Month: September 2019

A Quiet Day – Day 4

(23 August 2019) We were out at 6am, hoping to catch another beautiful sunrise and maybe some early morning bears at the beach. We did see a bear as soon as we made it to the beach. We then went further north, hoping to set up for sunrise, and maybe even have some bears in the photos. Kind of a bust … the sunrise photos aren’t even worth sharing. We headed back for breakfast, which did not disappoint.

Set out again after breakfast, hoping we’d find some active fisher bears. We came across a lone bear, being observed by some of the people who fly in for a few hours or the day.

This bear found some salmon – either left overs from another bear or washed ashore from a fishing boat. The fishermen are allowed to use nets on certain days of the week, and apparently this sometimes works out to the bear’s advantage.

A confession – I’m not crazy about taking photos of a bear eating a fish, but it is interesting to see how they use their paws and claws to hold the fish.

I much prefer to take photos of bears walking, especially when they are walking right towards us!

And then she started to run faster …

Right on by … no interest in us at all

There she goes again; check out those forearms!

Not the best morning from a photography viewpoint. The light was harsh, and no fishing bears; but we did have a pretty bear by the beach, eating fish heads. Yum. Time to search for more bears. Some of the guys decided they wanted to hike out to the area where we’d seen the three cubs. I passed on that option, and had an extra hour or two to relax before lunch (PS – they didn’t find the cubs, after walking all the way out).

Lunch was chicken salad wraps, all the usual accompaniments, and Cookies! I was pretty good about skipping the cookies the first few days, but I could not resist the oatmeal cookies, fresh from the oven.

We had a nice long break until the afternoon session, and there may have been some napping involved. Lou was feeling good, and went out for a couple of walks during the day – sticking close to the lodge, but getting some fresh air and stretching his legs. He actually saw more bears today than we did.

Here are a couple of our folks, waiting to hear if anyone has spotted a bear. This went on for quite a while – waiting, moving to a new location, waiting some more. It isn’t all that unusual for this to happen, and we’d been quite lucky our first three days.

We went to scope out the confluence area, but no luck. So everyone decided we would watch Michael and Belle fish. Michael said he had just been thinking how wonderful it was to be fishing in the quiet, with no one around. Well now he had about six people telling him what to do 🙂

Heidi has the right idea …

I decided to take a photo of the ducks.

We visited with the Rangers for a few minutes before going back to the lodge for dinner. There is a full-time ranger who lives in a cabin by the creek, and she sometimes has help from a visiting ranger, and a couple of volunteers. The visiting ranger was an archeologist, or maybe he was an anthropologist. Whatever he was, it sounded interesting.

Tonight’s dinner was lasagna, salad, fresh made garlic bread, and cheesecake with caramel sauce … a nice change from salmon (ssshhhh … don’t tell, but I was over salmon by this time in the trip. I do like grilled salmon, but we’d already had it twice, not to mention watching the bears, foxes, and gulls eating it)

I had skipped the last couple of after-dinner photography sessions, choosing to relax and get an early sleep. This was the one night I should not have missed – they saw the other Mama Bear with her two spring cubs. Can’t win ’em all.

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Same Drill – More Bears; Day 3, Part 2

Our afternoon session started on a high note. As we approached the Creek Crossing, out came a bear. Not just any bear – this is OUR bear. The one who greeted us on arrival. She has some distinctive white markings on her chin. She ambled right by us, and crossed the creek, heading to the beach.

No body shaming here, but she is definitely carrying a wide load. All the better to survive the winter. Brown bears can eat up to 90 pounds of food in a day, and sometimes gain as much as 3 pounds per day. Females have delayed implantation – the fertilized egg will float in the uterus for about five months before implanting. They reach sexual maturity at an average of 5 years, so the bear is probably just about there.

She made some half hearted attempts to fish, but then went splashing in the ocean. It looked like she was playing more than fishing, even body surfing a bit.

Uh Oh, here comes another bear. It was interesting, sometimes a bear would hold its ground when another arrived. Sometimes they would stay and spar, or in this case – they just exchanged places and OUR bear took off into the woods.

We watched the bear for a while, but it was kind of a lazy bear – and a lazy afternoon. I’m thinking the atypical hot weather was making everyone sleepy. We headed back to the lodge for dinner.

