Here’s a bunch of photos from the bear trip. Please enjoy
Not the Mamas and the Papas but the Mamas and the babies.
Then you have the boats and scenery
You go to them. That is what we did. It all started with lunch and my good friend Lisa, (she does amazing wildlife photography trips to Alaska) plus a question about bears. I went with Lisa in 2018 (when I was more mobile) to Lake Clark National Park Chinitna Bay. Roy and I both knew that was a no-go this trip. So, what to do? Airplane to boat, to bear viewing from boat, back to airplane. My first thought was how is this going to work, I’m in a boat they are on shore (not much chance for action) I was thinking. Well, I am so glad I was wrong. I am getting ahead of myself.
This is exactly what we did with Alaska West Air. The staff there were able to help get us on the plane and then off the plane into the boat.
My only experience flying in Alaska had been in very tiny planes so you can imagine my surprise when I saw a nine-seater. Ok it wasn’t super spacious I did however have a window and some breathing room. I don’t like to fly this is one time Roy told me all I had to do was breathe and look out the window and that is what I did.
Now that we are on semi dry land, (ok a wooden dock with some steps) it was time to get in. It was cool they brought the boat to us as the others who were also getting in boats had to walk the plank. This is not only a bear viewing area it is also a great salmon fishing area.
Wolverine Creek/Redoubt Bay is on Big River Lakes, here is a description of the area we were at. We head directly to the base of Wolverine Creek and experienced a small version of combat fishing. I mean there had to be at least ten skiffs in this small area most were fishing. I caught some of their lines in my pictures which was a little annoying, but I was seeing bear. That made it OK.
It took a few minutes to navigate around the boats, but our guide Evan had us tucked into a nice cozy spot. Here, we could see the water and the shore. The first bear was trying and trying to grab a fish but to no avail, lots of splashing and coming up empty. He was trying to compete with the salmon fishers (they were winning)
He then decides to come over to our side of the creek. Which was a win for both of us he got some good fish, and I got some good photos. He did also have some fun blowing bubbles.
Maybe this was done to clear the palate, between morsels
There was another bear who stayed on shore and was intent on turning over every rock on the beach. He did get in the water once but there were no fireworks, the bear that was in the water was way too involved in his food.
The fireworks occurred when mama bear number one came on the scene. How to clear out a beach. She made short work of the land lover as all it took was a growl from behind the bushes and he was gone. The waterlogged bear took a few more antics to get him to go. This sow had 3 cubs that were just adorable in how they hung around mom.
I also saw a Common Merganser with some of her ducklings. I was hoping that they would catch a ride. They usually get a quick taxi ride on mom’s back. I did get to see that later though, so it wasn’t to disappoint.
The boat decided to head to a different part of the lake to see the actual place where the salmon spawn. I was like ok let’s go. I am glad we left because the journey over to the spawning grounds was very cold and foggy the reason for this is crossing the glacier melt it is cold coming right off the glacier. It was windy, damp, foggy, and spooky.
Once across to the fresh water the temperature warmed and so did the water. Side note here I did taste the glacier run off and it was like eating a pile of rock salt. The fresh water I did not taste as I did not want to reach in and touch some salmon. There were thousands of them here it was like watching the whole lake move. A picture could not capture the intensity of the end of one life cycle and the start of another.
Stopping at a waterfall was a chance to see freshwater mix with the glacier slit and watch clear blue water turn to a brackish grey.
We journey back to the bears although our vantage point was not as good as the first time there. I was still able to see a few bears. Mom and her three bears were still there but left shortly after our arrival. The next set of bears to come was a sow and two cubs. They were actually too hard to photograph so we moved on to Hidden Lake but ran across a distraction called a bear on an island. The cool thing was it was us and another boat for about 5 minutes.
Hidden Lake was the best place to end the day because it was so peaceful and quiet except for the sound of my voice in this video.
