Fly-in Bear Viewing: Part 3

by | Jul 16, 2014 | 28 comments

Fly-in Bear Viewing: Part 3

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This is the very last picture I took of the bears with my DSLR and I think it's my favorite.

This is the very last picture I took of the bears with my DSLR and I think it’s my favorite.

(I’ve received a surprising amount of anger about how close I got to the bears. While I understand how you could feel that way, as someone who has lived in bear country all my life I can assure you that close encounters with them is a normal way of life. I lived in one home in Alaska where we had a bear on our deck and if the sliding-glass door hadn’t been shut, we would have had a bear in our living room! In my four years in the Sierra National Forest, I was frequently within 15 feet of bears just out on my daily walks. In the specific case of my fly-in bear trip, everything we did was well within the rules established by the National Park Service. If you don’t like what happened, your argument isn’t with me, it’s with the Park Service who was in charge. The bottom line is, every time humans go into bear country they have to expect the possibility or even likelihood of close encounters with bears. In Katmai National Park, it’s a certainty!! We have three choices: 1) Lock up their country and forbid humans from entering—which means closing most of the National Parks and all of Alaska, 2) Kill all the bears so we can’t encounter them, or 3) Continue to go into their country as carefully as we can. I’ll let each of you make up your own minds).
Derrick finally got mama  away from us, now the cub wants to follow us so Derrick is out front gain.

Derrick finally got mama away from us, now the cub wants to follow us so Derrick is out front gain.

This will be the third and final installment of my “Bear Trilogy” and then we will move on. There isn’t much left of my Alaska trip. Something come up and we needed to end the trip by the 10th of July and so we left Alaska on the 7th and got back to Jackson, Wyoming on the 13th—we will probably stay here a week or two. The only thing left to tell of the Alaska Trip is our camp in Palmer, Alaska and my flight-seeing trip over the top of Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park. That’s just a few more posts. After that I’ll wrap up the trip with some final thoughts, lessons I learned, and details about how we converted Judy’s van. And yes, I will give you all the gossip about Judy and I!! And no, there were no fights and we’re still together!
After our encounter with the mother bear who grazed so close, we stayed and watched them for awhile, then Derrick the guide said we should move on and find another bear so we stood part way up, hunched over and started to back away. But by then the cub had become interested in us so she started to follow us. We repeated the procedure we did with his mom; Derick moved in front, knelt down and softly urged the cub to go back to mama. We tried to leave again, and again the cub followed us. We couldn’t get rid of these bears!! So a second time Derrick went out front and did his “Bear Whisperer” thing. This time it worked and the cub went back to mama. However, a new drama was beginning to unfold.
This male bear shows up and sends mom and cub running. Chances are very good that it was another male bear that killed her other two cubs last year.

This male bear shows up and sends mom and cub running. Chances are very good that it was another male bear that killed her other two cubs last year. They both know what he wants.

There were two other groups of people also watching the mother and cub with us. When we backed away from them we discovered “Rightie” (the very big male with his ear chewed off) and the female he was courting. They had grazed their way over closer to us so we had to veer off to our left, to avoid them. When we got on the opposite side of the other people (and the mom and cub was between us) we noticed another bear coming up from behind and moving toward the mom and cub. Apparently he hadn’t seen the other people because when he got closer he seemed confused. He had been planning to kill the cub and mate with its mother but here were all these people in the way.
In this picture you can see that mom and cub have sat down between the two group of people because she knows we bring her safety. The make bear is backtracking is going to come back around between the two groups. And a third group of people has shown up.  Complicated situation!

In this picture you can see that mom and cub have sat down between the two group of people because she knows we bring her safety. The male bear is backtracking and is going to come back around between the two groups to try to get to the mom and cub. And a third group of people has shown up. Complicated situation!

As soon as mom spotted this young male bear she and her cub ran right over in-between us and the other group and sat down to watch the situation. She knew the male would be afraid to approach the humans so this was by far the safest place to be. We also stayed put because right now we outnumbered the bears and moving away could only make things worse.
The young male bear tried to find a way around the other groups but didn’t see one, so he did the same thing we did, he back-tracked from the mom and cub and veered to his left; he was going to try to get to her between us and the other group. But then he ran into a new problem; Rightie and his girlfriend were in the way.
Rihtie and his female have drifted over behind us and he's watching this all unfold.