Dinner was salmon, salad, and freshly made bread. Note – the salmon was grilled when served – I just took some artistic license. And there might have been a dessert – looks like blueberry pie. Lou slept a lot today, and he wasn’t hungry so skipped dinner. I did surprise him with a piece of blueberry pie with ice cream – his second favorite dessert after bread pudding.

Day 3 was in the books. It was a memorable day, the highlight being the three cubs in the morning, followed by a gentle afternoon outing with some lazy bears. I mentioned we were at the Alaska Homestead Lodge in 2015. I was looking at my old photos and notes, and we did not see as many bears as we are seeing this trip. We would sometimes go out for a session, and not find any bears at all. So far, that hasn’t happened on this trip. In fact, I just had to double check to make sure this was only Day 3 and not Day 4 already.

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In Search of the Three Bears; Day 3, Part 1

(22 August 2019) My oh my, what a fantastic breakfast. Some people don’t understand why I take food photos. And some (even other photographers) find it silly or annoying. But this is why I document some of our meals. Such a perfect spread – French Toast, Bacon (come on folks, it’s BACON!!!), fresh & hot scrambled eggs, juice and fruit. And no calories cause it is vacation. Such a treat.

After this feast, we waddled out to the carts for some bear hunting – the take-a-picture kind of hunting. It was just Tom and I with Belle this morning. Lou had not yet returned from his special adventure, and I believe Dave & Michael were taking a break; it’s important to pace yourself on this type of trip.

Belle had word of a bear spotted near the creek crossing. When we got there, it was cruising past the fisher people:

Belle lead us along the path to a spot where she thought the bear would end up. As usual, her prediction was spot on, and the bear appeared.

Such a beautiful animal. This is a great fishing spot, and the morning light was nice. We were anticipating a good photo session, with no other photographers around.

She sat down to ponder – hmmm, fishing or a nap? I say “she” because I think most of the bears we saw were female. Apparently the boars tend to stay further inland – I need to ask more about this on our next trip.

Well darn, she decided she wasn’t in the mood for fishing. She wasn’t in the mood for us, either. She continued upstream to the woods. This is a favorite place where the bears go when they want some privacy. I’m picturing a Bear VIP Lounge where they are just hanging out, drawing straws to see who has to go entertain the humans next.

We walked back to the cart, and not to worry, we soon found another bear near the beach, at the mouth of the creek. It seems like I am stalking Tom and Belle throughout the morning. Fact is, even though I am in better condition than I was a year ago, I still walk slower than everyone and drag up the rear. We also saw the plane coming in for a landing, meaning James & Shelia were back with Patient Zero.

I’ve forgotten to comment on what type of bears these are. They are typically referred to as Coastal Brown Bears. Brown and Grizzly are common names for the same species, although Grizzly Bear generally refers to bears who live inland, and don’t have access to marine food sources. So the bears we are seeing are most often called Coastal Brown Bears. They are bigger than grizzlies, with the males typically weighing 600-900 pounds, and females about 300-600 pounds.

The next bear we watched is another beautiful animal. When we first saw her, she was just getting ready to do some serious fishing. She moved a bit, where the light was harsher, but we still got lots of photos. Look closely in the right side of the frame in some of the photos, and you will see a couple of fish. This seems like a good time to remind you to click on the first photo below, and view the gallery as a slideshow (bet you are tired of me reminding you).

The Holy Grail of bear photography is capturing a shot at the perfect moment – exactly when the bear grasps the fish in it’s jaws or claws. Maybe we will get lucky later this week, although the best place for this type of photo is Brooks Falls, in Katmai National Park.

Tom wanted to go find the Sow with three cubs. She is known to hang out North of the normal viewing spots. This meant we had to hike in about 3/4 of a mile, maybe more. With no guarantee we would see the cubs.

The rectangle at the bottom of the photo above is a reenactment of me doing a face plant after hiking for 20 feet. I’m pretty sure the DeHayes family will be put on the endangered elderly list soon. I was okay, and able to continue the hike, albeit even slower than I was before.

Hot Damn!!! There is a bear … wayyyy over there with a cub. And we can see 2 more cubs farther back. Now let’s hope we converge in the same place (Come on, Belle – do your magic). Not that I was concerned about hiking a mile and a half to see … nothing 😉

Then we saw a park ranger (or possibly one of the volunteers) who was taking a time out, and reading a good book. She waved and we carried on our way, not wanting to disturb her quiet time.

