Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Top Three Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay Videos

The temperatures here have returned to being unusually warm.  Yesterday, for the first time this year, I heard a pine grosbeak singing a long, complex song that I normally only hear when they are mating or nesting.  Otherwise things continue to be productively quiet.  It makes for getting a lot done in the studio and around the house, but not for much blogging.

It does, however, mean that I finally have a chance to get to something I've had the general idea for since the beginning of King Salmon Chronicle...





The first video, I admit, covers a lot of other places in Alaska besides the peninsula, and then from its inland edge at Brooks Camp in Katmai.  Nonetheless, the footage by Tim Plowden and the score by Christel Evaart are so beautiful that it makes the list.







This one is a collage about village life in the Bristol Bay region.  Presentations like this are, naturally and appropriately enough, about putting one's best foot forward.   This it does well.









Roman Dial had already achieved a kind of legendary status in the world of Alaskan outdoor adventure when I arrived here in the early 80s.  Nothing has changed.  He's like some character out of Johny Quest: a supremely fit and impeccably skilled outdoorsman, professor of mathematics and biology, etc. and, if that wasn't already annoyingly perfect enough, he makes great videos too. Oh well. Of his, this one is my favorite.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Some 2014 Field Sketches




I once read that as a naturalist you should treat your notes and sketches as if evil forces were bent on their destruction, and make backup copies accordingly.  Thomas Jefferson advised Meriwether Lewis to make multiple copies of his notes, including at least one set on birch paper, since it was "less liable to injury from damp than common paper."

Accordingly, I've been engaged in the romantic task of scanning field sketches.  I'm posting some of the more legible ones, although most have suffered from the elements and life in a small tent. The first three were from our yard, the fourth from Upper Ugashik Lake, and the rest from Brooks Camp.

The first two were done on a clipboard with toned paper (a light, subdued blue would have been nicer), and the rest were done in my field notebook on loose sheets of rag paper.  When I return home I remove the sketches from the notebook and paste them in my field journal as appropriate.  I keep my journal in the Grinnell format, and most sketches of animals go in the species account for the species in questions.  Landscapes and such usually go in the journal proper.





























Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some Thoughts on Bear Safety for Artists

Brown bear tracks beside Susan's hand on the Pike Ridge trail, taken on a Sunday afternoon hike last spring.


With the sun staying up a little longer every day, my mind is returning to field sketching and plein air painting.  Living in a place where the brown bears outnumber the humans, it also has me thinking about bear safety.

This is on my mind not only because of the place I call home, but also because in 2003 my wife Susan and I came very close to being mauled by a very angry sow brown bear.  (See here and here.)  Fortunately, no one, including the bear, came to any lasting harm.  There are few things that will make you become a more serious student of bear safety than having had an enraged, roaring grizzly coming at you, especially when your mistakes caused the situation (or at least exacerbated it) and what you did right is what got you out of it unharmed.

I am not a bear expert.  That's not false humility.  I've spent enough time with real bear experts to know the difference, and I am not one.  Unfortunately, I've yet to find any field sketching and plein air painting-specific advice from professionals, i.e. experienced bear biologists or bear guides, or rangers in parks or refuges with high bear populations.  Even more unfortunately, what bear safety advice for artists that I've found on the web so far have been brief and general (if you know of exceptions, please tell me). There is nothing wrong with that per se, but there's so much more that can be said.  Hence this attempt to make a contribution to the subject.

Just to give a sense of the background that informs the opinions that follow: I have had over 50 close encounters with brown bears in the wild (i.e. with no barrier between me and the bear and at less than 40 yards).  My closest encounter was with a big male at less than 3 feet in the early morning twilight (He was asleep in the brush beside a trail I was following and after announcing his displeasure with me, went back to sleep.)  I do not know how many close encounters with black bears I have had, but they are many.   I have spent many, many hours studying bears in close proximity in the wild, sometimes for more than ten hours a day for several consecutive days.  I have successfully completed  bear safety training with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and am qualified by the agency as a designated bear-defense shooter (i.e. I am authorized to carry a firearm in protection of myself and others during agency activities, though pepper spray is always my preferred option).  My wife Susan manages over 4 million acres of brown bear habitat here on the Alaska Peninsula:  Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, and has worked in the management of refuges with black bear populations in the southcentral U.S..  Through volunteering for those refuges and otherwise being close to their operations I have had the good fortune of being able to speak with a number of bear biologists and to get a good working sense (at least for a layman) of the day-to-day realities of bear conservation.  Again, not the stuff of true expertise but enough, I trust, to be able to at least express an informed opinion.

