Tag Archives: bears

Alaska Homestead Lodge, Silver Salmon Creek

[Updated:  See addendum at the end of this post.]

While in Alaska, we stayed at a great lodge, The Alaska Homestead Lodge.  It’s part of a small Alaskan bush community at Silver Salmon Creek.  The owners, James and Shelia Isaak, live next to the lodge and keep it in great shape.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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The lodge itself is on the inland side of the tidal marshes, only a few hundred yards from the coast.  It was common to be sitting in the upstairs dining room and watching bears walk in from the beach, right past the lodge on their way into the forest.

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We also had a great guide, Belle, who has been guiding three years at the lodge.  There are two lodges along the coast, and the guides from both lodges cooperate with each other to share information on the radio about what the bears are doing.  The guides drive four-wheel ATVs with small trailers.  I did this trip with four of my friends, and we all rode in the trailer together up and down the beach, through the creek, and along the trails.

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Here’s a snapshot showing a typical morning at the beach, with a group from each lodge watching the mom and three cubs dig for clams.  We all wore rubber boots (supplied by the lodge) to keep our feet dry.

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A pleasant surprise was the food at the lodge.  Not just good; it was great.  Our chef’s summer job last year was at Bouchon.  Meals were prepared in the lodge’s upstairs kitchen and served at the communal dining table.  The grilled salmon was fresh and expertly prepared—I think we had it three different nights.  We also had pork tenderloin, lasagna, chicken fajitas—and fresh desserts, such as berry crisp, and chocolate pie.

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The lodge had a garden and greenhouse from which the salads came… lettuce, kale, broccolini, cabbage, and more.  For the most part, the bears left these alone—even the berries used in the desserts.

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Like much of Alaska, the only reasonable way in and out of the lodge is by plane.  We used Natron Air Taxi as our charter to get to the lodge from Anchorage.  We had cloudless, blue sky for our flight on this GA-8 Airvan.

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And here we are coming in for a landing on the beach.

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The weather continued to be great for the first five days.  The previous three weeks were rainy, and the following two weeks were predicted to be rainy—but we had five solid sunny days.  And then it turned foggy, misty, and rainy for us, too.  The lodge recommends having a buffer travel day on each side of your stay, in case you get weathered in and can’t get into or out of the lodge.  We almost were stuck at the lodge an additional day.  Tim, our pilot, persisted and was able to land further north and taxi down the beach for a couple of miles to get us.

On a positive note, the fog and clouds added some variety to our scenery and photographs.

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[Addendum]

It occurred to me after posting this that I didn’t describe what a typical day was like.  Each day, you work out your schedule with your guide.  We’d typically get up for an early shoot around 7:00 AM, then back to the lodge at 8:00 AM for breakfast.  Then we’d head back out after breakfast for a few hours, and return for lunch around noon.  Because of the high latitude, the quality of light stayed pretty good until 10:00 or 11:00 AM—even longer if it was a little hazy.  If something especially good is happening, our guide would radio the lodge to let them know we’d be running late.  After lunch, we’d often take a break (nap time), and head out again for a few hours before or after dinner.

A lot is dependent on the tide.  At high tide, the bears are usually in the meadow eating grass and sleeping.  At lowest tide, they are clamming.  Near low tide, they could fish.  During our week, high tide was in the afternoons, so we spent most of the time photographing in the mornings.

Just talk to your guide about the photos you want to take, and they’ll do their best to make it happen.  If you want photos of bears eating grass, you’ll love going out during high tide.  If you want photos of bears fishing, you might go out a few hours after high tide.

