Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop – July 2014

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

The Year of the Cubs

2014 was the Year of the Cubs at our annual Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park and Preserve,  Participants encountered nine different grizzly bear cubs with the majority of the cubs were newborn spring cubs, which has us hopeful that we will see them again next year, during our 2015 Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop.
Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop Attendees.

The 2014 Grizzly Bear Attendees: Ejaz, Celeste, Nauecho, Karyn, Dante, Graham, Neena, Matt and Kathy

This made for lasting memories and excitement for everyone on the trip. Overall we had the privilege of observing 11 unique big bears and 9 different cute baby bears during the week.

The group this year was an eclectic mixture, as always. The people who come on our photography trips are always adventurous souls, and this year was no exception. Our guests came from the four corners of the world, including South Africa, London, New York, British Columbia, and more. Everyone was excited and enthusiastic about the trip; the atmosphere was infectious as we arrived at the Homestead Lodge.

Bears Viewed during our stay.

  • Sow and Yearling Cub
  • Sow and 2 Spring Cubs
  • Sow and 2 Spring Cubs
  • Sow and 2 Spring Cubs
  • Sow and 2 Yearling Cubs
  • Sow
  • Sow
  • Bore
  • Bore
  • Young Sow
  • Young Sow
Grizzly Bear Behaviors witnessed

  • Clamming
  • Nursing
  • Eating Sedge
  • Cubs Playing
  • Running
  • Playing with Mom
  • Playing with feet
  • Riding ATV
  • Bears Fighting
Stock Image #20140715-105706

Neena photographing a grizzly bear during low tide while clamming

Total of 11 adult bears and 9 cubs, totaling 20 bears.

The Homestead Lodge

Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop-12

Our home for the week. Homestead lodge as we fly over in the Cessna 206’s.

The Homestead Lodge is one of the more isolated high-end establishments I’ve ever been to. For a building stuck pretty much as far from society as you can get while still being inside the United States, the Homestead Lodge delivers great amenities and service. The Lodge features hot showers, chef-prepared meals, and specialty food options for clients with unique dietary needs. The Lodge also furnished us a bear guide who chauffeured us around Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in search of grizzlies. Our guide drove an ATV and towed us behind in open-air trailers. A great way to take in the 360-degree views.

Stock Image #20140713-093958

The crew loading up our gear in one of the three planes

Immediately after arriving- in fact, while we were unloading- we encountered our first bear. The big brown bear was clamming on the beach next to the Cessna 206s. This brown bear behavior would become quite familiar to us over the next week: bears can actually smell razor clams through several feet of dirt. When low tide comes, the bears will venture out on to the beach and use their razor-sharp claws to dig up clams.

Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop-13

The view out the window as we approach Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

After we finished unloading our gear from the Cessnas, the staff at the Lodge served us a hot cup of coffee, and gave us a quick orientation to the park and the facilities before cutting us loose to head into the field and start photographing! Although each day was full of unique opportunities and images, the basic structure of each day on our Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop is similar: we provide our participants with as much time in the field, shooting pictures and seeing bears, as we possibly can.

An average day at the Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop

Cubs Clamming

Dante photographing a sow and her cub as she teaches the cub how to clam.

We take pictures from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. every day of the trip. Due to the high latitude of the National Park and the skewed axis of the Earth, summer daylight in Alaska lasts well past 10 P.M. While this is great news for our photography workshop, in winter the interior of Alaska averages only about 4 hours of sunlight each day!

An average day on the Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop starts early. We are out the door by 6 A.M. to photograph the Alaskan sunrise on the beach. Often, bears can be observed clamming in front of the huge rising sun. The figure of a huge Alaskan Grizzly bear silhouetted by a rising sun is an unforgettable image, especially after you’ve seen it every morning for a week (and captured it a few hundred times on your memory card).

We spend the morning riding around on ATV-drawn trailers, searching the National Park for brown bears. When we find a bear or group of bears which we like, the group stops to shoot photos. Our experienced photography instructor gives participants individualized help and tips for capturing the true essence of the scene, and how to get the most out of their high-end camera gear.

