McNeil River 2017 – Last Day

Departure day. A new group is here and our  group of 10 will be leaving this afternoon. We can see bears through the window of the cook shack, and there are more out on the flats, but no longer will we get to sit within stretching distance of them, listen to them crunch salmon skulls, snarl warnings to one another …

McNeil River 2017 – Day 4

Last day going out to the Falls, though not the last to see bears. We’ve seen them every day from camp, out on the mud flats or cruising along the beach, so I’ve no doubt we’ll see some today while we’re in camp waiting for our fligh tomorrow.  Today was cooler and windier than the previous three days – started …

McNeil River 2017 – Day 3

Wow, another warm sunny day with only light winds! That makes three in a row, and those who live in this part of Alaska know that doesn’t happen very often!

Another trek to the Falls. Lots of bears. LOTS of bears. We counted 53 unique bears today, including several sow-with-cubs combinations. I’m now able to recognize five or six individual bears, and spent more time watching them than I did taking photos of them. Each bear has its own personality and its own way of interacting with others. In human terms, some are bitchy, some affable, some unassuming and others playful. Two bears nearly ran into us, one because she was running while looking backwards and the other because she was focused on getting the salmon from the mouth of three first! We probably could have touched the first bear she was so close. 

Bears fishing at the Falls

Speaking of being close… on the trail between camp and the Falls is a section of narrow beach, lagoon on one side and small cliffs on the other. We had instructions that if we were to meet a bear on this beach, we group tightly on the cliff side and allow the bear to pass on the water side. When I heard these instructions this morning I scoffed at the idea of meeting a bear on the beach – really, what are the odds that will happen while I’m here? Good, apparently, since tonight we were passed by a sow with her pair of new cubs. She just walked along the beach, occasionally chuffing at her cubs and glancing at us without any apparent concern. Her cubs stared at us as they trotted behind their mother, like kids who’d been told to behave and be quiet. They were perhaps 20 feet away. The trust that kind of behavior relies upon is truly quite remarkable – we won’t hurt her, and she won’t hurt us. Her cubs are learning that as well.

Sow with cubs, courtesy Karen Reeve

I took some video footage today and some 200 stills. That sounds like a lot but it’s not. The nice thing about going out multiple days in a row is that you can be a bit more discriminating about the shots you take because you’ve got more opportunities – no need to just shoot, shoot, shoot. 


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