From here it was back to the plane and the return trip home. I told you I am not fond of planes, so the return trip was in a smaller beaver plane. I almost wanted to say I’ll stay here. I am glad I did not because flying over the glacier was awe inspiring. Pictures do not do it justice. We were able to see deep into some of the cracks in the glacier. It is a blue color that does not have a description. Then the lake was so blue black you could get lost just looking at it.
I will be posting a slide show of the trip in a separate post.
This bear viewing trip was much better than expected for me. I went in thinking it was going to be a disappointment because I wasn’t standing on land. Like everything I’ve had to adjust. This however is an adjustment I would do again. How else could you get pictures like these.
Plus, I don’t have to be the fastest runner just have a larger and quicker motor than everyone else.
This is what happens when you have two different viewpoints, one from the driver side and the other from the passenger side. This occurred the other night as we were driving to see more eagles. Anyone who have heard our banter, can imagine the banter. I did however say don’t go back there will be others to photograph. Well, a u-turn was made, and we both realized that at the exact same time we both saw a moose. (Just of the opposite sex).
How often does that happen when you are both right. As a bonus we were treated to twin baby moose, of course mamma tried to get in the way of my shot. During the u-turns and the banter I was not able to get a picture of the mom. (Unless a butt shot counts.) I do believe once mom felt our presence, she was eager to nudge her kids out of the way.
Almost saying no photos please.
There are some disadvantages from shooting from a car; no cross-yard pursuits. So where to next.
Remember though we did see the bull moose on the other side of the road. He was just standing there no care in the world. I’m thinking he was thinking they are too far away and can’t take my picture. (These paranoid thoughts are happening because lately every moose we see we can’t get a good photo of.) Back to the story. Roy sees a road where we can get closer, and I can use my camera from the car. After going down a near (dirt) road we cross the road that can get us close to the moose. I first try shooting with the 300mm close, but I think I can do better so, I brought out the big guns. Here are the photos side by. side. I did not realize the big difference until I saw the photos side by side.
I like both versions for different reasons the 300 mm lens gives you the look that everything is in focus. The 600 mm has you looking and concentrating only on the moose.
This moose was not photo shy, he was only concerned with the flavor of his grass. I took a few more photos than we had to leave. Our fish taco dinner had gotten rescheduled to the next night. Off to Homer. Roy had to find out if the restaurant where he was introduced to Bear Creek Winery Rhubarb Chardonnay still served it. I am getting ahead of myself.
We did our normal pass throughs of the beaches in an off chance we would see eagles, because that is what this year seems to be focused on. No eagles tonight though. We get to Homer a little earlier than we wanted to. So, a trip to the harbor and checking for more eagles. No luck by the ferry terminal. We then find another road we had not travelled, (yes, we explored) a short trip around the small boat harbor.
Now to that restaurant and dinner. We had visited the ‘The Fat Olive’ on our last trip through Homer in 2017. The food was great, and Roy learned about edible flowers and wine. On this particular Sunday there were no edible flowers and no Bear Creek wine. What did happen was after dinner this group of three kids came over to our table 1 boy and 2 girls. The look on Roy’s face was quizzical because he was not sure what the shy boy was asking. The boy kept pointing to Roy’s nose and his oxygen, well the sister chimed in and asked Roy if they could lay hands on him and pray for healing. He agreed and it was just interesting to see the determination in the three kids when they were praying for him.
Where do you go from there? Home with leftovers and warm thoughts.
moose that is. I was beginning to lose faith that I would ever get anything but eagles on my camera this trip. I can’t believe it, but I have a picture of a moose an actual bull moose. Maybe his second year. Ok, I am getting ahead of myself.
We got up semi early for us on this trip because we were headed to Skilak Lake Loop Road. This area fell victim to the Swan Lake Fire of 2019, that was started by lightening. We had driven past some of the damage you could see from the Sterling Highway, we wanted to see the damage done to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge mainly the Skilak Lake area.
