The Coastal Grizzlies of Katmai: An Alaska Photo Journal

Candice Gaukel Andrews July 16, 2015 25
In Kodiak, Alaska, there’s a meadow with lots of bears.  ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

In Katmai National Park, Alaska, there’s a meadow with lots of big brown bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Recently, I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures on its “Alaska’s Coastal Grizzlies: Kodiak to Katmai Photo Tour.” I can now say that having the opportunity to spend time with Alaska’s big brown bears is one of the most authentic wildlife experiences any nature traveler can have. Leading my small tour group of only eight people was Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader Brad Josephs.

Brad, thank you for guiding me through the places you love and for the generous use of your camera when mine broke. This one’s for you.

Brad and the bears

There’s a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, with lots of bears.

But Brad says I can’t tell you where it is.

When there is competition for food or space, bears adopt a more nocturnal lifestyle; however, they are naturally diurnal. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

There’s a black boat named Ursus that takes you to that meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park with lots of bears.

But be careful what you drink on the black boat because Brad says bears and booze don’t mix.

A strong, black boat named “Ursus” will transport you to a place filled with bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

When you go out with your camp stool to sit in the meadow above a bay with lots of bears, Brad tells you his names for some of them. I suspect he knows the names of others.

But those Brad keeps to himself.

The natural beauty and power of Katmai National Park is most visually embodied in its awe-inspiring brown bears. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The bears in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, where you go out with your camp stool to sit, come so close to you that you can hear the sounds of grasses being pulled out of the soil and the bears’ mouths as they munch them. I look nervously back at Brad.

But Brad just nods and smiles.

Both the brown bear’s hump and claws are traits associated with an exceptional digging ability. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

In a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska, where you go out with your camp stool to sit and the bears come so close, a bear mom is trying to bring up three little cubs. Brad hopes all three will make it through the year.

But Brad can’t promise that will happen.

A typical litter size is two to three cubs. But more than 25 percent of the cubs die before they leave their mothers. Cannibalism by adult males is one of the major causes of death. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

I tell Brad I’ll never be able to make anyone else believe I sat next to wild grizzlies in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

But I think Brad is really just a bear in a human disguise.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

It will be hard to make anyone else believe I sat next to wild grizzlies in a meadow above a bay in Kodiak, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

It will be hard to make anyone else believe I sat next to wild brown bears in a meadow above a bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. It is mountainous and heavily forested in the north and east. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. It is mountainous and heavily forested in the north and east. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

More than 240 species of birds have been identified in the Kodiak Island Archipelago. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

More than 240 species of birds have been identified in the Kodiak Island Archipelago. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Because of their bright colors, early sailors called horned puffins “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea.” ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Because of their bright colors, early sailors called horned puffins “sea parrots” or “clowns of the sea.” ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Adult brown bear males on the coast of Katmai National Park and the Alaska Peninsula are among the largest on the planet, competing in size with the famous Kodiak brown bears, considered to be the largest in the world. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Red foxes are native to Kodiak Island. The Kodiak red fox is a separate, distinct subspecies (Vulpes vulpes harrimani).  ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Besides brown bears, Katmai National Park provides a protected home to coastal wolves, martens, minks, moose, snowshoe hares, wolverines and red foxes, such as this one. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Although generally solitary, Kodiak bears often occur in large groups in concentrated feeding areas. Because of this, they have developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and avoid fights. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Although generally solitary, coastal brown bears often congregate in fertile feeding areas. Because of this, they developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and avoid fights. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

If you look closely, you’ll spot a chick behind this bald eagle, which nicely blends in with the rocks in the background. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

If you look closely, you’ll spot a chick behind this bald eagle, which almost imperceptibly blends in with the rocks in the background. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Kodiak brown bears often search for clams on the tidal flats of Katmai National Park, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Alaska’s coastal brown bears often search for clams on the tidal flats. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Harbor seals are curious but elusive. They often surface near a boat, but will disappear beneath the surface if they attract too much attention. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Harbor seals are curious but elusive. They often surface near a boat, but they will disappear if they attract too much attention. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Because of the rich variety of foods available on Kodiak, bears here have some of the smallest home ranges of any brown bear population. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

A rich diet of fish contributes to the large size of the brown bears along the coast of Katmai National Park, Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Approximately one fourth (4.6 million acres) of Alaska's glaciers occur within national parks, such as this one in Katmai National Park. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Approximately one fourth (4.6 million acres) of Alaska’s glaciers occur within national parks, such as this one in Katmai National Park. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

25 Comments »

  1. Jeff Goldberg August 2, 2015 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Candice, I think you were in Katmai only a week or two after me. Only now have I finished going through the photos. I have to agree and echo everything you said. A fantastic natural experience coupled with good times (we had a good group with much laughter) and family as I was traveling with my 18 year old son. Take a peek at the pix as I’m sure we did see many of the same bears, https://flic.kr/s/aHskcXAujX. Also, it’s nowhere near as “wild” as walking with the bears in Katmai, but going to Brooks Lodge is still a treat and I would highly recommend spending a couple days there, https://flic.kr/s/aHskfZBVFt.

