The Chilkoot Bears

Chilkoot 25We spent a lot of our time visiting the Chilkoot River in Haines. This beautiful river is where the salmon run, and where we found the Chilkoot bears, as well as eagles, seagulls and others vying for the nutrient-rich fish.

Chilkoot 66The Chilkoot is surrounded by forest and and empties into a lovely lake, the Chilkoot Lake, which in turn empties into another section of river, where we visited frequently.

Chilkoot 30Chilkoot 35The rain was beginning to catch up with us and we had a couple of pretty dreary, rainy days, but most days we made at least one visit looking for the bears. No luck the first couple of times, but we finally spotted a sow and her cubs at the mouth of the Chilkoot River where it then dumps into the Lukat Inlet.

Chilkoot 53These two cubs were our first grizzly cubs of the year! We saw several black bear cubs back in Yellowstone and we saw quite a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Denali, but no grizzly cubs.Chilkoot 55Chilkoot 45Chilkoot 34

Grizzly bear cubs have an adorable feature, they have white fur around their necks. Since they are born early in the year, during the sow’s hibernation, the white fur is almost gone on one of the cubs, but the other still has an almost complete white collar.

We watched the sow and cubs fishing along the beach. Then we saw another bear on the other side of the river mouth, also feeding. The other bear was working his (we assumed he was a male) way towards the beach where the sow and cubs were.

Chilkoot 8All of a sudden, he got in the water and started swimming towards the beach.

Chilkoot 27Chilkoot 29When the sow realized this, she started running in the opposite direction with her cubs, until we could no longer see her. That is when we confirmed that the other bear was in fact a male.

Chilkoot 28Chilkoot 13Males take over the best feeding areas, and sows move along to the next best areas, in this case closer to the humans. Male bears will also sometimes prey on bear cubs, so the sows do not want their cubs near the males.Chilkoot 12

We found the sow and cubs feeding on a beach by a neighborhood that is located between the river and the inlet. There were a lot of people around and after she fished for a while, the sow looked like she wanted to move back to her original spot.Chilkoot 11

Chilkoot 24Chilkoot 33At one point, she began to head back with her cubs, apparently unaware of the male bear who was partially submerged in the water fishing.

Chilkoot 31Chilkoot 32Chilkoot 22Then, when she and the cubs spotted the male bear they ran back. This happened twice. Finally, she decided to head to the river, where she and the cubs continued to fish.

Chilkoot 20Chilkoot 18Chilkoot 19Chilkoot 17Chilkoot 15Chilkoot 16Chilkoot 5One day we went kayaking on Chikoot Lake. It was another cloudy day and the water got a bit choppy in the middle of the lake, but it was a nice paddle and we saw several waterfalls and a cute kingfisher alongside the lake.

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Chilkoot 82Chilkoot 90We found the sow and cubs once again in the river and got a pretty close view of her and the cubs fishing in the river. Grizzly bear cubs have a low survival rate. We heard that this sow has lost several in the past. It is especially tough when they are so close to humans.

Chilkoot 79I thought that the sow’s face showed how much she has been through and how much wiser she has become.

Chilkoot 52The cubs are just adorable, they bound around and play with each other. Mom has taught them to fish and they all fish independently.Chilkoot 57

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Chilkoot 1Chilkoot 37We also found a group of Mergansers that always seemed to hang out in the same spot on the river. These ducks were able to paddle swiftly across, down and up the moving water. They were quite fun to watch as well.

Chilkoot 38Chilkoot 63Chilkoot 39And, of course, we watched some of the eagles alongside the river, some in the trees, some standing on rocks or tree trunks in the water. They are opportunistic and will only go after the easiest prey possible.Chilkoot 65

Patience is called for with eagle photography as they can stand in the same spot for a very long time. Chilkoot 44

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Chilkoot 41But Hector captured some great images, I especially love the one with the eagle roosting (with one leg up). And we so enjoyed watching them.Chilkoot 61

Chilkoot 47Chilkoot 51We saw the sow and cubs a third time on the river, at this point a lot of the salmon were dead along the river after having spawned.Chilkoot 50

But the bears prefer the live fish and were still fishing. We spent hours watching this beautiful family.Chilkoot 67Chilkoot 68

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Chilkoot 84Chilkoot 55Chilkoot 87The cubs will hibernate with the sow this winter and remain with their mother two to three years, during which time she will not mate. I wish them a life full of salmon and berries.

We always saw the bears in the late evening when the light was pretty dim. But I think Hector captured their essence in his photographs.Chilkoot 89


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Chilkoot 88We were hoping to see at least one of the large male bears close up, but we never did. But I think the mom and her cubs were much more fun to watch.

~ BrendaChilkoot 56

10 thoughts on “The Chilkoot Bears

  1. What fun watching the grizzly family:) The photos are wonderful and really tell the whole story of their fishing. The cubs are so darn cute:) Thanks for sharing so many photos. I never tire of looking at the bear photos. Glad you got to do a little paddling and sighting the bears again was frosting on the trip:)

  2. I need for Hector to rub off his patience on me 🙂
    Those are really cute cubs. I have not seen a standing bear yet not sure if ever I will see one again.
    Thanks for all the wildlife actions shots, very fascinating.

  3. Amazing photos of the grizzly fishing and at play. I had no idea that the cubs wear a white fur collar around their necks…how cute! Hector’s eagle shots are just magnificent! I’m not sure how he is going to be able to top this trip for photography opportunities.

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