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TheBearFactsBulletin-headline

Fall 2022

From 40+ years of  living and photographing in the Great Land of Alaska, our quarterly bulletins give you relevant, useful tips to help you get great images and enjoy safe, exciting travel experiences!

 

 We love bears!

Brown bears "kissing",Brooks Falls, Katmai Nat'l Park, Alaska-- RonLevy
Photo ©Ron Levy

As we wrap up the 2022 season, we want to thank our participants and subscribers again for your support. We were very glad to accommodate many holdovers from previous Covid years, but that limited at least 50% of the new folks trying to book with us for 2022. We are looking at larger vehicles and additional staff without losing our primary advantage over other tours — small group, personalized service and flexible schedules to take advantage of the best wildlife opportunities and weather.

This year we had not only spectacular animal encounters but also one of the rainiest seasons on record. Despite the weather — and perhaps to spite the weather — we continually adjusted our schedules to get to our flightseeing and bear spots. We eventually made it to Brooks and other spots for some great shooting!

Just another reason why local experience with long-term connections and “back-door” options  can make things happen when other folks give up. This is also why we always advise arriving and departing at least 2 days before and after your tour dates, in case we can return later for activities or flights missed due to weather.

 
There’s a limit to how much alcohol you should have around bears. It’s too whiskey. “
 

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· How close can you get to bears on these tours?

Tricky question. Depends on where you go, how you act, and who you go with. It’s an interactive, fluid situation. Bears, like people, are habitual, and can be relatively trustworthy if you fit into their expected behavior patterns. Read more below.

· Couldn’t we see the same wildlife in the same areas if we just rent a car/charter a plane on our own? 

This gets to the heart of why we formed Alaska Photo Adventures. How much time and/or money do you have to be researching like a biologist or driving/flying around millions of acres looking for great shots? Read below how APA can help you get the most out of your time and money.

· What to look for during a photo tour — be prepared, think outside the moment, and ask yourself questions!

More important than what you bring physically with you on a photo tour are the questions and goals you bring with you beforehand. Read on for some tips during your quest for the holy “quail”.

· Japanese film crew hires APA’s Director for Brooks Falls bear segment on children’s TV show

Early in the season, a film crew from a Japanese children’s show spent 3 days interviewing our Tour Director Ron about bear ecology and management in Katmai Nat’l Park, Alaska. See a short clip from the segment that aired in August ’22.

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Note: APA does NOT receive any remuneration or kickbacks for any links or recommendations in this newsletter.
They are purely for your enjoyment and assistance in your travel and photography plans.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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“My wife and I met at a glue factory. We bonded immediately.”
 

Brown bear and photographers, Silver Salmon Creek, Lake Clark Nat'l Park, Alaska

Photo ©Ron Levy

The answer is, as the pic above shows, “probably as close as you’ll want to be”.

This was taken at one of the bear camps we visited this year in Lake Clark Nat’l Park. Along with Katmai NP, these parks have a supreme combination of estuaries (tidal flats where salmon rivers meet the sea) and mountains, where bears can return to their dens in the fall. Food is plentiful in these areas for 5-6 months from spring to fall. Generations of brown bears have lived there all their lives, enjoying an unlimuited food supply. The combination of plentiful food and generations of humans and bears living together creates for a high population of tolerant bears and perfect opportunities for close encounters and spectacular photo opps.

In addition to avoiding conflict in general, brown bears do not have a history of considering people food sources. They are neither hunted, threatened or injured by people here, which makes humans as interesting to them as a raven or a gull. Or as we like to call ourselves, “moving trees”.

So the answer the question at the beginning of this post, depending on the particular bear, we have watched them pass by us from as little as about 1012 feet away. It is not for the faint of heart, and you do feel your heart beating quite loud at one of these encounters!

But beyond the intense excitement, you can also feel a sense of calm here — a feeling of trust that is unique in the world. It is an honor to be among these often misunderstood or misrepresented animals in movies and literature. While it’s true that brown bears/grizzlies can and have attacked people, it hasn’t happened here. And where it has happened, it was usually in different circumstances — surprise situations in covered brush areas and/or limited local food supply, often with cubs nearby. Or in hunted areas where bears are already habituated to consider humans a threat.

