Monday, May 04, 2009

Look for the bear necessities...

September 2008
It's late September and I have left Southeast Alaska to head to the Katmai Peninsula to watch and photograph brown bears around Brooks Camp on the Brooks River. These bears will all be going into hibernation in only a matter of weeks so what becomes a bear necessity is to eat as much salmon as each bear can possibly stomach!

It is fascinating to me to watch a huge Alaskan brown bear daintily peel the skin off a salmon with only a set of claws as "silverware". The dexterity of bears as they pull off their favorite parts of the fish is a joy to watch and photograph.

In my 5 days camping here alone along the river I saw a total of 38 different bears! Many were content to spend the entire day patrolling the waters for dead salmon that have already spawned.
It's usually not the bear that I see that worries me (well OK, a little) but a bear like this, that I never saw but had to be right next to me. I had walked past this muddy spot to get a clear look at the river and had returned only minutes after going past this spot. Imagine my surprise when fresh bear tracks were in the exact spot I had been only minutes before. That's a size 12 muck boot to give you an idea of the size of the bear (the one I didn't see, hear, smell, or feel). Upon seeing the track I have to say my senses sharpened a bit...

Not only the adults need to get as many calories as they can gobble, but cubs need to eat salmon too! This is a 2-year old dining on a fish with mom who is content with sharing dinner.

Moms will sometimes play-fight with a quarrelsome cub to sharpen skills the cub will need later in life. Here the cub (on the left, notice the clean, white teeth) seems to have the upper hand, but mom can quickly put it in its place if it gets a little too rambunctious.

With all that eating and life lessons there is still ample time for a cub to play and learn about the world around it outside of mom's attention. Here a cub chases a magpie that got a little too close to the salmon it was feeding on beside the lake.

Sometimes a good back scratch is a welcome diversion. This cub just couldn't seem to get to that exact spot...

But perhaps the best playmate is a sibling cub. Here two coy (cubs-of-year) wrestle and push each other while mom is content to save her energy and build her reserves with more salmon.

The wrestling match continues and while it looks like fun it is honing important skills that these cubs will need later in life. Watching a day in the life of bears is such a privilege to me and I will be back here in September of 2009 to spend more time with these beautiful bears!
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