This is not intended as a comprehensive guide to bear safety, but I will make some suggestions about where to go for general bear-safety advice, and will then add some thoughts specific to artists.  If I seem a bit dogmatic at times, it is because I don't want to tediously qualify everything with "In my experience..." and  "It seems to me that..." and the like.  My hope is to encourage a more in-depth conversation among those of us who paint and draw in bear country.  Some thoughts:



1. We must take bear safety seriously.  Of course no one would be reading this if she or he didn't take the subject seriously.  What I am getting at is treating it as a worthy discipline unto itself, and not just a rote checklist of things to do or not do in bear country.   We all know that we are never going to sketch wildlife well by relying exclusively on some "How to Draw Animals in Four Easy Steps" method, however useful it may be for getting us oriented.  Nor are we going to be able to match our palettes to the shifting light of the landscape by relying on a memorized list of color-mixing recipes.  Excellence requires a much deeper intimacy with our art and our subjects than that.  The same is true with bear safety.  While there's no need for us to go back and get a masters degree in ursine zoology and then spend several  summers as bear bums in Katmai, it is crucial to understand that spending time safely and harmoniously in bear country is an art that one must commit to and continuously refine.

I speak from experience.  Having felt like I'd paid my dues, and thereby having grown complacent, got me into a situation that almost cost me and my wife dearly.

2.  Learn from the experts.  Here, here, and here are good places to start.  Stephen Herrero's book  Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance  is essential reading.  While he is quite clear about how rare bear attacks are statistically, reading the book may make you a bit jittery for a while.  Time afield and clear thinking will help keep matters in perspective.  Reading it provides a depth of understanding of the dynamics of bear safety that websites, pamphlets, and posts like this one can never give.

I also highly recommend reading this gripping and exceptionally informative account of a grizzly charge on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge here in Alaska.

3.  Get as much of a feeling for bears as you can.  Primitive peoples who lived in close proximity with bears may have had little in the way of a formal biological understanding of them, but those peoples unquestionably knew a lot about bears, often in a manner that is of more practical value for bear safety than, say, knowledge of the fine points of ursine physiology or embryology.  The best way to start to develop that kind of tacit understanding is just spending time around bears, paying attention.  For all the imperfections of zoos, they are better than nothing for this.  At least the more progressive ones are.  The wild is always superior, of course.   Videos are okay as a supplement but even the best ones are edited in such a way as to mislead the viewer into thinking that bear life is more action-packed than it really is.

I know that getting time to just watch bears is not easy for most.  I just want to make the point that every bear encounter and sighting is a chance to learn something important about them, even if it doesn't provide us any new "facts."   Developing this kind of feeling for bears may not be scientific, or even all that conscious, but no one makes it long as a bear biologist or guide without it, be it scientific or otherwise.  Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.

4.  Think carefully about where you stop to paint or sketch.  Generally we chose a spot with a fairly open view ahead of us.  This is good as far as it goes, since it allows us the opportunity to spot any bears coming toward us from our front.  What about behind us, or to the sides?  How close are we to the trail we just arrived from?  What we want to avoid is being in a location where it is easy for a bear to walk up on us accidentally.

I was once sitting on a rock outcrop, looking out over the braided river surrounded by glacial peaks in a beautiful Alaskan valley.  I had chosen my sitting spot to be as far from the trail as I could be without losing the view.  A group of hikers showed up and spread out just to the sides of the trail where it emerged from the woods and crossed the top of the outcrop.  Behind them along the trail and up the slopes to their side was dense forest.  They all stood there, stunned by the view, right at the edge of forest.  Five minutes later a black bear, following the same trail they had come in on, walked right into the middle of them.  Fortunately the hikers didn't panic.  Well, not too badly.  The bear was more surprised than anyone and ran off immediately.  Everything turned out okay, but this is the kind of situation we should all take pains to avoid.  Especially on well-used trails like this one, bears are not necessarily concerned about human scent, and are not necessarily keeping any more of a careful eye out than humans.  Take special care to avoid situations where incidents like the one above can occur.

Also, try to keep in mind the wind direction at your location.  Accidental encounters are most likely to occur with bears coming at you from upwind.  Regularly checking the wind direction is a habit that few people other than experienced hunters and trackers have, but is well worth cultivating.

