Monday, July 27, 2020

Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska, 2020. "All In on Red 26"

With the pandemic here most of my safaris have been canceled. I've made the most of it by finding local fox dens to photograph...Correction. One of my friends who was on one of my African trips found me two fox dens to photograph the kits.Fox Kits huddling for warmth

While I canceled two African safaris and one trip to Alaska to photograph Eagles, our brown bear trip fell right in the middle. Cases were dropping and we might be able to figure out a way to travel. The odds were against us going with the borders being "closed".  
Fox Kit Posing on Mound
I told my guests there was a big chance we wouldn't be able to travel, but that we would exhaust every avenue before we gave up. We betting the house on red 26. We were going all in and would let the chips fall where they may.
The borders were closed until the end of June. Hopefully with the cases dropping the borders would open up the end of June and we would be able to travel in July. The problem was although the cases were dropping across most of Canada, the cases actually increasing in Quebec and the U.S. Around June 19th we heard they were keeping the borders closed. Was this going to kybosh our trip?
Fox Mom and Kit Silhouette
A day or two after we heard that the borders were remaining closed we discovered that Canadian airlines were allowed to fly Canadians back and forth across the border. Just U.S. airlines weren't allowed to cross the border. That gave us one of the crucial windows we needed to get to and from Alaska. It meant it was expensive as we had to buy additional tickets, but we figured it out.
Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears Clamming
I kept telling my guests if we were able to make it, we would have a bear safari of a lifetime. I was up last year and we didn't see any cubs. Some people would have blamed it on "Climate Change". Logic told me otherwise. Nature goes in cycles. I thought this year would be epic!
Brown Bear Spring Cubs Playing
In order to go first we had to find a way to get to Alaska...Check. The Canadian government allowed Canadian Airlines to fly across the border.
Brown Bear cubs sparring
Next we had to find a place to self quarantine in Alaska for 14 days. It was a stretch, but we asked to increase a day at the lodge on either side of the safari. We canceled our stay on either end at an Anchorage hotel. And hoped customs would buy our "quarantine at the lodge" request.
Next we had to get tested for Covid within 72 hours of arriving in Alaska. Seeing as we would be flying out on Monday morning and the tests took between 5-7 days for results to come back, that seemed like a big ask. That wasn't going to work. I was hoping we would get our tests within a week of travel and out of good faith they would let us through. They were testing at the Anchorage airport. We would get our Anchorage test results back after a few days of "self isolation" at the lodge. The next problem was none of us could get our covid tests back in time.
Brown Bear Clamming
Insult to injury on the Thursday before we flew out I heard that one of my clients was golfing with someone who was exposed to someone with covid. That shot my anxiety up a notch or two! Maybe I had covid and didn't know? 
I got my test on July 1st. My doctor didn't know why it was taking so long so he did a test on Friday July 3rd. On July 5th I received results of both negative tests. I haven't been more happy to fail a test. :) We flew out Monday, July 6th.
Spring Cub Brown Bears Playing
Reality was in Anchorage they didn't care much about our tests in Edmonton. They tested at the Anchorage airport, but anyone could walk right by the testing area and no one would question you. Also after we were tested in Anchorage, a week later no one had received their results yet. Some of my guests didn't even receive results from their Edmonton tests a week earlier. By the end of our trip they still hadn't received their  Edmonton results and it had been two weeks at that point.
Brown bear walking through fog
So, there was a loop hole in the "closed borders". The need for testing was kind of a joke. No one asked where we were self-isolating. No one at customs or airport security even asked.
Brown Bear Mom and Cub

For six days we photographed 8 brown bear spring cubs and moms. There were also two second year cubs in the area too.
Brown Bear Mom and Second Year Cubs
But how would we get back. We didn't have an Anchorage hotel room to stay in on our way out. We were instead "Self-isolating" at the lodge. If the fog came in we would have had to stay another day at the lodge and would miss our flights back.
Moose Twin CalvesOn the way back because our flights were changed and we would have to overnight in Seattle. I called the Washington government. They told me if we were to enter Washington state as Canadians we would have to self-isolate somewhere for 14 days. When we got to Seattle no one asked us about self-isolating. No one cared. And when we (Canadians) went to check in, no one asked how long we had been in the US. The only problem we ran into was one of our guests who had been living in Canada for the past several months was not allowed to fly back to Canada because she had a U.S. passport. She would have to fly back to Florida. We knew this might happen. It was our "plan b".
Brown Bear in Creek
So now here I sit in self-isolation at home on my twelfth day of isolation. I am doing it right. Gaye hasn't been here in two weeks. She's been kind enough to deliver groceries and I have kept myself busy with pictures, company administration and house projects. A month before we left on this journey I kept telling my guests "we would be all in on red 26. Momma needs a new dress". If we got to the lodge I knew we would pretty much have the lodge to ourselves. I knew the bear viewing would be phenomenal...Or we could get held up somewhere and would be turned back. All in on red 26. And we won big! It was a great trip! Great people, great photography, great bear viewing. Our only complaint was the weather was too nice. Too many cloudless skies meant for poor photos during the day. That was our only complaint. Not too bad considering what we went through to get to Alaska and the amazing sightings we had.
My next trip up to photograph the brown bear moms and cubs is July, 2023. 

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