Spring Bear Photography in Alaska

 

Spring Bear Photography in Alaska

05/23/2011

The number one question I get is a variation of "when is the best time to photograph bears." In Alaska, the answer always could be a flippant, "anytime between May and mid-October. The rest of the year the state's 35,000, or so, bears are hibernating." The full and complete answer would take more space than available here but if your desire is to photograph females with cubs, the best time is early spring, which often means JUNE in Alaska and that varies depending on location. Emergence of spring plants has a great deal to do with the visibility and distribution of bears. Females with new cubs, called spring cubs, are the last to emerge from the den, as late as early May in some cases. In the alpine tundra areas along the Denali National Park road, for example, spring growth is just now making an appearance along with the first wildflowers. Several females with older cubs have already been seen but females with spring cubs remain scarce. As plant growth erupts with warming weather, the females with spring cubs will become more visible, yet remain much warier than the more mature family groups. (Horsetail is a favorite spring edible.) Down on the Alaska Peninsula, June is a great month for photographing bears with cubs. Along the coast, as the sedges quickly green up, hungry bears congregate on the tideflats to gobble the new growth. At the end  of June, in places like the McNeil River Sanctuary, the first red salmon of the year migrate up Mikfik Creek and these first salmon are avidly targeted by family groups and big males as well. (May and June is breeding season and lone females attract big males.) Females with spring cubs avoid these big, dangerous males. In my opinion, June is the best month for photographing bears with cubs even though these families can be seen all summer long. Remember, even though bears gather for the peak salmon runs in July, their coats are often scraggly and ragged in the summer heat.

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