It's been crazy busy the past three days, starting with Labor Day Monday. I'll try to catch up by writing a little about our trip to the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge (SSCL) over in Lake Clark NP . . . and follow this post up with one on our Kenai Fjords Nat'l Park boat tour yesterday.
Our flight from Soldotna to SSCL was with Natron Air, owned and piloted by Tim Pope. The flight was outstanding and uneventful. The views as we flew across Cook Inlet beautiful.
Landing on the beach at Lake Clark NP was pretty remarkable in its own right. A perfect landing and then greeted by our guide Jenny from the lodge. There was a momma bear and her two first year cubs sleeping on a mound of sand across the small waterway, with a number of photogs clicking away. How exciting, our first bear sighting as we landed.
We were taken to the lodge by their wilderness limo (ATV pulling two people mover carts). David and I were in the main lodge, on the ground level. It was the perfect location for us. SSCL has an annex lodge plus several cabins. Meals were served upstairs in the main lodge, which also had a very nice sitting around warmed by a wood stove. Up on the kitchen level, there was a wonderful deck overlooking the meadow and Cook Inlet. From time to time, bears could be seen wandering in this area or even right through the lodge property.
We had some outstanding photo encounters with the bears. This late in the season, there were seven or eight bears still hanging around the beach area and the mouth of the Silver Salmon Creek and its tributaries. The momma we saw on the beach when we arrived, was the only one with cubs. The other bears in the area were all females, many the offspring of this one sow.
Viewing bears in this area is largely tied to the tides as the bears come and go from the coast to fish. Because there are salmon in the waters in early September, they were not very interested in clams that are also available to them, particularly at a low negative tide (as we had on Tuesday morning).
The weather on Monday was glorious, with plenty of great lighting for photography. We went out twice once before lunch for about two hours and then again later in the afternoon as the high tide subsided, for probably close to three and a half hours. While the tide was still a bit high for the bears to get into the creek to fish, they could be seen coming down to check things out. Once the tide was down, however, fishing was on.
A group did try fishing the creek, but eventually gave up and went out to the mouth of the creek out at the big beach area. They didn't seem to be really that good at fishing, as we saw one female catch and eat two. The sow with the two cubs caught one right off the bat and gave it to them to eat. The fought over it, making very loud growling noises at the other. Eventually fighting over the fish caused it to break in half, with each sibling going to its own little place to dine on the salmon half.
At one point, a cub wanted to check out the other's fish which created another loud ruckus. They did not want to share or have their fish taken away. Even the arrival of a seagull or two created more food defending behaviors. It was very cool to observe at a very close range (less than 10 yards for most of the time).
The momma bear did catch a fish or two for herself, but that was about it while we were out there. As the evening fell, the lighting for photographs dwindled and it was getting to be suppertime up at the lodge. We went in around 7:00pm.
The next morning the weather was horrendous . . . foggy, rainy and cold. The plan was to go out viewing at 10:30am conditions permitting. Since we had a 1:00pm scheduled departure time, we wanted to make the most of our time left, but also recognized that with the poor visibility, there was a good chance we weren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Because David still had a lingering head cold, I decided to take a pass on getting out in the weather with the other die hards, hoping the weather might break before noon. Thankfully, the skies did clear around 11:15a and we were geared up and out by 11:30.
Our last viewing time with the bears had wonderful light, as the sun started to break through the clouds. It was amazing given how terrible the skies were just a few hours earlier.
When we got out to the beach, the mom was nursing the cubs. With feeding done, she was exhausted and rolled over for another nap. The cubs, however, were very punky and ready to play. Anything on the beach became a discovery for them . . . rocks, sticks, logs, clam shells. They both seemed to enjoy chewing on this one old piece of driftwood, and later one came back to use it as a good scratcher. S/he must have rubbed for a good minute or two and could seen giving off what looked to be a toothy grin of pleasure.
Tim Pope arrived shortly after 1:00pm and our time with David & Joanne Coray and the great folks at SSCL was sadly over. The experience was one we will never forget. Cliche' as it may be, this is an experience not to be missed.
There is so much more that I can (and need) to write, but for now, this will have to do. I wanted to post photos with this blog entry but the internet connection here in Seward is terribly slow, so photos will have to wait . . . sorry :(