5.  Think carefully about the binders for your paints.  I suspect that most readers know that bears have a sense of smell that is developed to an extent unimaginable to us.  I suspect that few will be surprised that bears are also drawn to the smell of oils and fats.  In addition, we should keep in mind that, especially in the north where hibernation periods are long, bears are intensely driven to put on as much weight as possible while out of the den.  As far as I know, no research has been done in relation to how this relates to paints, but I think the above gives us reason to think carefully about using oil paints in certain bear habitats.  While I doubt that acrylic resins or gum arabic would have much drawing power with bears (though we should always keep in mind their sometimes intense curiosity) I think it is reasonable to be somewhat concerned about honey binders as well, though for various reasons I am not as concerned about them as oils.

I am not saying that we should abandon using oil paints or honey-bound watercolors in bear country.  I use both.  But I think long and hard about where and when I'll use what, and at certain times and places in brown bear country I will not use oils, and in a few instances not even watercolors bound in honey.  In country with black bears only I will use oils but I will not camp with them unless I have a certified bear-proof container to store all paints and panels in.  I am always careful to keep my painting supplies close at hand in case I need to gather them and move off.

In the event that a solid study shows that bears are indifferent to paints I will change my approach, but until then I think it is best to be cautious.

This is a subject on which I may elaborate at some point if there's interest, although my thinking about it changes somewhat after each season.  This is a great example of where having a feel for bears, knowing the specifics of their movements in the area you will be in, and knowing various safety options (e.g. bear-proof containers, portable bear fences), makes us far more adaptive than just knowing some guidelines.

6.  We should never abandon gear to bears.  This is important general advice and may not seem all that artist-specific.  I know of at least one case, however, which took place in a national park and involved some prominent artists abandoning their plein air setups to a grizzly when they should have walked off slowly with their stuff.  I can't imagine this is the only time such an incident has occurred.  Leaving gear to bears is bad for both humans and bears.  Even if the bears do not eat the paints, having something new and interesting to explore and play with (i.e. chomp on and toss around) is always a welcome break for a bear.  This only encourages more such behavior, with obvious dangers to humans and the very real possibility that the bear will eventually have to be shot.  Eating or licking paints is something a bear may well do, and if lead white is on the palette this could poison the bear.  Even if all pigments are non-toxic it nonetheless encourages similar future behavior.

Running from bears is, with extremely rare exceptions, a very bad idea.  A very bad idea.  In the vast majority of cases the only viable options are to walk carefully back or to stand one's ground.  If the painting or sketching site has been properly chosen and we've been sufficiently attentive to our surroundings, we should have time to gather our gear and keep it on or near our persons.  (A good reason to keep all one's gear close at hand and visible.)  Many people with a great deal of experience with bears are convinced that bears can sense our fear.  Being methodical about gathering our gear while observing an approaching bear is a good way to encourage calm in both us and the bear.

7.  We should always keep in mind that while bears are potentially dangerous, they can also be amazingly tolerant.  Thousands and thousands of people go through Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park every summer.  In my experience, almost any stay longer than 24 hours will include at least one close, off-platform encounter.  Many of the people visiting Brooks know amazingly little about wildlife or any kind of large animals.  Nonetheless there hasn't been a mauling there in decades.  As I've written here, eventually there will be such an incident.  It's inevitable, just as it's inevitable that even the best neighborhood is going to have some violence take place on occasion.  That does not detract from just how remarkable it is that so many humans can so safely share the place with such big, powerful, hungry, sometimes moody, and in some respects inherently antisocial animals.

Bearanoia is as off-balance as complacency, and destructive of both energy and fun.

I hope that the above will be a contribution toward starting an ongoing discussion about bear safety among outdoor artists who live in, or visit, bear country.  For those of us who fit that criteria I think it is every bit as interesting and profitable a subject of discussion as what is the ideal painting panel or pochade box.  The bears will benefit from our thoughtfulness as well, although they've never been the best about sending thank you notes.




Thursday, December 18, 2014

Connections and Depth

You know it's a warm spell when these guys start showing up in your back yard in King Salmon.

Okay, it's not that warm here, though it has been warmer than usual.  The photo was taken during our 2008 trip to the Pafuri Triangle in South Africa.  The younger elephants there were quite curious about humans, and this guy had decided he wanted to come over and check us out.

