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Close Encounters of the Bear Kind

This photo sequence was a major adrenalin rush to say the least.  One of my favorite bear encounters of my most awesome Alaskan adventure in Lake Clark Alaska with coastal brown bears.

Started out with mom and her cub playing near the shoreline. 

Following his typical behavior, the cub took off running and he ran right past us.  Tracked him while lying in the mud with my ground pod and got off a few shots while he gave me the side-eye.

Thought that was very cool experience but it got really interesting when mom decided to chase him.  Glanced back to my right and saw mom coming my way.  Didn’t have time to get worried or think but just react.

My years of experience with shooting from a ground pod came in very handy and quickly pivoted around on my stomach and focused on her as she “beared“ down on us.  Mom was doing her “happy run” with swinging her head from side to side, which is a behavior that we witnessed several times that week.

Just follow your nose….

Very little time to react as this entire sequence with mom lasted only 4 seconds.  Was challenging to try to keep her in the frame.  Major rush…

She kept getting closer…

and closer…

and closer!

Then, direct eye contact with a full size grizzly bear as she runs past me. Doesn’t get much better than that. Didn’t know that I got this shot until getting home and downloading my photos to the computer. Couldn’t take my laptop with me due to the bush plane weight restrictions.

She kept going and I kept shooting…

She kept running past us with this being the last frame that I captured in this series. Just wow!

Another one of those once in a lifetime encounters on this trip that I kept having and must repeat.

Grand Slam in 2021 Audubon Top 100

Four of my photos made the top 100 this year in Audubon’s 2021 photo contest. Although 2020 was a very challenging year from a pandemic perspective, it challenged me to get out an shoot more with over 60 local field trips, which paid off in the Audubon contest.

Great egret in silhouette through her breeding plumage from High Island TX rookery

White moph reddish egret spreading its wings just after landing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary last summer.

Two lesser yellowlegs running in unison at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.

American avocets at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.

Up Close & Personal with Grizzly Bears

By day 4 of my trip to Lake Clark Alaska, we were all getting worn out so when we came upon mom and her cub feeding on grass in an open meadow, we decided to lay up against a log on the outside edge of the field and just watch them. Was very relaxing and we loved the opportunity to not shoot but just to chill out and take it all in. We were sitting in a field watching grizzly bears with snowcapped mountains in the background. We weren’t in Kansas (or Houston) anymore Dorthey. Couldn’t get much better than that…until it did!

A male boar entered the field behind mom and she quickly spotted him. She then turned to look at us, foreshadowing her next steps. Mom and her cub quickly got up to check him out. Here is where it got really interesting. As a complete surprise to me, mom started running with her cub directly towards us. That definitely got me to sit up a little straighter against that log and get into the zone while hand holding my 500mm lens.

So, what do you do when a full-size grizzly bear and her cub come running straight at you? Well, #1 you listen to your guide, #2 you don’t run (which could be very detrimental to your health), #3 you keep your cool and photograph the incoming bears or #4 be prepared to change your shorts. Luckily, I followed steps #1 -3.

When they started getting close, couldn’t keep both of them in the frame with my 500mm lens so I automatically switched to focus on the cub.

It happened so quickly that there was no time to think or check/change any camera settings. Was all muscle memory at that point with trying to get part of them in the frame. Would have been nice to have F16 being that close but was happy that I had at least F11 for some depth of field.

Mom got so close at one point that I couldn’t get her whole head in the frame.

The cub walked past us to our left and then looked back towards the boar, giving me a great opportunity for a full frame head shot.

They kept moving off to our left and out into the field. Eventually they made their way towards the mudflats while the male made a slow walk to their previous location to check out her scent. Our guide said that they got about 12 ft from us and were using us for protection as the male would not typically come close to us. One of my favorite unforgettable bear encounters in Alaska.

Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II, handheld, uncropped

Bear Thievery

The beginning of the eagle saga starts when the cub takes off running and flies by us and out towards the water. Mom then takes off after him and shows us her happy run when she would swing her head around.