There they are! Mama Bear and 3 cubs. Pretty exciting – as in, Thank God I didn’t hike all the way out here for nothing. Mama wasn’t too concerned about where the cubs were. She was more interested in catching lunch.

Sorry! I walked all the way out here, so you are going to have to suffer through these bear pics 🙂

This was kind of an amazing experience. Very happy to have been able to see the three spring cubs. Mama took off towards the woods, and the cubs soon followed. Probably time for lunch and a nap.

And here we go, me trailing Tom and Belle. I did successfully make it back to our cart, so I call that a win!

Can it get better than this? I’m not sure, but let’s just say we still have two more days left. We went back to the lodge, where I was able to check in with Lou – he was doing well – and we had lunch. Pasta salad and Carolina Style Bar-B-Que Chicken. Always a delight. Notice the large glasses of water. This is perfect, and mealtimes are a great opportunity to rehydrate.

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Lou goes on an Optional Excursion, Day 2 Part 3

Lou decided to go fishing in the afternoon. He had always wanted to fish for salmon. So he and one of the other guys, Michael, went fishing at the creek. Apparently he had fun, but didn’t catch any fish. Michael did catch enough for dinner. Belle prepared the salmon fillets – seems to me the fishermen should be doing that as well, as part of their experience 🙂

I didn’t go fishing, in fact, I didn’t go anywhere. I chose to have a free afternoon, taking a long nap and a nice shower. It was after 5pm when I was heading up to the main lounging area by the kitchen.

Warning ⚠️ Perhaps best to skip the rest of this post for those who faint at the sight of blood.

You are probably saying, “Oh Gosh, what happened now? Surely they didn’t let her near a knife in the kitchen.”

I was fine, but as I started to go up the stairs, I saw commotion in the mud room. I walked over to look through the glass door, and the first thing I saw was a puddle of blood (no photo). Then I saw someone lying on the floor. Then I realized it was Lou!!!

When he returned from fishing, Lou was removing his rubber boots. I usually help with this, especially since the leg with the artificial knee makes it tricky. He slipped and fell, banging the top of his head on the very solid wood bench. The combination of a head wound and blood thinner medication meant there was quite a lot of bleeding. Fortunately, he did not lose consciousness, and he was coherent.

I do, by the way, have permission from Lou to post about this incident. Because the real story is the response to his injury. I’m a little unclear about the first actions, but I know Chef Tom was the first to hear Lou when he managed to open the door and cry out for help. Ken, one of the guides, also provided initial help. Tom, one of our fellow guests, took over managing the wound, and applied pressure. Tom is certified in first aid and CPR, as he owns TripodTravelers, a photography tour group, and travels all over the world. The other gentleman is Oliver, from the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge.

Wait, maybe he is hurt worse than we thought – he’s smiling :). We joke, but obviously it was serious at the time. He was so fortunate – one of the owners of the lodge next door is an ER Physician. Dr. Joanne came right over and took charge. She was very calming, and obviously knew just what to do. I kind of gulped as she injected a huge syringe of lidocaine and began to staple Lou’s scalp back together. Turned out, he had 12 staples.

Even though he had just received emergency care, the doctor wanted him to get checked out at the hospital. To remind you – we aren’t exactly near any towns.

James and Shelia, the owners of the Alaska Homestead Lodge, flew Lou to Soldotna which has a small hospital. They did a Cat Scan, and everything looked good. The doctor at the hospital said his staples were good, so no need to redo those. They stayed overnight in Soldotna and flew back the next morning. Shelia was kind enough to call me once Lou had the Cat Scan results.

Here is a picture of James taking off in his small plane – – the runway is the dirt ATV track in front of the lodge (or maybe the ATVs use the dirt runway in front of the lodge – whichever it is, it works fine in James’ capable hands).

Lou! He can turn a Zen-like fishing experience into a full out wilderness adventure. I am so thankful he was okay, and we are both so grateful for the excellent emergency care he received in our remote wilderness location. James and Shelia could not have been more considerate, and we owe them forever for their hospitality.

Lou felt okay once back at the lodge, but he mostly took it easy. Bouncing around in a cart pulled by an off-road ATV wasn’t on the agenda, especially with a sore tailbone. We had 3 more days at the lodge. Dr. Joanne came over every day to check out her patient, help him clean the wound and change the bandage. What a sweetheart. I think Lou has a crush, and I can’t blame him.