Rightie and his female have drifted over behind us and he’s watching this all unfold.

Rightie had been watching this new bear very intently. He was the biggest and most dominate bear around here and normally would have wanted to fight to establish that, but his total attention was focused on his female so all he cared about was the new bear backing down and going away. They stood and stared at each other for a few tense moments–each one trying to decide what to do. Finally, the young male realized he was no match for Rightie, turned around and went back to looking for a way to get to the mom and cub. That put him headed straight toward us!!!
I have my telehoto lens on and this is as wide as I can get it so you can't see them well. But even though Rightie is sitting down and the other bear is standing, it's obvious Rightie is a much bigger bear.

I have my telehoto lens on and this is as wide as I can get it so you can’t see them well. But even though Rightie is sitting down and the other bear is standing, it’s obvious Rightie is a much bigger bear. Penny for your thoughts!

He knows he's no match for Rightie and things are getting out of hand. so he slowly walks past us and away. I probably took 50 pictures of him from within 15 feet and I swear in 90% of them he is looking straight at me.

He knows he’s no match for Rightie and things are getting out of hand. so he slowly walks past us and away. I probably took 50 pictures of him from within 15 feet and I swear in 90% of them he is looking straight at me. This picture isn’t cropped, it’s what I took at my closest setting.

So here we go again! For the fourth time Derick takes his position kneeling in front of his little flock ready to defend us from the bear. Only this time it isn’t a bear he knows and is sure will be safe like mama was. No, it’s an unknown bear who came looking for a fight with mama and is now very agitated. He slowly approached us and probably got within 15 feet of Derick, but this time without incident. Apparently this was all too much and he just kept going and we didn’t see him again. What a relief that was!!!!
Now that's the evil stink eye!

Now that’s the evil stink eye!

He certainly wasn't going to tanle with Derick, the Bear Whisperer, so he left!

He certainly wasn’t going to tangle with Derick, the Bear Whisperer, so he left!

By now it was late and we were all physically and emotionally drained, so we just headed back to the plane to fly home. We cut over to the beach and found one of our groups had gotten there before us and were stopped yielding to a bear who was leaving the beach and heading up into the meadow. I’m using a long lens so these photos make him look closer than he was, but he was still very close to them! They need to put in a traffic light around here for these darn bears! Crazy drivers!
Finally, we're off to the beach. No more bears, right? Wrong!

Finally, we’re off to the beach. No more bears, right? Wrong!

We were heading down the beach toward the plane when we spotted this bear coming up from the beach so we stopped and let him go by.

We were heading down the beach toward the plane when we spotted this bear coming up from the low-tide so we stopped and let him go by.

One of the other groups was further down the beach when he crossed their path so there was nothing for them to do but kneel down and let him go by.

One of the other groups was further down the beach when he crossed their path so there was nothing for them to do but kneel down and let him go by. You can see another group of photographers on the beach. They are taking pictures of the mother with triplets.

Shortly afterwards we came across another mother bear who had been out at low-tide clamming with her triplets. They got hot in the summer sun so they all laid down to take a nap. Two of them never budged the whole time we watched them, but one never stood still! Obviously he has ADD and needs Ridylin!
Busy little bear!

Busy little bear! “Johnny, leave your brother alone while I’m napping!”

Finally, we got back to the plane and I must tell you I was totally exhausted! No one had ever said this but I think they have three guides and each of them customizes their tour to their guests. When I initially asked about the tour I had specifically asked about sun angles for photography because that’s critically important to me. Dee (the co-owner) assured me that the guide would work us around to get the best angles with the sun at our back and in the bears face. And that’s just what we did, Derrick took us further down the valley into the sun and then we started working our way back looking for bears with the sun at our back. So we walked further than the other groups. It also seemed to me that we got closer to bears than the others did. I think people were assigned to different guides based on their comfort level with the bears. One reason I think that is I flew with a different pilot, but then was put with Derrick as my guide. I think we were the adventurous ones!
We quickly loaded up and were taking off down the beach into the sunset!

We quickly loaded up and were taking off down the beach into the sunset!

