TheBearFactsBulletin-headline

Fall 2023

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

Lots of big animals this summer!

 

Bull moose in slough, Chigach National Foreset, Alaska - Ron Levy

Two bull moose near Anchorage, Alaska ©Ron Levy/APA

As we began writing this season’s newsletter towards the end of summer, we’re seeing lots of bears and cubs this year! The salmon have been pouring in by the millions (no exaggeration), the bears are happy and fat, the moose are feeding their twins close to the road, and the dall sheep watch us from the cliffs above.
If you haven’t booked a tour with us yet, we hope to see you soon!
Amazing fact: How big is Alaska?
If you explored 1000 acres PER day, it would take you over 1100 YEARS to cover the state!
 
 

 · First, a note from our sponsor: Father Time

Yup, we’ve heard from him again. This time he’s put down his fist and said:
“No more extensions. I’m keeping it at 24”. So, like a teenager who’s pushed it far enough but won’t admit it out loud, we’re putting it in writing instead.

· Here’s how APA finds the animals before you get here, so you can “get the shots”!

Travel books and visitor guides are great for general introductions, but they are a roll of the dice to use them to plan trip details, especially when you’re spending thousands on a limited time frame. Here’s a peek inside how APA finds the animals you’re coming to see.

· Humanity, Threats and the Life Cycle of Salmon – A Broader View

Most people have heard of the Life Cycle of salmon. But the new dialogue in the 21st century has broadened awareness beyond single species. What can salmon and other animals teach us about the future of humanity?

· Are there other places besides Brooks Falls to see bears catching salmon?

Yes! They are accessible, gorgeous, and full of bears used to people (like Brooks), as well as eagles, moose and other animals. The bigger question is whether you want the comforts of developed walking platforms and other visitor services, park rangers (other than your APA guide), and a lot more people around you.

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Note: APA does NOT receive remuneration or kickbacks for any links to people or companies mentioned in this newsletter.
This information is purely for your enjoyment and assistance in your travel and photography plans.
We believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

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We love to hear from our readers!
If you have any questions or comments,
just use the form at the bottom and let us know.
 
Imperfect action is better than a perfect idea that just sits there.
 

 

time-hourglass-Alaska-Photo-Adventures-tours

 
No worries, it’s nothing drastic or life-threatening. We’re not quitting or selling out. It’s just that our sponsor has repeatedly told us that he’s tired of stretching the boundaries just for us. He can’t give us 25 hours in the day to get our work done and not do it for everyone. World chaos would erupt.
So we’ve got to work within our constraints. (My tombstone will read: “He didn’t work within his limits”).
We’re conceding that unless we hire more folks or raise our prices to handle the workflow, we’ve got to make a cut somewhere. We’ve decided to…fanfare…trim our Bear Facts Newsletter down from four times a year to twice…Fall and Spring.
Yeah, it’s one of those decisions that probably doesn’t matter much to anyone except us. We do still want to overload you with great tips and useful info so you’ll be excited to get over here as fast as you can and start shooting. And we’ve got a backlog of our own subjects and client requests that we’re still getting to.
But alas, filling our newsletters with pages of great info is like writing book chapters – they take a lot of time and we don’t want to repeat stuff. So for now, keep reading, commenting to us, and enjoying the info we send out. We hope to see you soon (or again) on our fun-packed, “good-to-the-last-byte” photo tours!
(BTW, here’s some inside FLASH news: Our newsletter tips will be edited, updated and included in Ron’s new book coming out next year…stay tuned!)
 