I recently dug this photo out of our collection, along with several others, to accompany a guest blog post I wrote last month for the travel-gear manufacturer Tom Bihn.  Just some reflections on the value of going somewhere in nature, just settling in quietly but comfortably and letting unforgettable things happen. Should it be of interest, the essay is here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Susan's Travels: Chignik Lake and Chignik Lagoon

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

A couple of boats tied off in the waters by Chignik Lagoon.


Yesterday (my wife) Susan traveled on refuge business to the villages of Chignik Lake and Chignik Lagoon on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula.

Wikimedia


Both villages are quite remote, even by Alaska Peninsula standards, and currently have about 70 year-round residents each.  As often happens with work travel, her schedule once on the ground left little time for taking photos even when it might otherwise have been appropriate.  The pages for the villages linked to above to give some idea of them, however, especially the one for Chignik Lagoon.  I hope at some point one or both of us will get to treat them in more detail.  For now, though, one more of Chignik Lagoon and another of Chignik Lake, followed by the coastline and tundra along the Bering Sea side of the peninsula between King Salmon and the Chigniks.

Given that, this post is probably best for those who are either relatively new to the blog or share Susan's and my semi-obsession with the textures and patterns of village life and the tundra.  Otherwise it may just seem like deja vu all over again...





U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

Chignik Lagoon


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

Chignik Lake.  The village's Russian Orthodox Church is near the center of the photo.  

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

I think this photo is particularly striking for a couple of reasons.  The first is the enormous beaver dam on the left side of the small lake, the very reason for its existence.  The other is the strong resemblance of much of the lake to the Mandelbrot set of fractal geometry.  While of course the shoreline do not involve infinite iterations of that set, the resemblance between this and so many other tundra lakes with the Mandelbrot set is strong enough that it's hard for me to believe that it is purely coincidental.  

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

This one seems to me to have a Julia set quality, though I don't find it as convincing or see it as often.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

As with the first aerial photo in this post, many of the lakes in this photo also strike me as resembling  the Mandelbrot set, though not as strongly as the lake created by the dam.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Susan Alexander

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Night Visitor

A urine track left by a brown bear as he(?) followed our driveway , peeing as he walked.   Bears are nothing if not casual.


     I was surprised to find this bear sign not far from our front door early this morning.  Not that I necessarily expected all the bears to be in their dens by now, but I wasn't sure what one would be doing near town.  No fishing, very unlikely to find a moose, no good denning sites that I can think of nearby....  Unfortunately the only thing can think of is garbage left outside by careless people.  I hope I'm wrong.


     On two consecutive days a week ago I heard and saw swans flying high overhead, heading southeast.  On the third day I did not hear or see a one, nor have there been any since.  The magpies and ravens, on the other hand, have returned to town after their summer truancy.  The ponds and smaller lakes are frozen over, and ice lenses are flowing down the creeks.  Winter is here.


A urine track left by an adult brown bear on the trail to Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, in July of this year.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park, 2014

Proof that you can get fat on a low carb, high protein diet.

I returned home from Brooks Camp for the last time this year on the 18th of this month.  I was the last seat-fare for the year on a float plane otherwise carrying lodge employees returning home at the end of their summer stint.  It was the end of my third visit this summer, for a total of 14 days by the Brooks River.

Even though I blogged about my visit there last year, I've been hesitant to write more about about Brooks.  It already gets more human traffic than it should, at least when the bears are there in July and September.  Unfortunately, because of political realities too complex and dreary to go into here, there is almost zero chance that human visitation will be limited at Brooks, at least not before something very bad happens.  I don't want to add to this problem by encouraging yet more visitation, but the fact of the matter is that the attention drawn to Katmai and Brooks Camp by the mainstream media, and the otherwise wonderful Katmai Bear Cams, utterly dwarfs anything that ever has been or will be created by this blog.

My hope is that I can add a little more candor than what other sources offer, in order to offset what harm I may do in further publicizing the wonders of the place.

While I am busy with disclaimers, I will also note that as per usual I am making a virtue of necessity in relation to the bears, and focusing more on writing than photos, given the inadequacy of my camera and photographic skill-set, and the fact that the web is already replete with Katmai bear photos.  Handily, the bear cam and its related blog have relieved me of even more of the burden, especially since I was contemplating posting an entry for fellow bear geeks filled with my observations about the individual bears.  The bear cams and blog, and the Bears of Brooks River guidebook are a much better way to get to know them however, at least short of visiting.

