Monday, July 30, 2018

Sunset Moment - McNeil River Sanctuary, Alaska

In July, Chum Salmon return to spawn at McNeil River and brown bears congregate at the river for an annual salmon feast.

It was exactly a year ago, I was at McNeil River Sanctuary to photograph brown bears catching salmon. It was late in the evening, almost 11pm, when the sun finally touched the horizon. After the long day of capturing bear action at the falls, I relaxed at the camp where warm orange lights painting the sky and distant Aleutian Range, when the drama started…

Several bears where strolling along the beach near the camp as usual. Suddenly I heard animals running back and forth… There was a bear family, mother and two cubs, playing on the beach just outside of camp. They were truly enjoying the moment. The cubs were over a year old, nearly as big as the mother, this would be the last summer to be with their mother.

A lone young bear approached the young cubs. The distance between young bear and the cubs got shorter… and they were almost touching! Usually the mother bear is very protective and normally would chase the strange bear away. However, to my surprise, the mother bear let the strange bear come to interact with her cubs! The ranger guides were also disbelieved of this rare occasion. The mother bear was just watching them play from a distance. The lone bear was as big as the two cubs. He or she must have been just kicked out by its mother.

Those bears were playing run and chase for a long time under the long-lasting sunset.

The sky and air turned to magenta. Slowly the darkness of the night descended upon McNeil River Camp. It was truly a magical moment.

My passion of photographing bears is still alive…

This is the last posting from McNeil River Sanctuary in Alaska.

In late May, I moved back to the mainland/lower 48 to Kent, Washington, south of Seattle. I lived in Hawaii for the past 2 years and finally made it to the northwest. I’ll be capturing the beautiful Cascade Mountains, the Pacific Coast, and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. Please check back in 2-3 weeks!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Queen of McNeil Falls - McNeil River Sanctuary, Alaska

During the summer salmon run at McNeil River Falls, prime fishing spots are normally occupied by the large dominant males. But that is not always the case. A beautiful bear called Ivory Girl was a rare female bear fishing at the falls among the large males. Unlike most bears, Ivory Girl has stunning white claws on all four paws. She was a frequent visitor to the falls during my visit and had the best fishing skills!

Ivory Girl stood in the middle of a cascade at the falls, always facing downstream as she waited for fish to swim upstream. She stared intently at the rushing water waiting patiently for the salmon to swim within striking range. 

Ivory Girl's fishing technique was to allow the salmon to jump upstream and settle in a small pool where she would quickly snatch the fish with her powerful jaws. Ivory Girl preferred to eat the skin, brain, and eggs—the fattiest parts of a salmon—with so many fish available. She continuously caught fish after fish and was one of the best fishers at McNeil River Falls!

Here is Ivory Girl fishing among larger bears. Those male bears did not mind her presence, they just let her stay at the premium spot as long as she wanted.

Ivory Girl scratches her muzzle and back at the same time, at her resting spot near her fishing hole.

As for her sassy presence, or good fishing skills, Ivory Girl is one of the favorite bears for many visitors and guides. I could not help it but often focused on her during my visit.

Next posting will be my last story from McNeil River Sanctuary.  Please check back in 2-3 weeks!