Our friend who we met on the ferry and met for dinner the other night mentioned the Ninilchik Beach as a place you can drive on the beach and could possibly see some eagles we decided to stop and check it out before heading up the road. The funny thing is who do we run into Tom our friend. He was taking his two dogs for a run. We talked for a bit about the fishing, the old cannery for fish, eagles, and dogs. (side note I saw 1 eagle while we were there.)
I can say it was devastating although hopeful. The area is starting to come back to life with plants fireweed which is one of the first plants to appear after a fire.
Our other motive for traveling the 19 miles of dirt and hard packed gravel was for animals. We had no real luck in this area until after we passed the worst of the burn scar. Although, we had an Aha moment. Brush grows. We know this because one of the areas where we saw lots of bear activity 5 years ago grew in. It had been an open hillside. The lake where we saw mega moose had also become overgrown. We had all but settled on seeing no animals when we come upon a car in each direction stopped. This usually means animals. It did, we saw bears. We were not first in line so I had to depend on the dash cam. I still don’t know if she had 2 or 3 cubs. Check out the video look towards the left side
I do know they were the tiniest cubs I’ve ever saw. Roy pulled a u-turn and we tried to see if she would come back out of the trees, she did not. I was able to zoom in and get the mom’s back and if you use your imagination a shot of baby bear. It was just wonderful to see that there is still new life here.
After we ate and headed home, we finally see a moose that I could take a picture of. Roy watched it cross the road and realized the moose was still on the side of the road. So, Roy does another U-turn (had an awesome break in traffic). This guy, yes, he was a guy, had just started to get his paddles.
The velvet on his antlers looked so soft. He was standing ankle deep in water and the light was bouncing off his back perfectly. I had my camera in hand he posed and waited until I had focus and then I snapped three pictures. He looked at me turned his head and moved on. You know when they say right place, right time. There was something magical about the moment.
We then headed to Wal-Mart needed duct tape and some other stuff like milk and creamer I have to have my coffee. We were on a hunt for caribou yes there is a small herd on the Kenai. We followed the direction for a likely viewing spot and we got nothing. I am hoping maybe sometime this month, fingers crossed. Back down the road to get back to the trailer and keeping our eyes open for wildlife, we were treated to another moose along the side of the road. I have to say Roy’s U-turn did not produce this time. However, the dash cam did catch him out of the corner of its eye.
Here is a still from the video
The rest of the trip home was uneventful. We did stop back at the beach we visited in the morning and believe it or not we run into Tom again. He swore he had just gotten back to the beach. The weird thing about the beach in the evening was no eagles. We went down to Deep Creek also no eagles. When there is no boats or fish no eagles. It was a strange sight.
even though it was damp and deary Roy was able to deliver on animals or at least bald eagles. We have this place called Deep Creek State Recreation Area. So camera in hand we head there. We discover no more driving on the beach but it all worked out.
Being a kind of deary day I did not expect much. There also did not seem to be much eagle traffic and even less RV traffic in the campground. We did see a few eagles in the distance I took a few photos and then I was ready to leave. I am so glad Roy has a watchful eye, plus the fact that I wasn’t super hungry yet kept us there.
This one lone eagle was sitting on the Deep Creek sign, so I felt it was only right I get a Picture of it. I was hoping he would fly away or do something unique no such luck. He did however show me his various good side and I was able to get a background change along the way. After about fifteen minutes with no real action, I said let go, in a while he says.
We drive up on the berm where there are more eagles, waves, and high tide. For a second, I thought this is what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been blessed to be in the right place at the right time for some amazing photos and my feeling was tonight would prove to be one of those. Just then I see a fish carrying something in his talons and in comes another eagle trying to take it. The artistic dance that occurred when the second bird entered the picture took skill and grace. I was able to capture this action and I have to say I was speechless. (that’s hard for me). Sad part for the eagle he did drop his dinner. I did get the shot so that was the good part.
There were only about twenty eagles on the beach and a ton of seagulls. I still enjoyed watching them fly, soar, and look dignified when wet.