I'll also go ahead and put one of the main morals of this post up front:  If you are going to visit Brooks and are seriously into bears, stay for at least four days if at all possible.  Getting to know them as individuals enriches the experience exponentially.  Just don't think you'll be satisfied with one visit.  I met people who have been visiting for multiple days every summer for over a decade.  If I can manage it, I'll do the same.

As much as I wish it were otherwise, there's no way to recount all the interesting things I saw and learned while watching brown bears for 10 hours a day for 2 weeks, not to mention the many conversations with rangers and biologists about the ursine locals.  I can't help but pass on a few thoughts and experiences, however...




Either 856 or 747 (or both, it can be hard for me to tell from photos) near the falls.  856 is undisputedly the most dominant bear of Brooks River at the moment.  One ranger described him as "crazy, over the top dominant" and it was fascinating to see just how true that is.  747 was the only other high-status male present while I was there in late June / early July, and even he resisted 856 only hesitantly and never for long.  All others fled without a shred of dignity whenever 856 made even a modest move in their direction.  I was hoping to see both bears when I returned in September--though I was not sure I'd be able to recognize them with all their fall fat--but they were not around during that stay.


The first three weeks of July, during the salmon run, are when most people visit Brooks Camp.  The number of cabins and tent sites available, the relative expense of day trips from King Salmon, and the logistical and other problems of camping outside the camp boundary would put something of a natural limit on the number of visitors even then, but there are now day-trip flights out of Homer (and Anchorage?) that deposit a small army of visitors during he middle of the day in late June and July.  After a while I just altered my daily routine so that I was on the falls platform as soon as it opened and was off of it by 10 am.  I would return to camp, doze, catch up on my journal, etc. and not return to the platforms until after 5 pm, staying until it closed..  Fewer people visit in September, presumably for all the reasons that fewer people visit Alaska in September and also because the sockeye salmon are not jumping the falls and the bears are not as concentrated there.  Nonetheless during the middle of the day the platforms were at times crowded too, but not so much that I made a special effort to avoid them.

The one thing that I discovered about going to and leaving the platforms early is that it greatly increases your chances of running into bears off-platform.  Such encounters are, depending on your perspective, either the best or the worst thing about Brooks.  I'll let you guess what my take is.  I had about 15 at Brooks Camp this summer that were both off the platform and less than 40 yards.  The closest one took place at less than a yard.

That one occurred while I was walking the trail between the campground and Brooks Camp itself, right around sunrise.  A big fat brownie was sleeping on the other side of a thick clump of spruce beside the trail, I did not see him until I noticed this huge foot next to mine as I walked by.  Fortunately he was asleep and, after I reflexively said "Hey bear" (not the best time to do that) he gave me a groggy growl/snore of the "Buzz off pipsqueak, I'm sleeping!" variety, lifting his head slightly before dropping it and dozing again.  At least 8 other people walked past that bear that morning.  

My other encounters were of the more typical kind; getting off the trail while a bear or bears--who of course always have right of way--walked past.  Normally the bears are relatively nonchalant about things, but on one occasion I got an annoyed "Whoof!" from a big male (probably 747) who did not expect my coming around a bend in a trail, and on another occasion I got some jaw popping from a subadult and adult male who were coming down the trail as I went up it toward the falls platform.  At least one of them was also foaming at the mouth a little.  I got off the trail and they walked past without making any move toward me.  They just wanted me out of the way and, I suspect, had been agitated by something else a few minutes before, probably a more dominant male.

So are the bears of Brooks safe?  No.  Given the thousands of people who visit there every year, and the many hundred of if not thousands of encounters like the ones I've had that must take place every summer (there is no reason to think that mine were anything other than typical for someone spending a similar amount of time there at the same times of year), and that there has not been a mauling at Brooks in decades,  it can be safely said that for huge, wild mammals they are amazingly tolerant.  Nonetheless the rangers at Brooks never use the word "safe" either about the bears or the Brooks Camp experience, and for good reason.