One of the interesting facts about bears is that their nearest evolutionary relatives are….dogs. So even with dogs, there are those that trust you at first glance and come right up to you. And there are dogs that will bite you with no provocation. Their history has told them that you are a threat to them or their owner. The bears in Lake Clark and Katmai have grown up with humans since they were cubs, trained by their mothers to trust us. Your guide(s) know these bears and their individual behaviors, so if you follow their directions and be patient, you will likely have some extraordinary encounters.

As Ron has said before (and on his bio page): “To be ignored by a wild animal is one of the great honors of wildlife photography”.

We hope you have this experience with us or anywhere you go in the world. It can be life changing.

 

Ron Levy, Director, Alaska Photo Adventures

Ron Levy, Director, Alaska Photo Adventures

 

You’re on a time budget as much, or more, as you are a money budget.

With 2+ million acres between Anchorage and Homer, and another 8 million in Katmai and Lake Clark Nat’l Parks, we cover a lot of ground by air and land. That can hide a lot of animals if you don’t know where to go, or when. It can make all the difference in the world getting great shots when the weather is good and the animals are out. You might unknowlingly pass right by a spot where we’ve seen moose, bears or other animals consistently, and they might just be feeding a few feet into the bushes. We wait for them, and/or we come back.

It works. It’s a routine we’ve done for years and we wouldn’t waste our time or yours if it didn’t usually pay great dividends.

The same goes for flights to bear camps and helo flightseeing. If one area is rained out or too crowded or otherwise inaccessible, we have alternates. Our decades of experience here give us options and people we can call directly who know we mean business and have business for them. So if and when they have space, we’re ready to go. Whatever business you’re in, you probably know that it’s often not what you know but who you know that’s makes all the difference in the world.

Wherever you live, you also know that local knowledge from decades of living in one spot can’t be learned quickly or just by reading. It takes time, experience, and sometimes a little luck to to be in the right place at the right time. Doing it consistently for so long just tips the odds in our favor, and yours. It’s a dance we do every season with distance, weather, light, Murphy and the animals. And like dancing, when the music slows down — the weather, light or animal activity subsides or isn’t happening —  we change tempo, but still keep moving. We stop (frequently) and hang for as long as you like when the animals are out, the light is great, and/or when it’s time to relax and reminisce.

So the answer is yes, of course you can rent a car or charter a plane and do it solo. You may hit some good spots when animals are out, and you may have good weather the whole time. There are some great lodges out there that you can book direct, but then you are locked into that destination and that provider. They won’t book you into another lodge if they are full or the weather descends.

Hopes and expectations are high, and weather is fickle. Tip the odds in your favor by going with an independent guide who can move between flight companies and loding providers. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself more in the moment and likely have a better chance at getting those shots of a lifetime that you are coming here for.

And you’ll be able to show them to the kids and friends, long after we’ve avoided the inevitable potholes and speed bumps waiting for you.

 

eye with grizzly

Let’s face it, we all want to capture a closeup of those humungous brown bears opening their sharp canines wide with a fresh salmon jumping in. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. It’s the symbol of Alaska, of wildness, abundance, freedom, ecology and a lot more.

As a photographer, a shot like this is a great one to add to your collection, show to friends and family, sell as a print, give a presentation, etc. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s a great experience before, God forbid, things change in the world and the opportunity to see these events changes, or your life situation prevents you from seeing it.

As a tour guide, I see the excitement, anticipation and determination photographers have in “getting the shot”. I love being a part of the process and their “joi de vivre” on these trips. But I want to caution against myopia, and consider the idea of expanding your potential on these tours.

Many tours, and ours in particular, cover a lot of ground. That ground may be mostly from the air on some, but with ours, we cover about 1000 miles on the ground. The photo opps that happen are always part planned, part luck and part sheer determination by revisiting spots that we may have been rained out or prevented from getting to the first time. So you may have multiple opportunities or situations with the same animal or scenery.