We have put our wings down for a month here in Ninilchik, Alaska. We are 40 miles from Homer and 6 miles from Eagle beach (actually, it is Deep Creek). This is the beach we could drive on before, not the case. They have put up a berm and charge for parking. It is all good because I can make parking pay for itself. In the enjoyment I’ve already experienced, I will cover that enjoyment soon.
So, what are we to do for a month, you ask? Get started looking for animals. This is after the sticker shock of $7 a shower. (I am so glad that we are self-contained.) I am also wondering how we will get along with no TV and very limited radio for a month. I know look for animals.
The last time we had been on the Kenai Peninsula was prior to the fire of 2019. It was sad and a little devastating to see the damage done. There is a glimmer of hope as we saw a lot of fireweed growing which is great after a forest fire. There is a plan for a whole day in the area of the fire. I will be sure post some pictures. There is a lake called Tern lake which is right by the turn-off to head to Cooper Landing (hear me out memory at work). I mentioned to Roy I want to stop on the way in. That can’t be done, there is no pull off area coming from the north. That is for the return trip.
I understand we are a little early for some of the salmon run that did not stop one group of socially distanced combat fishing. It was interesting to see. At this point no animals still. That does change here soon. We got set up in the drizzle but that was ok Roy promised a good dinner in Homer and some animals he delivered on both.
We got distracted by shiny things on our way down to Homer so food wasn’t actually what we had planned on doing. It did however work out because I had leftover seafood mac n cheese for lunch. We tried to eat at The Fat Olive they have good food and good wine, this is where Roy discovered his rhubarb chardonnay. After a drive down the spit and back they were getting ready to close. We ended up at the Harbor Grill and had the seafood mac n cheese.
Speaking of the Homer Spit was surprised to see how not busy the RV parks were.
On the way home we saw a mom and baby moose walking along the side of the road towards our campground.
not so much. I was holding out hope that maybe just maybe my Montana friend Stephanie was mistaken. She said that the ranchers are allowed to let their horse graze on state land. She also said that there are only two rogue herds and we were nowhere close. I was holding out hope though. Well, I finally was able to go through my pictures and the first dead give away was the horse trailer way in the back of one of the pictures. The second give away was the brand on the rump of the horses. That is what I get for having a lens that can see a gnat on the end of a hair. All in all I am glad they were not wild they sort of stayed put when I was fumbling with my camera.
That trip found us headed to Lincoln Montana on a day where there was not much smoke in the air of course this occurred on one of our last days in Montana, but we got at least a day of clear skies. Starting out in the morning by finding a geocache which had a special coin in it from a special lady.
More on her in another post. We then headed over the Continental Divide where you found out we were divided and I don’t know where the record button is. We did see a few young elk before we got into the mountain and that was all for large wild animals. You can also say I walked a part of the Continental Divide trail when I got out to take a picture of the sign. My story and sticking to it.
There was also this random cloud I thought I would share.
A total surprise that popped up out of the wild is called Sculpture in the Wild.
This is right before Lincoln Montana. I did not walk the whole area but was able to get two pictures of the close in sculptures. I did see a cute chipmunk that I tried to capture playing on a log, I did get him just sitting there though.
It is interesting how the artists were able to capture nature in man made structures. Lincoln was a town where you blink twice you will miss it.
We did see two sandhill cranes on our way to Helmville, Montana.
Why did we go there just to say we went there. It has some weathered buildings so I was able to practice more of landscape and composition.
Back on the road we pulled over one more time to catch what we thought were pelicans, no pictures though because they were sitting right in the sun. I did get a few pictures of geese that were also in the pull out.
One of the high points of this drive was to get a picture from the overlook above Helena I am glad the smoke cleared out. This drive was a great way to end our time in Montana.