Bear Guide

Belle, our bear guide for the week, transports us from bear to bear with ATV-drawn trailers to maximize our time in the field.

We return to the lodge for lunch, then head back out to the field for the afternoon. This is a particularly great time to photograph bear cubs playing. Over the course of the 2014 Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop, we saw six spring cubs, which had been born this past winter, while their mothers hibernated. Grizzly bears give birth while sleeping— some human women would kill for that ability! We also saw three yearling cubs— the teenagers of Lake Clark. These larger bear cubs were getting close to their mothers in size, and occasionally we witnessed them jawing with their mothers, a unique behavior which bears use to assert dominance. The mothers were able to maintain control of their cubs— for now. By the time we return for the 2015 Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop, the yearling cubs may have struck out on their own.

Stock Image #20140715-110043

Celeste enjoying watching (and photographing) a sow and her cub.

National Park regulations prevent us from taking food into the field while we shoot, so we return for dinner at the Lodge. On a few days, we were privileged enough to be entertained by bears playing near the deck while we ate. One participant even captured a unique image of a bear cub playing on top of an ATV— the youngsters like to chew on the rubber handlebars of the vehicles.

Stock Image #20140715-105725

The bears are comfortable with human presence and give us great opportunities.

After dinner, those with the energy head back into the field to photograph the bears, along with other types of local wildlife such as foxes and bald eagles.

Our day officially ends at 10 P.M., when everyone heads to their rooms to download their pictures, clear their memory cards, and prepare for more photography tomorrow.

We wake up the next morning and do it all again. Of course, participants were welcome to sit out a field session and relax at the lodge if they needed the time to recharge. Shooting pictures for 13 to 14 hours a day is very rewarding, but it can be exhausting!

Grizzly Bear Photography

Matt, Nauecho, Karyn, Dante, Ejaz,Kathy, Belle, Graham, Neena, and Celeste out front of the Alaska Homestead Lodge.

Bird Island Optional Excursion

Puffins

Charter out to photograph the puffins

On the fourth day of the trip, participants had the option to join us on a trip to nearby Bird Island to photograph the clownish birds known as Puffins. We took an hour-long charter boat from the lodge across the calm seas to Bird Island. The ride provided majestic views across the water of the towering Alaskan peaks in the background. Upon arrival to the rocky island, we were immediately inundated with more birds than we knew what to do with. So we did what we do best: took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

2014 Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop Highlights

Of course, the trip was over much too fast. Our Grizzly Bear Photography Workshops always pass in a blur— good thing that everyone goes home with thousands of pictures with which to remember the experience!

Sow Nurses Cubs

Sow nurses her two cubs right in front of us. Seeing this in the wild is unbelievable !

Some of the highlights of this year’s trip were:

  • Seeing two young spring cubs nursing at momma bear’s breast. (we saw this twice within 10 minutes of each other)
  • Observing grizzly bears clamming on the beaches every morning.
  • Seeing a brown bear cub fighting and playing with his brother bear.
  • Observing two mature boars (male bears). Male grizzlies are huge, intimidating creatures.
  • Coming within ten (10!) feet of the grizzly bears. We were so close, we could hear the animals breathing heavily.
  • Shooting photo of bears playing with their mother.
Other Species Viewed and photographed during the trip

  • Horned Puffins
  • Tufted Puffins
  • Oyster Catchers
  • Otter
  • Fox
  • Beluga Whales
  • Kittiwakes
  • Cormorants
  • Common Murres
  • Sandpiper
  • Salmon
  • Bald Eagles
As always, the trip was a fulfilling and memorable experience for all involved. We can’t wait to do it again in 2015!

Brown bear cubs keeping an eye on momma bear

Spring cubs play, while mom enjoys the sedge.

Alaskan brown bear fishing

Grizzly Bear and cub clam with beautiful mountains all around. This is what makes Lake Clark National Park and Preserve so special.

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop – July 2014 was last modified: February 5th, 2016 by Matt Shetzer