This brings us to the point of this newsletter tip: Don’t be hyperfocused with single shot goals. Think broader. Prepare yourself ahead of time with concepts that you may be able to illustrate with different animals — curiosity, love, anger, eating habits, eyes only (so viewers can guess the animal), teeth, color differences within species, standing/sitting, mouths open, nursing, a collection of poop shots, whatever!

The idea is to think more like an editor to create a bit of a timeline, story or thread that ties things together. Ask the classic questions in each situation — who, what, where, when and why/how? Just asking them in your mind can open the creative juices. It’s amazing how simple questions can direct your inner eye to look for the unexpected or anticipate possibilities of interaction/activity.

I know you’ve probably read or heard these before, but it’s surprising how the intensity of the moment can distract from planned ideas. Blinded by single-shot goals, we may overlook pursuing a series of shots as a story idea. Or themes with common denominators like golden light, family, curiosity, facial expressions, etc. Keep your other eye open and canvas around for shots that may remind you of your predetermined goals or ideas that you jotted down before your trip.

The more you practice this, the more your subconscious will flash your physical senses when something might be happening. Inspiring places like Alaska and bears and the North have a way of expanding and reaffirming your photographer’s awareness of the symphony of beauty that we all live amongst.

May the force (of Alaska) be with you here and long after you return home.

 

 

Surprisingly, Japan has a problem with brown bears and tourists.

Along the Shiretoko Peninsula on the north edge of Hokkaido, bear populations are increasing, and boat tours to see them have also increased tremendously. A problem has been increasing there where people have been feeding the bears for years from boats, privately and on tours. Enforcement by officials is lax due to lack of funding and the broad expanse of land and sea to cover. So the potential is ripe not only for bear encounters that could (will) become dangerous at some point, but also altering the natural food cycle and health of the bears over generations.

A film crew from a major broadcasting company in Tokyo and Los Angeles hired our tour director Ron for 3 days in June to discuss bear ecology and management at Brooks Falls in Katmai Nat’l Park. Since Brooks is the gold standard of success stories about bear-people management, the company wanted to create a documentary for their weekly children’s TV program. The idea is to educate younger generations in Japan about the 40 year success story of Katmai National Park bear management.

The hope is to change perspectives in Japan and replace the wrong lessons being taught to them by the previous generation. By inspiring young generations, perhaps their political system will generate enough funding for enforcement and better management practices that will be healthier for the bears and possibly avoid negative or dangerous encounters in the future.

From Ron’s experience as a photo guide and previously as an NPS and USFWS ranger in Alaska and other states, he explained ecological theory and current National Park guidelines that have been enforced over the last 30 years. These guidelines have kept this high density recreation destination safe and enjoyable for all while preserving a healthy ecosystem for the bears, salmon, trees and other animals to survive and thrive.

Other states and parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier look to Brooks (and Alaska state-managed McNeil Falls) as the gold standard of interagency cooperation and wildlife management. Not a single bear attack or mauling has occured here since the park was established 40n years ago and the animals and ecosystem were protected! It’s a win-win for all, and the bears seem particularly happy with the arrangement. After all, they have free run throughout the park, and an all-you-can-eat buffet every summer.

Though the TV segment lasted 20 minutes, the clip above is an edited 9-minute version that shows much of the beautiful scenery and bear interactions. You can get a good idea of what to expect if/when you visit there. The entire segment was a simplified explanation that gave young folks a great introduction to ecology, animal relationships and the benefits of watching and wildlife live naturally without human feeding or corrupting their natural cycles.

No subtitles (sorry!)

 

Q: Why do the French eat snails?    A: They don’t like fast food.
 

Disclaimer: Alaska Photo Adventures and the Alaska Bear Facts Bulletin staff take great care to make sure that all information presented in our newsletters is accurate and truthful at the time of writing and posting. However, we are responsible or liable in any way for any costs, incidental or otherwise, related in any way to changes that may occur in laws, travel restrictions, codes of conduct at private lodges, accommodations, parks, wilderness areas and other locations and activities mentioned in these newsletters. We will make every reasonable attempt to publish any relevant changes in future newsletters in a timely manner.

 

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