I know you mostly saw the back of Derick's head, but he kept a very good eye on his little cubs. he looked back on us often.

I know you mostly saw the back of Derick’s head, but he kept a very good eye on his little cubs. he looked back on us often.

The bottom line is, I think if you are interested in a fly-in bear tour with them, you can probably get one to your liking; although they all require hiking and kneeling. They have three tours, one, three or eleven hours on the ground with the bears. One is too little and eleven is probably too much, it would have been for me. Three hours is just right. My tour was 3 hours on the ground and cost $700. They do give a discount for cash. It includes flight time over and back and the Naturalist Guide who is also the pilot; he escorts you everywhere you go. If you have a large group of people, you probably need to make reservations but I was able to go as a walk-in mainly because I was a single. If at all possible try to go as a walk-in. Dee checked the aviation weather the day I was there and said it looked good and now was the time to go. As you can see in the pictures, she was right! We had a glorious day! Here’s the info you need and how to contact them:
Their home page:
http://www.alaskabearviewing.com/
Here is a link to pricing:
http://www.alaskabearviewing.com/pricing/
And how to make reservations:
http://www.alaskabearviewing.com/reservations/

Previous Fly In Bear Viewing
Next Itchy Feet and the Urge to Move

28 Comments

  1. jonthebru

    Beautiful mountains, I hope the bears appreciate their view! I’ll bet the guide sleeps well at night, that makes for a long day. Bears are incredible creatures I hope even those who are afraid of them have respect enough to aid in their survival.

    • Bob

      Absolutely jonthebru! Fortunately, bears are thriving in Alaska!
      Bob

  2. Calvin R

    More beautiful bear pictures!

    • Bob

      Thanks Calvin.
      Bob

  3. Monique

    Love the pictures. I really think one has to have some sense of being brave- wow.
    I have to ask the obviously- from being on the plane till the time you left, how long were you there and where does a person go to the washroom out there if they need to?

    • Bob

      Hi Monique, it was a 7 hour trip total with 3 hours on the ground with the bears. When we landed the guides asked us if e needed to go to the bathroom. If so the men used the ocean, and the women went up to behind some bushes. Of course the guide had to check the bushes for bears first! Crude but effective!
      Bob

  4. Peggy

    Amazing pictures once again and I was on the edge of my seat reading about your adventures. Sorry to hear you had to cut your trip short…hope everything’s o.k.

    • Bob

      Peggy, no problems at all, everything is fine!
      Bob

  5. Rob

    A good story, great photos and a lot of fun!

    • Bob

      Thanks Rob!
      Bob

  6. Lynn

    The babies are so cute. I love the last one, great shot. If you like bears so much, another great viewing spot is just outside of Lethbridge Alberta in Waterton Lakes in late July during berry season. They are equally plentiful and not afraid of humans either. The park rangers are usually around the
    protect the bears from crazy.
    Lynn

    • Bob

      Thanks Lynn, I’ll keep that in mind!
      Bob

  7. Openspaceman

    Bob_
    Great job all around…can’t imagine being that close to them big bears. Mostly because I would be stressin’ about my fellow humans reacting impulsively as things got dicey. Thanks for the play by play.

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I figure if they run, the bear will follow and I’ll be safe!
      Bob

  8. Steve

    Not sure why people would be giving you negative comments. Your guide obviously had respect for the bears and the groups never interfered with the bear’s movements. Their safety and habitat were never in danger. Some people just seem to want to find fault with everything!

    • Bob

      Steve, I’m sympathetic, to people who aren’t familiar with bear country it seems wrong somehow. To each his own!
      Bob

      • Ming

        have you come across any studies on the impact of so much human visitation to this bear habitat? That is one possible negative aspect that comes to mind from reading your excellent descriptions of your adventure – the numerous groups of people you saw also visiting the area to see the bears. I know that for whale watching, too many boats out watching them can keep them from feeding and living normally.