That is Dr. Joanne and her husband David. They own the wonderful Silver Salmon Creek Lodge which is adjacent to the Alaska Homestead Lodge. I believe their lodge hosts a few more guests than the Alaska Homestead Lodge. They also have two boats and offer a fishing excursion, or a trip to see puffins. Folks from our lodge can go out on the SSC Lodge trips if there is space available. It is a nice arrangement. And, I mentioned before, the guides from both lodges cooperate when out with guests, sharing bear sightings and also helping corral guests as needed. We would wholeheartedly recommend a stay at either of these lodges – just be sure to book far in advance, as they both fill up quickly.

There you have it – the tale of Lou’s Most Excellent Adventure!

Oh Wait – there is more. Sorry, I know this is already a text heavy post. Dinner this evening was pork roast and red cabbage. It looked great but I wasn’t too hungry so just had a salad. I did, however, eat the dessert in Lou’s honor – a delicious bread pudding, his absolute favorite.

And one more thing of note. As I was waiting for the call about Lou’s hospital visit, a young couple from Germany kept me company. Turns out they were both physicians! They said they stayed out of the way, seeing all the competent help arrive so quickly. And later in the week, one of the guests was a psychotherapist. I truly do think the Alaska Homestead Lodge might be the place to spend the whole summer!

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What does the Fox Say, Day 2 Part 2

It is only 10:30am, and we are already on post #2 for the day. For the next two hours, we traveled to several different spots and watched bears do bear things. Click to enlarge the photos.

We thought we were done for the morning, but on the way back to the lodge, we came upon a fox. This fox was being very sneaky, running over and stealing some fish when the bear stepped into the creek.

Apologies if you prefer not to see the salmon in this form, but it is how the bears and other animals survive, and the reason this area is home to so many Coastal Brown Bears.

I included several photos of people photographing the bears in this update. In each case, the bears were much closer than normal. We would set up farther away from the bears, but they would occasionally walk in front of the group. The guides would have the group tighten up and be quiet. We never saw the bears exhibit any curiosity about the people. Lou added a comment, and I want to include it here as well:

We hope you enjoy the uniqueness of this place. We have never seen, in two visits over five years, any aggressive behavior from the bears. This despite the fact that groups of us intrude into their daily lives, sometimes carrying outrageous camera equipment. This is a credit to the NPS Rangers, who strive to stay out of sight, but in control as well as to the well trained guides from the two lodges. We pray that this site will stay unchanged going forward as we will return as long as we are able.” (Comment by Lou)

We continued back to the lodge for lunch, and a break before the afternoon adventures.

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Sunrise at the Beach – Day 2, Part 1

(21 August 2019) It is tradition to go out for sunrise photo shoots, and we decided to go on our second day at the lodge. We were on our way before 6:30am, just a few of us being crazy enough to get up this early. Even though there were no clouds, it was a spectacular sunrise.

No bears in sight, so we rode back to the lodge, where we took a short hike. There is an owl who hangs out in the woods behind the lodge, but we did not see it today.

Life is still good, even if there are no bears in sight. Plus, we were reasonably sure we would find some later in the day. Time to sample Chef Tom’s breakfast, which he had patiently saved for the sunrise expedition. Yum! Real hashed brown potatoes, and delicious scrambled eggs, still steaming.

We were back out at by 9:30am, ready to find some bears. We saw a couple heads bobbing in the water, just off the beach

I believe we were the only group out so far, and it was nice to have just a few of us photographing the bears. It could sometimes get crowded, when both lodges and the day trippers were out in force. (Crowded is a relative term, obviously)

These two juvenile bears decided to give us a show, as they romped and wrestled. Don’t forget to click a photo to see a larger version and a slideshow of the gallery images.

We watched these two for about 20 minutes, and they never stopped. They started to walk away a couple of times, but then one would smack the other, and they would go right back at it.

OK. There they go, they’ve finally had enough.

Oops … nope, there they go again!

The light wasn’t great for photography, but sometimes the subject is more important than technical details. It was a delight to watch these two juvenile bears playing. When they did decide to leave, we let them go on their way. Our guides were good about not following the bears too closely, and trying to minimize stressful situations. They always tried to position us ahead of where the bears would come to, making us part of the scenery instead of stalkers.

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