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…
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.)
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.
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.
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.
After eating, it’s of course time to stretch out and take a nap.
I was just in Lake Clark in the second week of August and I had a question about your photos. I was not sure if you were going to add more to your blog post about Lake Clark or not. We did not see any bears catching salmon. I was wondering if I was there too early? Of course it rained the entire week, so that was not fun. Were you there in September of is that when you posted the blog.
Hi, Susan. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see the bears fishing. I was there the end of August to early September. My understanding is that the silver salmon typically begin their runs in late July, so the second week of August should have been a good time.
Note to others reading this: the bear cubs are born in February, so early to mid-summer are great for watching the curious young cubs interact. But the salmon run doesn’t begin until later, so August and September are better for watching the bear fish.