Coastal Brown Bears of Lake Clark

It was finally time.  We’d been planning this trip for almost two years, and still didn’t comprehend what it was going to be like to photograph these bears.  After arriving at the lodge, we unpacked our camera gear and went right out into the field to find some bears to photograph.  We remarked in the moment, “do you think we’ll make fun of ourselves later this week for taking so many photos of bears sleeping in the meadow?”  We acknowledged the answer was “yes”, but we took them anyway.  Several thousand photos of bears later, this photo doesn’t bubble up to be among the best, but here it is anyway…

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The excitement of watching bears graze on grass and then take a nap soon wore off, as we moved to the beach to watch the bears dig for clams.  Their keen sense of smell (and an abundance of razor clams) lets them quickly find a spot to dig into the sand with their paws and bring up a clam to eat.  Different bears have different strategies for opening the clams, but the “smush the clam on the sand, then pry it open with your teeth” technique was pretty common.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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Watching the bears fish was the most exciting.  The bears would sit in or near the water, and then start running after a swimming salmon.  They failed many times, so it was sensational when they succeeded.  As you might expect, being along Silver Salmon Creek, these are Silver (Coho) Salmon.

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We saw three different moms with cubs.  The moms would catch fish, eat part for herself, and share with her cubs—while chasing away other bears who might try to grab the fish.

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Speaking of cubs, they have a lot of personality.  They can be playful.  They can be whiny.  They pick fights with their siblings.  And they are cute enough that mom (usually) puts up with it all.

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After eating, it’s of course time to stretch out and take a nap.

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Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska

I just got back from hanging out with bears in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, in southern Alaska about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage.

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These are coastal brown bears, ursus arctos horribilis. They’re genetically the same as grizzly bears—“grizzly” generally refers to inland bears.  A couple of hundred bears spend time along the coast here.

Living along Silver Salmon Creek, the bears have access to a varied diet of  salmon in the creek, clams on the beach, and sedges in the tidal marshes.

(Click any of the images to enlarge.)

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The focus of this trip was bears, but we saw a few birds, too—bald eagles, puffins, plenty of seagulls, a couple of harriers, and red-winged blackbirds, to name a few.  Here’s a bald eagle on the beach, thinking about fish.

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Here’s a greater yellowlegs, tringa melanoleuca, wading at the edge of Silver Salmon Creek.

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In upcoming posts, I’ll share a few more bear photos, talk about the lodge that served as home base, and discuss my photo gear choices.

Please comment if you have questions you’d like me to answer in upcoming posts.

Alaska, Day 11

I’m catching up after being off the grid in the Denali backcountry.

After the great weather in Talkeetna, the rain came again.

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Storm approaching Eielson Visitor Center

We took a bus to the Denali Backcountry Lodge, at the end of the park road, 92 miles from the entrance.  It was a six-hour bus ride, which included stops when we saw wildlife.  Our driver/guide pretty much talked non-stop for that six hours, describing scenery, animal behavior, park history, and anything else relevant for our trip.

Along the way, we saw Dall Sheep, Moose, Caribou, Grizzly Bear, Gyrfalcons, and WIllow Ptarmigan, to name a few.

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More to come tomorrow, as I continue catching up.

Alaska, Days 3-4

Our pilot from Alaska Seaplane Tours seemed a little concerned about how far we were from the plane as the black bear stared at us.

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So, we slowly returned to the plane.

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Then we noticed a second, smaller bear—perhaps we’d found a mother and son, with mom encouraging us to move along.

But let’s back up.  Day 3 was sailing Canada’s Inside Passage, before entering Alaska’s Inside Passage on day 4.  This morning, we docked in Ketchikan, Alaska’s fourth largest city, with almost 9,000 residents.

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The highlight of our day was a seaplane ride to Prince of Wales Island.  We flew in a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, built in 1957.  These are great planes for Alaska.  Here are more photos from the flight.

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We landed near the boats in this small cove.  The boats were waiting for some fishing to open nearby.

 

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You can see the small stream cutting through the rock beach.  Once we got close, we could see all the salmon thrashing their way upstream.  It was an amazing sight. The bears thought so, too, and they were hanging out there fishing.

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More, soon, I hope, depending on my internet availability.