Yes, that is what you say when you come up on a bear in Alaska. No, I am not in Alaska. I was, however at Bear Country USA in Rapid City, SD. This is a drive thru wild animal park that has lions, buffalos, and bears. No tigers maybe one day I will get to Africa. I do have to say I was impressed with the amount of wide open spaces were provided for the animals in a near urban environment. After entering the gate and reading the rules, one rule was; pull to the side when taking pictures so cars can go around you. That rule was not observed by many, that was ok because it gave me more opportunity to take mountain lion pictures. I am getting ahead of myself though. Another rule was to leave your windows up at all time. On the flier you get upon entering it states ‘Stay in your cage the animals roam free here.’ There are no fences, so it is possible that you could have a visitor in your window. That might not be fun, although someone would get awesome pictures (just kidding).
The first animals right inside the gate is rocky mountain elk it was amazing the size of some of the bucks racks. The photos do not tell the whole story. This is where we encountered our first of many traffic snarls. This one was animal crossing the road. They are bigger so yes they have the right to go anywhere. We see a few reindeer hanging out by the cattle guard that separate the sections.
Around a curve we come upon two artic wolves lounging on a rock. It was a tad warm for wearing a fur coat so I understand not wanting to move. The next two animals were in hiding dall sheep and timber wolves. One of the wolves were on the passenger side of the car but I could not get a good picture.
The big horn sheep did not disappoint me with a baby who was nursing.
The nursing seems to be a repeating theme this year. I am ok with this because it is special to see the interaction between mother and baby. I was also entertained by one of the kids trying to balance on a stump just using three legs.
People who know me, know I have a few animals I still need to capture, (preferably in the wild). One being the polar bear the other is the mountain lion. After seeing the mountain lion behind a couple of electric fences I am ok with not seeing this one in the wild.
As we were driving by the enclosure one of the big cats were cranky and you could hear her displeasure quite clearly. Most of the lions were hanging out sleeping in concrete culvert I am thinking wow pretty kitty. I see the head and paws of the lion in the corner and my thought is yes this is close enough. I still want to see a polar bear in the wild.
Onward slowly to the bears because we have a bear walking down the road next to cars, he got off the road before he made it to our car. The path wound around a few man made culverts and tree structures that the bears seemed to enjoy. One that got some use was the ‘lake’ I was able to catch a bear getting out of the water.
On the way out of the bear area we had our own flasher bear. I think he was trying to hide behind a blade of grass. We finished up the trip by me dodging the rain drops to pick up some special things for my friends back home. This is well worth the trip if you are ever in Rapid City. It is not your normal zoo.
of our dashcam. This year we have really been able to catch the animals running out in front of us. I have enjoyed being able to go back and get second and third glances of animals, or things I thought were animals. It is a plus when they hang out in front of the car because I can share these with you. I grew up in the Midwest so I have a little experience with deer running out in front of the car. I will say it is usually at night from a flat corn field. I will preface the video with I am glad Roy is the driver, because I would have thrown my hands up and screamed because I thought it was close. (it wasn’t that close)
During our stay at Custer we were also treated to a jokester who was this turkey kept wanting to weave back and forth. I think he was a wild turkey who was drinking his own brand. (remember my story lol). This guy trotted in front of us and then would not let us pass first one side of the road and then the other side of the road. This was a road less traveled in Custer State Park. I think it occurred when we were looking for you guessed it buffalo.
Also during one of our many dirt road adventures we came around a corner and saw a mom and baby pronghorn running like the wind. I never did see what was chasing them or what spooked them I do know I caught it on dashcam.
This buffalo I want to share with you did not cross in front of the car he did get close though. We were just driving up the road minding our own business, ok we were out just for an after dinner drive. I see this large black spot getting closer and closer I realize buffalo, (side note here why are the backsides so narrow?) so we slow down and watch. Roy also makes a U-turn so I can get a better picture with my cellphone, because I forgot my camera. I also wanted to show the right way to not be blocked by anything in the car when taking a picture, the kid in the sun roof has the right idea.
The dash cam is still delivering and I will be sharing more of these adventures in the next few blogs, plus you can always find them under the 2021 videos tab.