        • Bob

          In the US the National Park Service has only one reason to exist, to preserve and protect our natural history. If they can let people in to enjoy it they do, but preservation comes first. In many National Parks you can’t even drive your car, you have to take one of their buses and in most you can’t hike in the backcountry without a permit. In 100 years the land and the wildlife will be just as they are today if that’s what nature wants.
          There is no doubt in my mind that we are enhancing the bear’s habitat. The cub in my story is probably alive today because we were there. Although he was a small male and the mother probably could have beaten him, you never know.
          To those bears, for the most part humans don’t exist. They are the unknown so you stay away from them but we present no danger or harm to them.
          Bob

          • Ming

            sounds good!!
            Yeah, that’s the same national park service that says no dogs on the trails because they might disturb wildlife.

          • Bob

            Ming, that’s right, no way can our NPS be called lax in protecting the land or the wildlife. If anything, sometimes they are over-zealous toward preservation.
            Bob

  9. Susan

    Great shots ! Love the momma and baby photos !

    • Bob

      Thanks Susan!
      Bob

  10. Ming

    I love that you can see the expressions on the bears’ faces. Good camera equipment is totally worth lugging along on these once-in-a-lifetime adventures! And of course, knowing how to use it to its full advantage.

    • Bob

      I have to agree Ming! However, I’m no snob, I think my Nikon point and shoot takes really great pictures. It just has a lot more limitations than a DSLR.
      Bob

  11. Rob

    Hi Bob,
    Great photos of the bears…. Would you mind sharing what size of telephoto lens you were using?
    Rob

    • Bob

      Rob, it’s just a 70-300, but because it is a full-frame camera there is no crop factor (multiply by 1.5).
      I really want to get the new Tamron 150-600 but they are in such hot demand that you can’t find them.
      These bears were just very, very close!
      Bob

  12. swade

    GREAT post!!!
    I have been to Alaska and saw lots of bears from a small plane or while camping on rivers – but never cubs that I could photograph up close. Thank you for the great pictures,comments and information. I just can’t decide if I should go in September or wait until June. Ideas?

    • Bob

      Swade, generally the weather is much better in June than in September. September tends to be rainy, cold and drizzly. But the mosquitoes and tourists are gone so that’s nice! If you get the timing just right the tundra up north turns a blazing red and is gorgeous but in only lasts a week or less then it’s gone. Fall colors are only yellows and generally just okay, nothing special. In rainy years they are really poor. But nights will be dark so there is a chance to see the Aurora, but it is pure luck. I associate the Aurora with snow and cold. There is a time in September when you can drive your own car into Dneali NP, but I’ve never done it. It may only be for residents and it may be by drawing, I can’t remember.
      As far as bear viewing their coats are at their best just before going into hibernation so they are prettiest. They also are big and fat then too. September is hunting season so they are wary of man then (but not in the NPs). The salmon runs are over and the grass would be dead so I think there wouldn’t be any bears in Halo bay then, they will be scattered into the backcountry.
      Go in June!!!!
      Bob

Table of Contents

28 Comments

  1. jonthebru

    Beautiful mountains, I hope the bears appreciate their view! I’ll bet the guide sleeps well at night, that makes for a long day. Bears are incredible creatures I hope even those who are afraid of them have respect enough to aid in their survival.

    • Bob

      Absolutely jonthebru! Fortunately, bears are thriving in Alaska!
      Bob

  2. Calvin R

    More beautiful bear pictures!

    • Bob

      Thanks Calvin.
      Bob

  3. Monique

    Love the pictures. I really think one has to have some sense of being brave- wow.
    I have to ask the obviously- from being on the plane till the time you left, how long were you there and where does a person go to the washroom out there if they need to?

    • Bob

      Hi Monique, it was a 7 hour trip total with 3 hours on the ground with the bears. When we landed the guides asked us if e needed to go to the bathroom. If so the men used the ocean, and the women went up to behind some bushes. Of course the guide had to check the bushes for bears first! Crude but effective!
      Bob

  4. Peggy

    Amazing pictures once again and I was on the edge of my seat reading about your adventures. Sorry to hear you had to cut your trip short…hope everything’s o.k.

    • Bob

      Peggy, no problems at all, everything is fine!
      Bob

  5. Rob

    A good story, great photos and a lot of fun!

