Coastal Brown Bears in the Shadow of Alaskan Volcanos
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
In September, after sixteen months, our long covid induced sequester at home finally came to an end. I took a calculated risk and left Cape Cod on a surgical strike to Alaska to find the region's magnificent coastal brown bears feeding in preparation for a long winter's nap on the shores of Cook Inlet. Beautiful Lake Clark National Park nestled amongst a couple of Alaska's more active volcanos was to be our base for a week. Summer weather had moved on giving way to crisp fall temperatures and we were in luck with big lunar tides coinciding with color filled sunrises and a sunset on the Autumnal Equinox that was to die for.
Redoubt Volcano, near Lake Clark National Park
Broad tidal flats and a salmon stream are visible from our small plane which deposited us on a beach to disembark. We had hoped to witness the bears hunting spawning coho salmon as they made their way upriver but the salmon run at the mouth had already finished. Bears, instead concentrated on foraging for clams on the sand and spent many hours grazing on beach pea, a tasty plant (tastes like peas) found above the wrack line of the beach and below the dense forest understory vegetation. We were incredibly fortunate to find a sow (mother bear) with three spring cubs (<6 months old) who returned to the area once the melee of salmon hunting had subsided disbursing the more aggressive (male) boars to forage elsewhere.
Hunting bears is allowed in Alaska but not in and around the National parks thus the bears we were observing were not threatened by our presence and more or less ignored us as long as we stayed a respectful distance away.
Clamming was a frequent activity for the mama bears at low tide. The were amazing find clams sometimes digging them out of 6 inches of water using there remarkable sense of smell! According to our guide bears olfactory capabilities dwarf human's sense of smell, in fact are 7x more powerful than a Bloodhound!!
A yearling cub munching on Beach Pea. This little guy was one of the star attractions during our visit! His light colored coat was striking and a clearly happy-go-lucky attitude were infectious. He/she will spend one more winter denning with his mom before heading out on his/her own next spring at age 2.
Mom and cub taking a break from (almost) non stop feeding
Lunar extreme low tides coincided with sunrise...a photographer's dream.
This sow scored a clam about 5 meters away from me...too much lens!!
Junior sauntering after mom!
A tender moment while nursing. Note the milk mustache!!
The magical moment at dusk at the Autumnal Equinox. Mt. Augustine, an active volcano in the distance. According to our guide this evening yielded the most beautiful sunset of the entire season...just for us!
Clamming at sunrise!
This young spring cub was in a panic when he lost sight of his mother...fortunately they reunited shortly.
A young boar the guides referred to as "Sniper" looking for clams.
A Common Merganser (female) strutting her stuff in the lake above the salmon stream we scouted.
Mother and cubs move to high alert when an immature male bear makes an appearance in the meadow. Boars will kill cubs if they can so the sows give them a wide berth especially with multiple youngsters to protect.
A brief respite for mom behind some driftwood. Lucky photographers!
Iliamna Volcano rises to over 10,000 ft above us.
At the Equinox.....