Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Grizzlies of the Chilkoot

Living in this rugged corner of our country certainly has its perks.  Whether you're into outdoor pursuits, photography, adventure, or simply want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, the Yukon is the place to soothe and satisfy the soul.  

Not only are we spoiled with breathtaking landscapes and vistas, we are also blessed with chance encounters with its wildlife.  I've lost count the number of times I've driven past moose, wolves, elk, grizzly or black bears while they were foraging on the side of the highway.  On one occasion, this past March, I was fortunate to have spotted a lynx sitting quietly in the snow as it was basking in the warmth of the late afternoon sunset.  Unfortunately for me that day, my camera was out of reach because it was buried beneath a mountain of gear in the back seat of our truck.

As a photographer, I also take advantage of the fact that I live within driving distance of Alaska - a State known for its coastal rain forests, untamed rivers, calving glaciers, majestic mountain ranges and plenty more wildlife viewing opportunities.

This past Labour Day weekend I introduced a friend to Haines, a picturesque fishing village sandwiched between the glaciated mountain peaks and marine waters of the Lynn Canal.  The highlight of that weekend was photographing grizzly bears fishing for spawning salmon in the Chilkoot River.

Each year, between the months of mid-August and early-October, a handful of female grizzlies and their cubs emerge from the surrounding mountainous brush and descend upon the narrow Chilkoot (translated by the Tlingits as a "basket of large fish") to feast on the thousands upon thousands of spawning pink and sockeye salmon.  With their winter hibernation looming, the burins spend countless hours fishing for salmon as they stock up on much needed energy reserves that will see them through the long winter months which lie ahead.

What a treat it was to photograph the bears in such a pristine environment.  Each bear had character and its own style of fishing.  For example,  one sow was a master at herding fish into isolated pools of water while another sat patiently in the milky waters waiting for an opportunity to plunge at an unsuspecting fish.  Others simply swam after the fish or snatched them with one powerful swoop of their formitable claws.

Many of us, who gathered alongside the shore to photograph the bears, chuckled as we watched the cubs try to imitate their mothers' tactics with little or no success.  After several unsuccessful attempts, the cubs simply gave up and darted for the riverbank where they frolicked in the shallow waters waiting for mom to deliver their next meal to them.  What fun!

By the end of the weekend we had spotted 12 individual bears of varying ages.  Photographing them was certainly one of my most memorable shoots of all times.  Never before have I seen so many grizzlies within a short period of time.  

The images above were captured with a Nikon D700 and a Nikor 300mm f/2.8 lens attached.  

Hope all is well in your corner of the world - thanks again for your patience in waiting for these images to finally make an appearance on my blog.



  1. Claus, I'm super jealous! Those are the most beautiful pictures, simply breathtaking. Tim and I went through the Smokey Mtn's on our way home from the Cape, the foliage was pristine, and I saw my first black bear in the wild all snuggled up in a tree, HA! I can't wait to visit your neck of the woods. I'm afraid I won't want to leave. LOL

    Much love - Terri (the jelly lady)

  2. I've just discovered your blog. The photos of the grizzlies are outstanding. A visit to the Yukon is high on my boomer travel list. I'll be back to read more of your blog posts.


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