The cub had found a bald eagle on a kill and was making a b-line for it. More to come…

The cub catches some air with all four feet off of the ground as he picks up speed. Had no clue on where he was going at this point.

Spun around on my stomach with my ground pod to capture him in partial silhouette as he hit max Q.

Mom followed him and was giving us her happy dance run when she would swing her head back and forth. A very happy bear once she figured out where junior was going to.

The cub was running to take away a fish that the bald eagle had caught.

Eagle Eyes

My wish list for Alaska included seeing some bald eagles, if possible. Never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would be getting full frame eagle shots from my ground pod as this one landed on the mudflats right in front of me!

Absolutely blew my mind, which didn’t take much at that point as my mind had already been blown by 3 days of bear photography.

He wasn’t interested in us at all as he had bears on his mind. More to this story coming later…

1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod

Lift off which was a challenge to keep him in the frame as he was so close.

Bear fly-by but he will return

That Look….

This Alaskan coastal brown bear cub was full of energy and personality. He kept trying to get mom to play and she sometimes would indulge him and sometimes not.

In this instance, they were walking along the shoreline of the mudflats while we were further up on the beach. Caught him with “that look” where it looks like he is asking mom, wanna play?

Didn’t like the background on my original photo so cropped it vertical to emphasize the interaction and mom’s claws. Converted it to B&W using NIK silver effects pro to give it some drama and bring out the detail in their fur.

Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III, 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld

1/2000 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July! Here is a recent photo of a bald eagle, symbol of freedom in the US, that I took in Alaska a few weeks ago. There is a very interesting story behind this eagle and my favorite pair of bears that I’ll share later.

1/6400 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod

Ground Pod Bear Photography

The best piece of camera equipment that I took on my bear photography trip to Alaska was my ground pod. If you follow my blog or on Facebook, you know that I love to use my ground pod for getting low to take shorebird photos. Never dreamed that I’d get the opportunity to take grizzly bear photos from a ground pod.

A few weeks prior to our trip to Alaska, we had a zoom call with our workshop leader and he described the mudflats at Lake Clark. When I asked him if I should take my ground pod, he said yes. Best advice in the world on this trip. Only used my tripod once but used my ground pod on a daily basis. The mudflats looked just like Bolivar only much larger, better backgrounds and with bears on it.

This first photo is a cell phone shot by our outstanding guide and very good photographer from Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, Dave Rasmus. Mom and her cub were working their way toward us while 3 of our group, along with Dave, were standing up taking photos and I’m the one laying down with my ground pod just shooting away. In this photo, I had already turned my camera vertical so they were getting close @ 500mm, see the 3rd photo below.

This next photo is almost full frame when they were walking towards me. Mom was off to my left but I maintained focus on the cub as he was adorable, although those claws could do some serious damage.

1/1600 @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod

As he got closer, here is where I rotated my camera on my gimbal head to the vertical position to help try to keep him in the frame. He ended up getting very close before the guide turned him around by talking to him. Mom was a ways away and couldn’t have cared less about us.

1/1600 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod

Mom later walked by and showed off her claws in this full frame/uncropped photo. Off the charts fantastic experience for sure. Wouldn’t try this anywhere but this location where we had a very experienced guide with bear spray that knows their behavior, the bears are used to people, we aren’t in their food chain, people don’t hunt/harass them.

1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod

Young Bear

This young coastal brown bear stole my heart when in Alaska a couple of weeks ago. He was very animated and had quite the personality. The look he gave me in this photo was “do you want to go play in the mud”? Of course I said yes, many times. More to follow.

1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation

Taken with Canon 1DX III with Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld

Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears

Made my first trip to Alaska last week and spent some quality time with the bears at Lake Clark National Park, which was an incredible experience.  Took my waders & ground pod with me as they have a mudflats so got down low and up personal with the bears, especially the cub.

In this photo, mom was standing to look over the tall grass to check for male bears, which will kill the cubs.  She lost 2 cubs last year.  This cub is about 1 ½ yrs old.

1/1600 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 560mm, handheld, Canon 100-400 with 1.4X, full frame with no cropping