That said, I have no doubt that the odds of being seriously hurt by a bear while visiting there are much lower than being killed while driving somewhere within 3 miles of home, even if you visited Brooks Camp for a week every year for the rest of your life.  Nonetheless, at some point someone is going to get hurt or killed, especially given political resistance that would arise to any proposed changes that would lessen (but could never eliminate) the odds of something bad happening, and the fact that certain people are determined to push the limits in how they behave around bears.  When the time comes, I hope that there will not be an irrational reaction in relation to it.  The American Way, however, seems to be to avoid dealing with difficult problems until things are about to go (or have gone) over the edge, and then to over-react in response--a well-orchestrated media frenzy adding zest to the general freak-out.  For that reason, frankly, I sometimes worry about Brooks, all the more so because I love it.

Photos and considerably more cheerful commentary below.




This is 402 and her cub before she abandoned him and he was adopted by the now famous (as bears go) Holly.  See here, here, and here for more of the story.  I first saw the cub shortly after he and 402 arrived in late June.  He was thin, hunched, and somewhat listless and it was clear that 402 was not a particularly cautious or attentive mother.  As friends and family no doubt tired of hearing me say, I quickly became attached to the cub. His various unfortunate adventures during that visit (most of which have not been reported in the media) kept me on the edge.  After returning to King Salmon, I kept up with the cub's situation as best I could via the blog and park personnel temporarily in town.  I was saddened when 402 abandoned him early, in the middle of his second summer.  I thought that was it for him, and after all he'd been through only a slow death by starvation was in store, or a quicker death by being killed by an adult male (as occurred to at least one of his siblings).  Needless to say I was thrilled to learn that Holly had adopted him.  I had seen Holly with her spring cub fishing at the mouth of the river while on my first visit, and it was clear that she was a considerably more careful and attentive mom than 402, especially given that she was already well-known locally for having seen her cub Backpack through a bad injury.  While on my last visit I was able to see the new family all together, even getting to see Holly nurse the cubs, and the two playing together.  The adopted cub was now in much better condition, even getting a bit fat, and was incomparably more confident and relaxed, with a healthy streak of cub cheekiness. 



At the dock in King Salmon at the start of my September trip.  Included just because I like it, and to give an idea of a somewhat typical September day around here.



Some views from near the bridge, in September.

Poop:  Facebook for bears.

Brooks Falls this September.  It was somewhat unusual, I was told, that there were bears at the falls most of the time this month.  When I was there they were usually the big males Lurch and Otis, sometimes with a smaller male fishing the middle of the falls, as in this photo.  September was also noted for a relatively smaller number of bears overall but a much higher number of sows with cubs.  The mom and her cubs in the video here were frequently fishing and resting in the same spot shown in the linked video, just upriver from the bridge platform.  They also caused me, a ranger, and a group of fishermen to walk backwards along the road to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes until they turned off to take the trail to their favored spot by the platform.  She also seems to be an attentive mother bear, always making sure her cubs are close by, and checking to make sure that they are keeping up when the family is on the move.



A bear sleeping by the falls platform this September.  The bears, now tens or even hundreds of pounds heavier, were visible sleeping much more often in September than in July.  By the time I left last week they were starting to push the limits of sleeping in or near the lodge and cabins, and the bear management team was working hard every morning as they woke up and wandered around, near, or through the area.  The most experienced person of the bear management team told me that the bears clearly had some way of sensing that the humans were about to leave and that the camp would soon be theirs, as every year they would start pushing the limits a few days before things (mostly) shut down.  The bear management team works to keep bears out of the camp proper (i.e. where the cabins and lodge are) and if necessary will run the sows, cubs, and subadults out, usually by approaching them and shouting judiciously.  The team members do not attempt this with the more dominant males, who roam freely but normally do not seem to be all that interested in the area near the lodge.  


5 float planes on the beach by the main camp.  This was the only occasion when I saw this in September, but it was typical during the middle of the day in late June  and July.


Bear 500, a rather pert subadult female, having a salmon snack by the gate to the bridge.  In a way, this photo sums up the Brooks experience for me:  It's not wilderness, but wilderness is very close by, and the things that happen there can be ever so cool.


December 2014 Postscript:  When I wrote above that I'd had 15 encounters at Brooks that were off platform and at less than 40 yards,  I wasn't thinking about all the bears that came by while I was standing at "The Corner" near the bridge with one of the rangers.  Since those are so par for the course if you are at Brooks for more than a day trip, and take place under somewhat more controlled circumstances (though just as much in the open), I didn't think of them when I wrote this post.  If those encounters are included, the number of encounters goes about 3 dozen.  Yet another reason why if you are going to go all the way to Brooks, go there for as long as you can.  As I've said before, to me the off-platform encounters are the best part of the experience.