How APA gets the shots

Yearling brown bear climbing down tree, Kenai NWR, Alaska - Ron Levy

Yearling brown bear climbing down tree, Kenai NWR, Alaska – Ron Levy
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here is a fact that most folks know but many travelers may not want to admit: Unless you’re living here, immersed in the local, daily pipeline of inside info on who’s seeing what and where, you won’t find current hot spots by reading travel books and state visitor guides. They are too general, and published months or years before you arrive.
Sure, they’ll tell you general places to go, like Brooks Falls for bears or Denali Nat’l Park, etc. But many folks have the unfortunate luck of being at these places during a temporary slump in activity, or bad weather for a week, or little to no salmon in the rivers, or rock slides that have closed access. All these things happen regularly and will happen again.
Or, even more important, the travel guides and state planners rarely, if ever, tell you about places that aren’t served regularly by their advertisers. One can’t really blame the publications or writers – there is only so much space to devote to practical tips in general publications. But there are lots of places served by independents such as APA that can be cheaper, more accessible and, most importantly, full of animal activity when other spots aren’t.
As residents here and immersed in the travel and wildlife pipelines between local contacts, photographers, travel agencies, local news, and driving the roads every day of the year, we pick up valuable information almost daily about where the animals are, and where they’ve stopped visiting.
As an example, most of the salmon runs are fairly predictable in time, place and numbers within Southcentral Alaska. But there is a lot of local variation, meaning they might be delayed or super-abundant one week and gone by the next. A classic case is the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula, where salmon runs can be fluctuate daily and seasonally from numerous causes, including water temperatures in the ocean and rivers, turbidity, international fishing pressure hundreds of miles off the coasts of Alaska, water pollution, bacteria levels, etc.
When the salmon fluctuate, so do the bears and other animals within the ecosystem. In 2022 and 2023, this was true at Brooks Falls, Silver Salmon Creek and other places where the early and late runs of salmon were low. (e,g, early run at Brooks, late run at Silver Salmon). That meant that bear activity was low to non-existent at those places in June and August-Sept respectively.
As an individual traveler hoping to catch some great experiences on your own for a short time (most folks only take a day or two to see the places mentioned above), and spending literally thousands of dollars to do so, you sometimes have the odds against you by just booking a flight to Alaska for a few days and hoping you get lucky. As mentioned above, reading a general guidebook written months or years in the past may get you into the ballpark, but you may not see any of the players.
Stack the odds in your favor by staying for a longer period of time than just a few days (weather delays can eat that up in no time). Stack them further in your favor by using an experienced photographer-guide (not all guides who carry a camera are pros or have the patience and awareness of the nuances in getting animals to trust you enough for great shots).
At APA, we’re communicating constantly with bear lodges, pilots, other photographers and residents about animal sightings and activity, as well as driving the roads daily. We keep our eyes on the roads and the local chat lines, and our ears tuned to radio conversations and locally at the coffee shops and supermarkets.
It pays off in big dividends for visitors wanting great experiences in a short amount of time, sometimes with very close-up encounters, and the “in-your-face” photos to show friends and family.
 

