Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leaving Lake Clark National Park in Alaska

On Tuesday we had to say goodbye to this wonderful wilderness and our great hosts James and Sheila Issac at the Alaska Homestead Lodge. There's only two ways out - by boat or by plane and we took a Natron Air seven seater plane. The kids loved it - but this momma was a little nervous!

These planes land on the beach at low tide - they say it's a great landing strip - but it took us a little while to get used to!

This last photo is of Mount Redoubt - a volcano 30 miles from the lodge which has been active this summer! And we even experienced a 5.2 magnitude earthquake which we felt while there! It was centered much further north than us, but it was the first earthquake we've ever actually felt!

Bye James & Sheila, Scott, Simon & Emily - we'll see you again soon!

You can always tell Heather's opinions quite quickly these days (a preteen)! She loved it there and did NOT want to leave!

And I am usually happy to get home after a vacation, but this was different. I shed some tears leaving Lake Clark and the Homestead. The whole experience was one of the best four days in my life! It was an amazing experience! I have never seen Kirk so relaxed and happy!

But the recipe for "Kirk Happiness" could be dangerous. Or dangerously expensive! It took almost 3 weeks off work, two days of fishing in the Kenai River, and four days away from civilization and next to grizzlies to finally get the guy to relax & nap & enjoy life!

Photography Workshop at Lake Clark National Park

I had the pleasure of joining Dale Franz for another Franzfoto Safari while at Lake Clark National Park - there were 8 of us photographers total, and it was an amazing experience! Some of the photos on previous posts were taken with Dale's Class, but I thought I would share a few photos of the group!

Dale has another similar trip planned for the first week in July 2010 and I highly recommend it! They will be staying next door to the Homestead, the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge.

I thought that Lynn's mosquito netting above was funny the first day, but I donned it day 2, as it's a necessary part of the equipment. In this photo below, I don't know if Art was taking a rest on his Canon 500mm lens or if he was just dodging mosquitoes! Art was on last year's Yellowstone trip - so it was good to see another fellow student! Art has been back to several of Dale's trips - that's the sign of a great photography instructor, lots of return students!

This last photo shows the gang traveling via ATV guided by Drew from the Silver Salmon Lodge. Drew has been living out there for several years and even spent a couple winters as a caretaker, so he's the local brown bear expert!

Kirk took this photo of the gang from his ATV and Heather & Tyler were with him. When 9 year old Tyler saw me with the gang of photographers, he pulled me aside & said, "Mom, do you know you're the only girl in your workshop?" Luckily it was another GREAT group of photography students and they welcomed me although I'm not one of their kind!

Lessons learned on vacation about Alaska's Coastal Brown Bears

We learned a lot about Alaska's Coastal Brown Bears on our vacation this month so I thought I would share a few lessons learned from our hosts and guides while photographing bears at Lake Clark National Park

All the bears we photographed were brown bears - that's exactly the same biology as what we call grizzly bears here in the lower 48. The bears at Lake Clark National Park - just north of Katmai National Park (290 air miles southwest of Anchorage) are not as aggressive as other brown bears for several reasons: first, they have plenty of food, and second, they have grown up with us humans watching and photographing them and don't view us as a threat. Unless we don't follow the rules!

The lodge that we stayed at, the Alaska Homestead Lodge is one of two lodges in this area, and there are no cars or highways, only planes and boats. So the area has brown bears like these roaming freely and they were a pleasure to observe!

The bears senses are extremely good, especially smell. They can smell something up to 2 or 3 miles away. You will often observe them with nose in the air, and then I notice that way in the distance there's something new on the scene - like a sow or cub smelling a boar in the distance! Our guides had us observe bears from the upwind side so that they can smell that we are just more humans, not anything threatening to them!

The adult male is called a "boar" and is the top of the food chain here. This boar is estimated at 900 pounds, but they can grow to 1200 pounds.

I thought they were quite scary looking compared to the cubs and sows - this boar appears weather and lots of scars on his head and shoulders - as well as lots of missing fur from his behind. We were told that sometimes their fur gets stuck to the den and it gets ripped off! Yikes!

The adult female is called a "sow" and are a little smaller and a little lighter in color, although they are very protective of their cubs and can be extremely aggressive if startled.

The cubs stay with the sow until their 3rd year when momma kicks them out. We saw a lot of second and third year cubs, but no first year cubs as the sow was still keeping them hidden. We took lots of photos of this mom and cub clamming at low tide - it was quite a thing to observe. And we went clamming ourselves and learned how wonderful they taste!

There are dozens of brown bears all around this area, at one point on our final evening we saw nine different bears within our view and we called it the "grand finale." We got to know a few of the this clamming sow and cub are in many of the photos - the cub is a second year male cub that my photography group starting calling "attack cub" as he kept approaching the group quite aggressively and all it took was the guide standing tall and saying, "Go back to your momma attack cub," and he would oblige!

We saw lots of bear tracks all over and learned a few things about tracks. A general rule for determining the brown bear's size by the pawprint is that if you measure the width of the print in inches, you just add one and change to feet, and this first 6 inch wide print should be that of a 7 foot brown bear. I'm sure there are dozens of exceptions to this rule, but we're sticking with it for now!

bear tracks, lake clark national park

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lake Clark National Park - Day 3

On Day 3 at the Alaska Homestead Lodge, we were having so much fun we decided to stay an extra day! Our hosts, Sheila and James Isaac have been so wonderful, their guide Scott has been so helpful, three wonderful home cooked meals a day, fresh bread at most meals....we are loving this place!

The kids and the bears are getting more comfortable with each other - Tyler is smiling on the swing as one of the brown bears passes by the lodge behind him. But we do always make sure there is an adult with the kids when they are outside! The hardest thing for me personally is to remember that if a bear ever approached you are NOT to run - every cell in my being tells me to run when a bear charges! But luckily we have not had any bears charging us and we've always had a trained guide at our side!

There are several other lodges in this national park, and the National Park Service website has more detailed information.

These last few photos are taken of a full grown male brown bear called a boar - they are a little different shape and coloring than some of the others, and you can tell they have some scars and have had a tough time. They are also about 900 pounds and I think they are a little ugly looking.....but when you are the top of the food chain, looks don't really matter I guess!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lake Clark National Park - Day 2

We have spent 3 full days here at the Alaska Homestead Lodge - a fly in bear viewing and fishing lodge at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. It is beautiful, amazing, definitely the most wilderness that we have ever experienced. The brown bears (grizzly bears that inhabit the coastal areas in Alaska) really do just roam the lawn and the woods and ignore us humans!

Dale Franz led an amazing week long photography workshop to photograph these bears - and I can't wait to edit all my images. But these are some of my favorites.

This last photo was an amazing moment on the beach yesterday, when this 3 year old male cub approached a bald eagle..... a photography moment that we all watched in amazement as it unfolded!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lake Clark National Park - Day 1

Today we arrived at this amazing place, Lake Clark National Park, at a beautiful resort called Alaska Homestead Lodge. It is located 130 air miles southwest of Anchorage, but only accessible by boat or plane. There are no highways or cars, just wildlife! AMAZING! The photos tell the story of today - and tomorrow will bring even more, as I join up with a Dale Franz FotoSarfari!

We all think we have died and gone to heaven.....3 full days here....ahhhhhh!

The first grizzly we saw was when we landed on the beach out front....amazing!

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