    • Bob

      Thanks Rob!
      Bob

  6. Lynn

    The babies are so cute. I love the last one, great shot. If you like bears so much, another great viewing spot is just outside of Lethbridge Alberta in Waterton Lakes in late July during berry season. They are equally plentiful and not afraid of humans either. The park rangers are usually around the
    protect the bears from crazy.
    Lynn

    • Bob

      Thanks Lynn, I’ll keep that in mind!
      Bob

  7. Openspaceman

    Bob_
    Great job all around…can’t imagine being that close to them big bears. Mostly because I would be stressin’ about my fellow humans reacting impulsively as things got dicey. Thanks for the play by play.

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I figure if they run, the bear will follow and I’ll be safe!
      Bob

  8. Steve

    Not sure why people would be giving you negative comments. Your guide obviously had respect for the bears and the groups never interfered with the bear’s movements. Their safety and habitat were never in danger. Some people just seem to want to find fault with everything!

    • Bob

      Steve, I’m sympathetic, to people who aren’t familiar with bear country it seems wrong somehow. To each his own!
      Bob

      • Ming

        have you come across any studies on the impact of so much human visitation to this bear habitat? That is one possible negative aspect that comes to mind from reading your excellent descriptions of your adventure – the numerous groups of people you saw also visiting the area to see the bears. I know that for whale watching, too many boats out watching them can keep them from feeding and living normally.

        • Bob

          In the US the National Park Service has only one reason to exist, to preserve and protect our natural history. If they can let people in to enjoy it they do, but preservation comes first. In many National Parks you can’t even drive your car, you have to take one of their buses and in most you can’t hike in the backcountry without a permit. In 100 years the land and the wildlife will be just as they are today if that’s what nature wants.
          There is no doubt in my mind that we are enhancing the bear’s habitat. The cub in my story is probably alive today because we were there. Although he was a small male and the mother probably could have beaten him, you never know.
          To those bears, for the most part humans don’t exist. They are the unknown so you stay away from them but we present no danger or harm to them.
          Bob

          • Ming

            sounds good!!
            Yeah, that’s the same national park service that says no dogs on the trails because they might disturb wildlife.

          • Bob

            Ming, that’s right, no way can our NPS be called lax in protecting the land or the wildlife. If anything, sometimes they are over-zealous toward preservation.
            Bob

  9. Susan

    Great shots ! Love the momma and baby photos !

    • Bob

      Thanks Susan!
      Bob

  10. Ming

    I love that you can see the expressions on the bears’ faces. Good camera equipment is totally worth lugging along on these once-in-a-lifetime adventures! And of course, knowing how to use it to its full advantage.

    • Bob

      I have to agree Ming! However, I’m no snob, I think my Nikon point and shoot takes really great pictures. It just has a lot more limitations than a DSLR.
      Bob

  11. Rob

    Hi Bob,
    Great photos of the bears…. Would you mind sharing what size of telephoto lens you were using?
    Rob

    • Bob

      Rob, it’s just a 70-300, but because it is a full-frame camera there is no crop factor (multiply by 1.5).
      I really want to get the new Tamron 150-600 but they are in such hot demand that you can’t find them.
      These bears were just very, very close!
      Bob

  12. swade

    GREAT post!!!
    I have been to Alaska and saw lots of bears from a small plane or while camping on rivers – but never cubs that I could photograph up close. Thank you for the great pictures,comments and information. I just can’t decide if I should go in September or wait until June. Ideas?

    • Bob

      Swade, generally the weather is much better in June than in September. September tends to be rainy, cold and drizzly. But the mosquitoes and tourists are gone so that’s nice! If you get the timing just right the tundra up north turns a blazing red and is gorgeous but in only lasts a week or less then it’s gone. Fall colors are only yellows and generally just okay, nothing special. In rainy years they are really poor. But nights will be dark so there is a chance to see the Aurora, but it is pure luck. I associate the Aurora with snow and cold. There is a time in September when you can drive your own car into Dneali NP, but I’ve never done it. It may only be for residents and it may be by drawing, I can’t remember.
      As far as bear viewing their coats are at their best just before going into hibernation so they are prettiest. They also are big and fat then too. September is hunting season so they are wary of man then (but not in the NPs). The salmon runs are over and the grass would be dead so I think there wouldn’t be any bears in Halo bay then, they will be scattered into the backcountry.
      Go in June!!!!
      Bob