Archive for August, 2012

Anan bear observatory, Wrangell, Alaska

Posted in alaska, bears, photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2012 by polarguide

I just returned from the Anan bear observatory  in Wrangell, Alaska.  Wow!  I have to say it was probably the best bear viewing I have ever done, and I see a-lot of bears.  The day Before I left on this  trip I walked out of my apartment in Juneau and there was a black bear walking down the street,  in Juneau that’s not very unusual. It is so common that  I am thinking about doing a series of photos on the bears of down town Juneau.

Anan river is on the south end of Wrangell island in south east Alaska.  The river has a strong pink salmon run that attracts a significant numbers and black bears and brown bears (grizzlies).  It’s one of the few places you can observe both species feeding in the same stream, often just meters from each other.

we had amazing photographic opportunities, but the light was low and all of my shots came out soft.  I was shooting ISO 640-1000 and still almost all of my photgraphs are fuzzy. The dark forest and rainy overcast day was hard to work with. I’m disappointed, I wont have an opportunity to get back there this season but I’m posting them anyway because they are still fun to look at.

We were transported to Anan river by Eric Yancy, owner of Breakaway adventures.  It takes about an hour by jet boat to get to the river, then a half mile hike along the river to the bear observatory through  beautiful, lush old growth temperate rain forest.  Their may be bears anywhere along the path.  On our way to the bear observatory we had three brown bears in the river to our right, a bear on the trail in front of us and one behind us.  We were literally surrounded by grizzly bears. When we arrived at the observatory we were again halted by a parade of black bears who appeared from the bushes, one after the other crossing our trail on a  path to the river.

trail to the observatory

Black bear crossing the trail

Brown bears fishing while black bear waits his turn

We spent four hours watching bears fish for salmon in the white water current. There were two brown bear sows that each had two, two year old cubs. Another had three spring cubs. There were two black bears that had several cubs and at one point three cubs from two different females where all playing in the same tree while their mothers fished.  At four in the afternoon I counted twenty bears on the river, then I scanned the surrounding hill side and realized, they were every where. In the trees, on the rock ledges.  I lost count of the total number if bears we saw that afternoon.

With black and brown bears in such close proximity we had the opportunity to observe the different fishing techniques the two species use.  Black bears stand on rocks along the bank of the river and dunk their entire head below the surface,  grabbing a salmon in their mouth then eating them on shore or slinking into the woods to a secluded spot to eat in privacy.

Happy black bear with a fat belly

Black bear sneaks off with his catch

Brown bears just get right in there.  Some dive headlong into the river or chase fish through the shallows. Others find an eddy and plop them selves down in a sitting position, waving their paws in front of them under the water and grabbing fish as they swim by.  when they catch a fish they eat it right there in the river.

Mamma brownie with two, two year old cubs

Cautious black bear mamma hiding with her cub, keeping an eye out for brownies

Black bear on a log

big brownie catching a pink salmon

Fish eye

Mamma with three spring cubs

A few days prior to visiting Anan I did a day cruise through glacier bay and visited a steam near gloomy knob that currently has a sockeye salmon run.  I had heard there was a family of wolves spending time there catching salmon.  We found a family of five wolves resting on the beach along side the salmon stream while five brown bears cruised the banks of the river.  The park service has closed that beach to all visitors because of the high wildlife use.  I was just a few days too late to capture wolves and bears catching salmon side by side.  this was the best shot I could get from the boat.

The Alexander Archipelago wolf is common to this area of Alaska.

Mamma wolf with two pups