My Trip to Brooks Camp 2017: Day Three

When you enjoy watching wildlife as much as me, you don’t want to waste time with biological tasks like sleeping. Still, sleep is a necessity and I can’t watch bears in the dark. After a reasonably restful night, I woke before sunrise and left the campground when there was just enough light for me to see without a headlamp or flashlight. This would be my last full day at Brooks River in 2017 and intended to make the most of it.

Related:
My Trip to Brooks Camp 2017: Day One
My Trip to Brooks Camp 2017: Day Two

Early morning hours at Brooks River are generally quiet. Planes haven’t arrived and most people are either sleeping or focused on breakfast. The dominant sound at this hour tends to be the cry of glaucous-winged gulls.

Bears like early morning meals just as much as people, and I fully expected to find bears too close to the trail or bridge for me to reach the relative safety of the lower river wildlife viewing platform. Luckily, the corridor from the lodge to the bridge and the platform was clear before 7 a.m. In a short while, however, bears filled the void and for much of the rest of the day the bridge would remain closed to people.

When I first reached the platform, only 409 Beadnose and her yearlings were visible. Her cubs behaved quite independently, catching most of their own salmon. Yet they remained prone to begging food from their mother and bawling when they want to nurse. Two subadults entered the river upstream of the platform. 410 made the most of her chance for breakfast, eating at least five salmon carcasses in a half hour. It was still too dark for my point-and-shoot camera to take clear photos, so I sat back, watched, and took notes.

409, her cubs, and two young subadult bears all eventually wandered toward the river mouth and the beach in front of the lodge, allowing more people to cross the bridge. As the platform got noisier, I decided it’s a good time to wander to Brooks Falls.

The walk to the falls is quiet and uneventful, but bears used the trail just moments before. Foam clung to the surface of a large puddle of urine and bright red, relatively undigested lingonberries polka dot the surface of a fresh pile of scat.

red berries in bear scat

Even with the high abundance of salmon, bears were still feeding on berries.

The falls platform was empty when I arrived and no one else arrived for the next hour as bears remained too close to the bridge for people to cross. Within my experience at Brooks Camp, it’s rare to have the falls platform to yourself when bears are around.

view of river bordered by forest

I quickly forgot about being alone though as bears were quite active. 410 had made her way from the lower river to the falls where she fished her normal spot in the far pool. 68 was giving it a shot in the jacuzzi. Both bears ignored each other and remained separated by about 30 yards. When 747 arrived 68 quickly moves out of the jacuzzi to make way for the larger bear.

After 747 decided to push the other bears around, 503 appeared in the far pool. While 747 is absolutely the largest bear at Brooks River, I was shocked at 503’s size. He’s not particularly fat, but’s he’s very big for his age. Bears grow quickly yet I don’t recall ever seeing a 4.5 year-old brown bear as big as 503.

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503’s story is well documented here and here.

Returning to the lower river, I watched more subadult antics. Now after 10 a.m., the bridge had not yet opened because bears were consistently within 50 yards of it. Four to five subadult bears, all of which I saw the previous day, fished and played nearby.

409 Beadnose and her yearlings wandered toward the bridge from the lake to rest.

bear cub resting its head on its mother

Around 11:30 a.m., I contemplated crossing the bridge to eat lunch. At Brooks Camp food can only be eaten inside of buildings or at designated picnic areas. Possession of food, unless actively transporting it from one designated area to another, is also prohibited. With lots of bears in sight, I reasoned I could ignore my hunger pangs and eat later.

Upstream, 854 Divot and her yearlings scavenged for fish. Not yet having the opportunity to observe them much on this trip, I waited for them to fish their way downstream. Fall bears have a pattern though; they fish then sleep. Many human-habituated bears—especially 854 Divot, 409 Beadnose, 410, and 435 Holly—often choose to sleep near the trail between the lodge and the river. When that happens, the trail is usually closed until the bears wake and move on. I knew I risked a long delay getting to and fro if Divot and her cubs chose to sleep near the bridge or trail.

Which they did. At 12:10 p.m., Divot and cubs settled in for a nap on the bank just upstream of the floating bridge. With no alternative route around the bears, the bridge and trail were closed. There was nothing to do but wait. Bridge closures and Brooks Camp’s famous bear jams can be frustrating situations for people unaccustomed to them or too impatient for them, but bears need the habitat near the mouth of the river as much as they need the falls. To make a long story short (one I hope to tell in greater detail in the future) 854 slept in that spot for two hours and with many other bears fishing in the river, the bridge didn’t open for over three hours.

A half hour after crossing the bridge though and refreshed after a quick snack, I was back at the river when word of Otis’s arrival at Brooks Falls spread among the staff. Not knowing if I’d get another chance to see him before leaving the next day, I skipped bear viewing at the lower river to go to the falls, where I found 480 Otis as well as 68, 503, 719, 747, and an unidentified subadult.

bears fishing at waterfall

480 fishes in his office at Brooks Falls shortly after arriving. 747 sits in the water nearby.

Rain moved through later in the evening, but I still had one more morning of bear watching to enjoy before my flight out.

15 thoughts on “My Trip to Brooks Camp 2017: Day Three

    • 480 looked to be in good condition and still had two canine teeth. The unidentified subadult I mentioned is the female bear who we often see fishing the lip. In my next post, I’ll try to discuss identification of some of the subadults.

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  1. So glad you got to make a trip back to Brooks. I can’t imagine how much you miss it. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Someday I hope to make it to Brooks but not sure that will ever happen. In the meantime, through people like you, I can better imagine being there. Thanks again and keep the posts coming. 🙂

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  2. Love reading your descriptions….I feel like I am there too. Thank you! I see you got Velcro in both those videos….tee hee. The dark one he was playing with in the one video looks like it could be 504’s male subadult.

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  3. Please don’t make your long stories short! Hope you’ll get a chance to share the rest of the Divot nap story with us. I can never get enough of your bear/KNPP adventures.

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  4. Glad to hear Otis still has two canines, he seems to be doing well packing it on. Sounds like you still have the inside knowledge of the best times to go to the platforms for viewing in peace. Ever consider being a guide? I would pick you for you knowledge & experience 🙂 Thanks again

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  5. Well you certainly made the most of your day. I am glad you got to see 409 up close. Truman reported that one of her cubs was more independent that the other, but that was really early in the season. Did you find that to still be the case? And were those two among the bigger yearlings on BR? (How did 128’s boys compare in size?)
    Interesting that there are lingonberries in Alaska. We used to harvest them in Sweden. My grandmother had many recipes for them.
    And how amazing to have the falls platform to yourself! I have barely seen 410 at the falls this year. It’s a little surprising that the live salmon aren’t calling to her more. Not that she has done poorly for herself though.
    And I am glad that you got to see 503 on two occasions, once with the three musketeers all together at the falls. He is enormous. 402’s newly emancipated girl is too. I am very much looking forward to your thoughts on that triad.

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  6. I was so happy when we heard you made the trip back to Brooks. I can’t tell you how much your posts mean to me. I can almost feel the air, and smell the smells and can totally picture all the beautiful sites. Thanks again Mike. Look forward to the next one.

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