Katmai National Park (KNP) in Alaska is world famous for its Brown Bear, which has a population of over 2000 within its boundaries. In July millions of salmon, largely the sockeye salmon move from the sea, their usual habitat, into lakes and streams of the KNP, the last journey, when they are ready for spawning in fresh water. The young fish stays in fresh water for at least three years before moving on to the sea.
My interest was to see and photograph the largest land-based predator, the brown bear, catching salmon in fresh water. One of the best places to see this activity is at Brooks falls located inside the KNP close to Brooks lodge. Although the best time to visit the falls is from the middle to end July, but due to the limited accommodation at the lodge during this peak season, I was able to reserve a room, only from the 1st August for three nights; Even that was booked nine months ahead.
On the 1st August 2013, Lilani and I boarded a flight, operated by Pen Air, from Anchorage to King Salmon in KNP with a flying time of 90 minutes. Subsequently we were transported to Brooks Lodge, 35miles from King Salmon, by a seaplane, which landed on Naknek Lake close to the lodge. We stayed three nights at the lodge.
It normally takes almost 30minutes from the lodge to get to the closest viewing platform facing the brooks falls, which had been built by the lodge. We had to walk across the brooks river; thereafter through the forest before reaching the falls. On the day of arrival we visited the falls in the afternoon, but there was no sightings of the bears. However, we could see the sockeye salmon trying their best to get to the upstream of the falls, which is at least 2meters jump. It’s a difficult task, especially when the bears are present.
On the following morning, we visited the falls once again, stayed at the falls for at least three hours. During this period a young bear appeared from the bushes but due to the disturbance from the visitors on the platform, the bear ran back to the woods. However, in the afternoon visit to the falls, the same bear appeared, but on this occasion, the bear was undisturbed and was successful in catching its favourite prey. Later it carried the fish ashore. I was able to take several images of the bear enjoying its afternoon meal. The bear takes the advantage during spawning season to consume the maximum fat from the spawning salmon, which helps the predator for its hibernation period, which falls generally from October to March. My wife missed the action at the falls since she stayed at the lodge.
Next day after breakfast, Lilani and I went to the falls and stayed the whole day there. In the late afternoon the same bear that I sighted before came to the falls. It spent at least 30minutes before it caught a fish. What a great sighting! Once again, it enjoyed the meal ashore. The bear returned to the water for further catch of salmon and it was amazing to watch the way the bear in water battling to fish while the spawning fish were trying its best to jump upstream for its future generation. The bear had the second successful catch.
On the 4th of August, our last day at Brooks lodge, we came to the falls by 6am, even though the weather was not in our favour for photography. There was only one photographer at the brooks falls platform. At the same time, a large brown bear came out from the forest, spent at least over twenty minutes to catch a fish for its breakfast, but was unsuccessful and returned to the bushes. It was a male and to my opinion it would have been over 600kgs while the Grizzly bear, the sub species of the brown bear, the weight of male ranges from 180-360kg.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast. While having breakfast, a bear passed through the lodge compound. Some visitors rushed outside to take pictures. Also, we sighted another bear at the brooks bridge in the morning. In the afternoon we came to Anchorage by air after a successful tour to KNP in photographing the battle at the Brooks falls between the salmon and the bear for their survival.
I was planning to go to brooks falls next year during the high season, which is mid July, but when enquired the lodge was already booked for the whole month of July 2014.