  2. Petra Snijders July 27, 2015 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Amazing…!!!

  3. Lisa Sidorsky July 26, 2015 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Beautiful photos. Did you see Melissa and Fritz this summer. I’m curious how they are doing. I fell in love with them last year (and every other wonderful bear that allowed us to share their space).

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews July 27, 2015 at 5:43 am - Reply

      Hi, Lisa,

      Indeed, I did see “Melissa” and “Fritz” this year. They seem to be doing well. I’m happy to hear you had an opportunity to experience their world—at least for a bit. —C.G.A.

  4. Kathy Magnuson July 25, 2015 at 2:00 am - Reply

    Hi Candy, loved reading your blog. Everything you said couldn’t be more true and I loved all of your pics. It brought nothing but fabulous memories back to me, so for that thank you! My experience there was so special and your words and pics captured that perfectly. Thank you and look forward to reading more of your blogs ! All the best, Kathy Irvine Magnuson !

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews July 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Nice to hear from you, fellow NatHab traveler, Kathy. It certainly was an almost-unbelievable trip, wasn’t it. Thank you for your kind comments and for reading! —C.G.A.

  5. Srinivas Yelandur July 22, 2015 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Fantastic post. Great read!

  6. Phillip Tureck - FRGS July 22, 2015 at 10:31 am - Reply

    Always a great read Candice, now I will have to divert to Kodiak when I am next in the Great Bear Rainforest!

  7. Vicki Morell July 22, 2015 at 4:27 am - Reply

    Great photos!!!

  8. Glenys Morgan July 21, 2015 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    From a former dog sled racer and traveler of the North, these are wonderful images of the area. I didn’t get to this particular area, though I really wanted to. I did do a fly-in to an area in northern BC and it was magical. Congratulations on those amazing photos.

  9. Gerald Krausse July 20, 2015 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Moose in ponds at Baxter in Maine, grizzlies at McNeil River, cranes at Bosque NWR, when do we see something else. These are social trips with a bit of telephoto photography. Put these animals in their real habitat (woodlands) where you get them to scale and natural behavior. There is really no challenge in these open settings where wildlife routinely feeds and where it has gotten accustomed to people. Lets take so-called nature photography ( I do strictly video) to the next level.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews July 21, 2015 at 4:30 am - Reply

      I’ll have to disagree with you, Gerald. The bears are in their natural habitat; they are “coastal” brown bears going about their natural business of making a living. And, most of the time, telephoto lenses weren’t necessary—or even usable! Thanks for your thoughts. —C.G.A.

  10. Pierre van den Berg July 20, 2015 at 6:12 am - Reply

    hi Candy

    thanks so much for sharing. The closest I have been to Kodiak Island was Prince Rupert – in 1998. What an experience that was – through the “Inside Passage”, experiencing orca’s in the Alert Bay area, etc. I am from South Africa and a keen traveller and photographer. Places like Churchill, Denali, Kodiak, etc. will most probably stay a dream for me, but at least you give this dream SO MUCH MORE substance. Thanks again, and keep up the excellent work you do.
    Warm regards, Pierre van den Berg.

  11. Karen Burt July 20, 2015 at 5:39 am - Reply

    Beautiful Candy! Thanks for sharing your adventure with those of us who can only dream of such beauty.

  12. Ramakrishna Venkatasamy July 18, 2015 at 4:34 am - Reply

    An impressive animal Candice. They have a right to their habitats and to life. Thanks for sharing.

  13. John Bacher July 17, 2015 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    This is amazing! Seeing these images connects me more deeply with nature.

  14. Thomas Sawyer July 17, 2015 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I am sooooooo jealous!

  15. Thomas Sawyer July 17, 2015 at 11:31 am - Reply

    How exciting it must have been. I’m sure your heart rate increased, making it somewhat challenging to keep the camera still?

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews July 17, 2015 at 11:35 am - Reply

      There were times, Thomas, when the bears were so close, I wasn’t able to take any photos at all! All I would have gotten would have been a blurry bear’s belly. But that’s a wonderful thing, since it’s good, sometimes, to put the camera down and just sit and enjoy a moment that is so heart-thumping, you can’t believe it’s real. I still sometimes wonder if I dreamed it all. —C.G.A.

  16. John Daly July 17, 2015 at 11:25 am - Reply

    You are having fun! What lens are you using for these shots?

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews July 17, 2015 at 11:34 am - Reply

      Thanks, John. I mostly shot with a Canon 70-200 mm lens or, at times, a Canon 100-400 mm lens. —C.G.A.

  17. Phillip Tureck - FRGS July 17, 2015 at 5:03 am - Reply

    Wonderful journal, the bears are so much larger than the grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest.

  18. Jack Daugherty July 16, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Terrific article and fantastic photos, Ms. Candice!

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