salmon-to-ecosystem-life cycle

 
One of the Keynote talks I give on our photo tours discusses the some of broadening of awareness that has occurred in the last decade from the climate change dialogues. The example I use is how the popular “Life Cycle” of a salmon is being replaced by the broader idea of the life cycle of an ecosystem. Salmon are not the only players, as bears, trees, rivers, birds and yes, people contribute to the “success” of the system.
So whether you believe some, all or none of the rhetoric between laymen, politicians and experts, or the debate over time frames and disaster scenarios, one basic viewpoint has become shared by all, albeit unknowingly — the world is more connected than we thought.
Connected in time and place. One place on one side of the globe is connected to another place thousands of miles away by the persistent global effects of atmosphere, oceans, and man’s actions. This may seem moot to many folks who regularly immerse themselves in the grandness of nature (probably most of you reading this). But the fact remains that most people bury their head in the sand when faced with the consideration of whether their actions, individually or as a country, should be modified to save unknown faces thousands of miles away. Add to that international religious and political turmoil over hundreds or thousands of years, and the pot can boil over with too many distasteful ingredients.
The quest for a broader, inclusive, healthy attitudes and agreement between different “taste” palettes seems even more elusive. The broadening of an “ecosystem” attitude rather than a species (or country) specific mindset stretches our boundaries of humanity, of caring for strangers, of altruism and the more tangible, legal boundaries of responsibility.
Whether discussing ecology or pollution or global political corruption, it’s easy to point the finger at corporations and politicians as faceless megalopolies run wild. But the truth is that people generally act in their own best interests, especially when their lives, health or futures are uncertain. And since life is uncertain, regardless of how much money you have, the idea of limiting your life choices in some way to care for millions of faceless people far far away from you in time and place is not an easy sell.
So why can some people feel compassion towards strangers – enough to give their time and sometimes years of physical and emotional commitment — while others are mostly takers in life? (I’m simplifying here, as we are all some combination of the two). What causes each of us to cross that fine line sometimes and jump into a project or a person’s life deep enough to really effect a major change in their life?
The answer may lie somewhere within the chicken and the egg dilemma. What comes first, a person’s gentle heart, or a turning point in their life? Are we genetically programmed to be compassionate and giving, or must we be hurt enough or experience some watershed turning point before we give without expectation?
I’ll leave it to the psychologists and philosophers to debate that one. What I do know is what I’ve experienced as a tour leader for many years in the company of animals and people all over the world: there is a desire to trust, a desire to connect, and a desire to coexist peacefully. It runs beneath the surface desire to get great photos. Because as wildlife photographers, we learn first to nurture trust with our subjects (great portrait photographers do the same with people). Beautiful interactions, expressions and moments will come, and the gratitude we feel toward the animals and circumstances that brought us together will run deep and long.
Most animals will sense trust and threat, though it varies with all. But the idea crosses species, time and space. Animals, like people, remember, and the same interactions and benefits can happen thousands of miles away. The net result is a greater sense of inclusion and “family” in the world. It can be deep and life changing at times, and it has the potential to extrapolate to genuine, heartfelt commitments to our planet, our neighbors in all their forms, and the future of humanity.
newsletter-places-besides-Brooks
Brown bear with sockeye salmon, Funnel Creek, Lake Clark Natl Park, Alaska
Funnel Creek, Lake Clark Nat'l Park © Ron Levy
 Yes, there are several. But they are off the radar of many tour companies because of access, cost or conveniences. At APA, we go to them all (not every year), as we have more flexibility and a wide inventory of trusted, long-term independent commercial pilots and smaller lodge owners who know what they are doing, safely and will fly us where we want to go.
Larger international photo tour companies that you may see on TV commercials or full page video/magazine ads have to stick with larger planes, larger facilities, easier access, etc., — all the constraints that come with the quest for volume and, yes, profit.
Don’t get me wrong. You can have some great experiences with larger, trusted tour companies. But there’s always a price point and consideration, as well as a time frame. Many pilots and larger tour companies do 1-3 day bear trips to Brooks or other places. These can be fun and productive if the weather and animals are cooperative which, realistically, is about 50% of the time.
So the big question is: what are those conveniences worth to you? Brooks Falls is usually a day trip for the vast majority of the thousands who go there. That day trip actually consists of half the time flying RT, and half the time split between walking to the falls and shooting.
The overnight lodge is very expensive (thousands per day) and, more importantly, your bear-experiences there may decline in value over time. What that means is that if you happen to have good weather on your first day and get great bear shots, the second day may not be as exciting as the first. Of course this can be true anywhere you go, but at Brooks, the experiences are very much focused on bears and the waterfalls, with some limited situations along the boardwalk trail towards the falls. These can be great encounters, though, with lone bears walking the trails close by you.
However, you are paying thousands/day for these experiences. Only you can assess the cost-benefit, but the point in bringing this up is that it depends on how much of a risk-taker you may be, and what your finances are like. Other bear locations are much less regulated, offer a wider variety of scenic possibilities to capture more variety and less recognized or cliché interactions. They can also be much cheaper and allow longer stays than Brooks. (Most visitors to Brooks fly in for the day and go back to their lodge a few hours away. Pilots wait for the group to walk up to the falls and back, usually allowing 3-5 hours, depending on whether you come from Anchorage or closer spots on the Kenai Peninsula.
Are you are willing to pay for a shorter bear experience at Brooks that will have hundreds there at the same time versus other great locations that give a more personal experience and more face time. It’s a quality of experience issue that many people don’t consider when their eye is just on getting one shot.
I can’t tell you how many times our visitors have come away with shots and memories that dwarf the Brooks bear-with-salmon-in-the-waterfall shot in impact. It’s a personal choice of course, but with APA, you have more of a choice, with longer periods of time, closer interactions (not limited by boardwalks or park officials all over the place), and yet safe and mind-blowing.
So what are some of the other places? In a nutshell they are listed below. Not enough space to really discuss all the benefits of both — see Where & When to Photography Bears in Alaska for a more complete listing:
1) Silver Salmon Creek – close to Anchorage & Kenai Peninsula, no waterfalls but close encounters with bears used to people for generations, not always with salmon (June-July clamming on tidal flats; silver salmon run from mid-summer through August).
2) Chinitna Bay — Close to the Kenai Peninsula and a popular place for daytrips. There are currently 2 lodges on the spit and slough that were grandfathered in before Lake Clark Nat’l Monument was created in 1980 (later expanded into a Nat’l Park), where bears can be observed all summer feeding on sedges and clams. Sometimes you can catch them with salmon if the water level is high enough, but there are better spots for classic salmon-bear shots and waterfalls.
3) Wolverine Creek – popular remote lake, short flight from Anchorage, easy to get close to bears from boats, small waterfalls, shared w/fishermen, salmon through summer, lodge on one end for overnights, gets crowded
4) Funnel Creek – popular but unmanned spot off West end of Lake Clark, many miles of river, hundreds of bears, thousands of salmon, no services. The photo at the top of the section was taken here.
5) Hallo Bay – excellent spot along salt water, father down Katmai NP, no crowds, variety of opportunities. Longer travel time in flight or boat.
6) Geographic Harbor – also excellent, similar to Hallo Bay but bigger, more spots, farther away but few people.
APA monitors activity at these spots all summer long with our lodge and pilot connections. We’ll go with the best option that gives you the best opportunities for fantastic photos and safe, comfortable experiences in the absolute glory of Alaska.
I hope this gives you some ideas, and as always, if you have any questions or comments about anything regarding Alaska, wildlife, etc., please do email us or use the forms on our site..

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A person will fight harder to defend his interests more than his rights.
 

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 if or when we discover them in future newsletters.
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