Katmai, days 6-7

A week off the grid on the coast of Alaska – photographing bears.

This post is part of a series about our photography trip to Alaska.

Thursday (September 1) Geographic Harbor: We visited the beach (and bears) in the morning. It was a beautiful day, with the clouds passing over and through the hills surrounding the bay. Read on, though, for photos of the bears and other wildlife spotted this day!

Landscape (with bear), Geographic Harbor, Katmai.

The highlight of the morning was in watching the two siblings wrestle and play… at one point, while they were in shallow water.

Sibling bears wrestling, in Geographic Harbor, Katmai

At another moment, I captured a rapid series of shots while a bear dug into its breakfast – here, we see the roe squirting from the salmon as he bites into it. (He later licked every morsel of roe from the grass… clearly, these bears love their caviar.)

Bear in Geographic Harbor, with roe squirting from salmon breakfast

In the afternoon, we took another skiff ride while waiting for the tide to turn. As on our first day, we explored by boat the shores of Geographic Harbor and Amalik Bay. We enjoyed photographing a family of river otters, a bald eagle nest on the Basalt Cliffs, and water birds like black oystercatchers, sea scoters, and pelagic cormorants. My favorite were the otters! Notice that one of them had caught a flounder, and was eagerly carrying it from rock to rock while he kept a close eye on us.

River otters in Geographic Harbor

This outing also gave Captain Rob a chance to peer out at the water in Shelikof Strait. He had been thinking we might take the Dreamcatcher over to Dakavak Bay (next door to the southwest), but changed his mind. The waves he could see out in the strait indicated there were strong winds that would be rocking the waters of Dakavak Bay – which is relatively unprotected. So he decided we’d stay in the calm waters of Geographic Harbor. As much as I had hoped for a change of scene, I appreciated avoiding a rough night in a rolling ship.

So, in the evening we were back on the beach of Geographic Harbor, photographing bears. It’s hard to pick just one photo from that evening, but I like this one of a bear who spent his time swimming the deeper waters in search of salmon.

Bear in Geographic Harbor

Friday (September 2) Geographic Harbor: This was our last full day in the field. We went to the beach early in the morning, when the tide was high and falling. It was a quiet morning, with only two bears present most of the time; one was very old, and moved very slowly, mostly scrounging for leftovers. Two bald eagles hung out nearby. I like this one photo for its sense of scale. Note these are size 12 boots!

Bear print in the sand, next to a size-12 boot – Geographic Harbor

The afternoon was more interesting, with the tide low and rising, mixed clouds and sun changing later to full clouds. We waded back onto the beach – the video will give you a great sense of what it was like to wade ashore and settle down near the bears.

Wading shallow drainages at the head of Geographic Harbor.

We encountered a sow and her cub as we walked toward the main beach. Mama was very nervous about a large boar nearby, at one point taking her cub and running past us to a more sheltered space.

Brown bear and cub, running from larger bear – Geographic Harbor

At other times, they shared some quiet moments.

Brown bear and cub – Geographic Harbor

When the bears were elsewhere, I spent some time watching the seagulls perfecting their diving technique. They would make a few quick flaps to rise above the water, then dive headfirst into the shallow, fast-moving current.

Juvenile short-billed Seagull diving for salmon roe; Geographic Harbor

When successful, they’d come up with a single ball of salmon roe – a nutritious snack!

Juvenile short-billed Seagull retrieving a single ball of salmon roe; Geographic Harbor

Later, we watched that pair of siblings we’d seen often – wrestling, tussling, and swatting each other as they lazily explored the streams for fish. Watch one video of these two siblings – were there some hard feelings?

Brown bear siblings play-fighting – Geographic Harbor, Katmai

Later, one of the bears wanted to walk through our space. Captain Rob said “NO”, and the bear was suitably chastised. It changed course. Don’t miss this 30sec video – it’s the best of the trip!

A bear comes very close to us – and is warned off. Geographic Harbor – Katmai.

Toward the end, a different sow and cub came along – this cub very cute, with blond-tipped ears, and very playful. Mama would help it fetch and prepare a salmon for eating. The resulting mess was a boon to the waiting seagulls!

Brown bear cub takes salmon from momma bear; Geographic Harbor

Back to the ship by 5pm as the high tide quickly obscured the beaches. Another image critique this evening – very helpful!

[Editor’s note: I later selected, edited, and posted the best photographs.]

(This post was written after the trip and backdated to September 2)

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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