Hallo Bay … the Bears

Today’s post starts some posts of Hallo Bay’s most famous inhabitants, the Alaska coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos). The Alaskan coastal brown bear is a grizzly bear. Some people argue that this is a different species from the more common grizzly bear found in the lower 48 states, while others argue that they differ only by subspecies. Whatever the case, the coastal brown bears tend to be a bit larger than the inland grizzly bears. This is primarily due to the more abundant food supply that the coastal brown bears have. In early spring, the coastal bears have sedge meadows to graze in (sedge grasses tend to be ~23% protein), as well as razor clams to dig up during low tides. As the spring transitions into summer, the salmon runs begin, usually starting by mid-June and running throughout the summer and into fall.

Although coastal brown bears can be found along much of Alaska’s coastline, the bulk of the population is in/around Katmai National Park, located on the Alaska Peninsula. That is where Hallo Bay Bear Camp, my choice to view and photograph the great coastal brown bear, is located. Hallo Bay is a 3.5 acre plot of land that sits on the beach of Katmai National Park. Three of the camp’s sides are Katmai NP land and the fourth side is the ocean. This parcel of land was once a Russian fishing village, until it burned down in the early 1900’s. The weather is so unpredictable and the winters are so harsh, that the village was not rebuilt after it burned down. Doing some research on the area, a Montana man discovered and bought the village, turning it into a summertime bear viewing/photography camp. The camp is environmentally sound and is run against strict standards to maintain a safe and low-impact camp.

Hallo Bay runs both day trips (from Homer, AK) as well as overnight “camping” trips to the camp, lasting from overnight to as long as a guest wants, and can afford. Professional guides run the camp and must accompany all guests into the field … safety first! Several cooks, who rotate in/out of camp, prepare meals daily for the guests. The camp has 2 composting toilets and even 2 showers that produce on-demand hot water. There are both 2-man and single occupant Weatherport cabins, equipped with comfortable cots and sleeping bags. And for those colder nights, each cabin has a portable, propane heater. Electricity at the camp is provided by both wind (it typically is windy in this area) and solar (when the sun is out), and a backup diesel generator is available to assure the galley has electricity for food storage and preparation, and that guests have electricity available for charging their camera/video batteries. All in all, a wonderful camp.

To get to camp, one must catch a small, bush plane in Homer. After a 1-hour scenic flight across the Sheilikof Strait (passing a couple of active volcanoes and glaciers along the way!), the bush plane lands on the beach in front of the camp, at low tide. Here is an aerial photo I made during one of my first trips to Hallo Bay (I have now been there 6 times) of the camp:


Hallo Bay Bear Camp


The longest, green structure in the photo is the galley, where food is stored, prepared and consumed. And on extremely rainy days, this is where the guests hang out, playing games, editing images, or whatever else. Directly behind the galley (at the top of the galley) is the bathroom/shower complex. And right behind that (not seen in this photo) is the electrical charging station. All of the other structures in this photo are either guide or guest cabins. The beach (and “Hallo Bay International Airport”) is located at the top of the photo.

During my first trip into the field, I captured this image of an adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in front of some of Hallo Bay’s gorgeous scenery:

Bald Eagle sitting in front of scenic view of Hallo Bay


Walking down the beach, I found 2 more Bald Eagles, along with a lone Brown Bear, at the mouth of Clint’s Creek during low tide.  Note the bear is sleeping, presumable after stuffing himself with fish (a condition termed “hyperphasia”, which I’ll go into more detail about in a later post):

Bald Eagles and Brown Bears


And then we came upon an active bear:

Brown Bear fishing


As you can see from this last image, the bears were in fine shape, putting on the necessary weight for the upcoming hibernation and growing a thick coat of hair. The bear activity during this trip was outstanding. All the bears are noticeably “fat” and all are looking like they are ready for the winter. I captured several thousand images on this 6-day trip (of which 2 days were “rainouts” due to storms moving across the peninsula) and caught a lot of great behavior/action. So I will have a number of bear posts to put together and share. Tomorrow’s post will include a pair of 3-year old bears that we found daily, often playing with each other.

Posted in Landscape Photography, Mammals, Nature Photography, Travel Photography
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