is not an adventure for those that have a hard time walking and not accustom to walking on mountain trails. Upon reaching your destination, a viewing area next to a salmon filled stream, get comfortable. You will now find yourself facing the hardest part of the tour, the wait.

Every good photographer will tell that that photography is a game of patience. You are waiting for the right light, waiting for the sunrise or sunset, waiting for the shadows to creep across the landscape just right or in this case you are waiting for the bears to show.

Wildlife photographers are probably the most patient of all photographers. They have to wait for all of the above but in addition they have to hope the game shows, that the subjects are close enough and that they do what you have in mind to get that great photograph.

When I have taken friends on bear viewing trips I always get the same question, “are there going to bears”. I always answer the same way with a “maybe”. I remind them that these are wild animals and they are not waiting in the trees thinking “well Larry is going to be down by the stream in an hour I guess I better head that way”.

Our guide told us that this was a frequent stop for the bears as it was filled with salmon. While we waited for the bears a salmon every now and then would leap up the cascade making their way upstream to the spawning beds.

On this day as luck would have it the Kodiaks showed after an hour wait. On the far side of the stream a female with two cubs around a year old broke through the brush lining the stream and headed towards a small cascade about 100 yards in front of us.

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Kodiak bears emerging from the forest
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Female Kodiak bear with one of her young cubs
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Siblings walking the shoreline in unison

The bears walked alone the bank of the river eventually entering the stream. They would stop here and there trying to decide where to try their luck. Soon they would continue making their way to the cascade.

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Kodiak bear family surveying the stream for salmon
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Kodiak bear cub searching for salmon in front of the cascade

Climbing up on the rocks the three of them positioned themselves scanning the river looking for fish. Careful not to fall into the river they would slap the water snagging a salmon under the watchful eye of their mother.

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Success!!!

When one was successful the other would do his best to steal it for himself. Eventually they would share in the spoils; there was plenty of fish for all.

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Sharing the spoils

I remember as my camera clicked away that I hope the exposure was correct, that they light would hold and that everything was in focus. I took as many photographs as time would allow never knowing when the bears would get their fill and once again slip back into the dense forest and disappear.

After about an hour of shooting the guide said it was time to go. We backed up our gear and slowly retreated back along the trail leading to the beach and the floatplane.

On the flight back everyone was reviewing the shots on their cameras and reliving the days adventure. We were glad that the bears decided to make an appearance and give us a chance to witness what would be for many a trip of a lifetime.

If you are in Juneau and you are a photographer I highly recommend that you give Matt a call and book this excursion. How many people actually get to fly to a remote island and witness these magnificent animals in their environment and nature in it’s full glory… not many.

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Kodiak Bear Family giving me one final shot

The above photograph was recognized by the editors of Shutterbug Magazine and published in the “Top 10 Nature Photographs of the Year 2018”.

It was also recognized by National Geographic Magazine photo editor David Lee as a “Favorite” in the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year 2018 in the Nature Category.

To book this tour contact Bear Creek Outfitters, Matt Boline – Operations Manager – 8991 Yandukin Drive Juneau, Alaska – (907) 723-2663

 

Next join me for a flightseeing adventure over the mountains and glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park leaving from the Skagway, Alaska with the Mountain Flying Service.

Author: larry pannell

I started my career in photography as a professional photojournalist in 1978 at the time working with several newspapers and magazines in Southern California. What I loved most about photojournalism was its diversity and over my career I covered professional sports, concerts and travel. As life would have it mine took yet another turn and in 1988 I developed an interest in holistic medicine. I became a professional massage therapist specializing in sports medicine. In 1991 I decided to go to medical school and obtained a medical degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine and stared my career as a licensed acupuncture physician. After medical school I moved my practice to northern Idaho for a year before settling in the resort area of Sun Valley, Idaho. I’ve always been an outdoor person and hiking and backpacking the Rockies and fishing the pristine river waters and high altitude lakes offered me a wonderful photographic opportunity. In 2010 I left Sun Valley and I once again found myself on a cruise ship, this time working as an “Acupuncturist at Sea”. For the past seven years I have traveled to over 75 countries, which has allowed me to photograph much of the world.

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