BEAR/SALMON CAMERA SET UP

The salmon are beginning to stage in their natal streams! So this year I thought I’d try to do something different. Obviously I cannot hang around my favorite stream day after day, week after week.I’d like to…… but cannot.

So I have set up a Trail camera to catch the action. I placed it in a spot where the salmon are forced to expose themselves. They must move upstream to spawn! I picked this spot because they move from a deep pool to another pool above but have to swim over some washboard rapids exposing themselves.

Of course the bears are smart enough to know where the best spots are! The bears wander along the river banks each day searching and hoping that they are in the right spot when one of the salmon makes a break for it!

I too try to be at the right place at the right time but as I’ve said,I cannot be up there all the time. So I’ve set a trail camera up. I will collect the SD card after a month. Wish me luck! Its taken me years to figure this stuff out…….. or maybe I should say “think” I’ve got it figured out. This kind of stuff doesn’t come with a  manual.

PARTY TIME

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The starting gun for this years salmon run has gone off! The rains have started.The salmon are on their way to their natal streams.Each will sniff out their natal stream.Each stream has many soluble minerals in it. Each stream has a unique mineral finger print.

As a parallel each key has a unique cut to differentiate it from another. The same with each stream.Each stream has unique trace minerals in it. This unique mineral marker was imprinted into the salmon when it was born in that particular stream. Each salmon is like a blood hound sniffing it’s way back to it’s natal stream. Think of it like a huge highway with millions of salmon all swimming together.When the salmon smells it’s stream It simply ramps off!

Once it finds it’s stream It’ll “stage”.All that means is it’ll stay out front of the stream breathing in that fresh water. The fresh water coming from the stream begins to change them.This triggers hormonal changes.The male salmon will grow large hooked jaws.They change like Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde. They change into Mr.Hyde! Once they begin to change they go upstream to check things out.They head to the salmon party!

They move upstream during high tide & hunker down in the deep pools during low tide.They know it’s dangerous to move from hole to hole during low tide.The bears are waiting to pick off the dumb ones.The ones who try to make a run between deeper holes during low tide are invited to dinner. Once they get above the tide line they are on their own.No more protection.They want lots of rain so the streams fill with lots of water.Lots of water means deeper waters. Which means protection from the bears grabbing them.

One of the problems bears have is seeing the salmon.So they like these pedestal like rocks to stand on.They can look down & see the salmon swimming.A rookie bear will jump in when he sees the salmon swimming about.A smart bear will wait for low tide when there is less water around.That way the salmon has fewer options to escape!

The male salmon begin to fight with each other.They will find a female & swim beside her.If another male comes too close,that male will attack! I once let a underwater camera go downstream to record the spawning salmon.A male didn’t like the looks of my camera & attacked it.

Once the female is ready she’ll dig a rut (red) in the gravel.She’ll lay her eggs & the male will release his milt from upstream.The eggs are than covered back up with the gravel.The eggs have a semi permeable membrane that allows oxygen to pass through.During the winter the fresh oxygen will keep them alive.This is when they are imprinted with that streams unique mineral signature!The eggs are vulnerable to many factors.Other fish coming into the stream for a snack,temperature,PH,DO (dissolved oxygen).

Streams that have been logged down to a streams edge will have lots of sediment being washed down the hillsides into that stream.That sediment settles on top of the eggs, cutting off the oxygen. Which in turn kills the eggs.

So……..say instead of 100,000 salmon heading out of that stream to that big highway out to the ocean,there may only be 10,000.So in 4 years time that returning population will be far smaller than normal due to that sediment. Thats why clear cutting should never happen near a salmon stream.

Btw,that 10,000 will be reduced even further by predators while they are out in the ocean for 4 years & remember that when they come back fully grown they have to get through that bruin gauntlet as well!

Life as a salmon is tough! Once they lay their eggs & release their milt,they die.They fall like snowflakes to the bottom.This is when bears reach under the water (like a racoon) & grab leftovers. When the first big rain happens all those dead salmon carcasses are swept downstream by the increased current.All the birds & crabs are waiting out front with smiles on!

 

DINNER INVITATION

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When a bear grabs a salmon,the first thing they do is get out of there! They know that If another bear sees him with that tasty salmon, there is a good chance it’ll charge forcing the bear to drop the salmon & flee.Bears always try to avoid fighting.

They eat the salmon deep in the forest in private.Because of this behaviour, over thousands of years the trees surrounding a salmon bearing stream grow larger! The whole fish is never eaten totally.So through out the entire forest hundreds if not thousands of salmon are scattered about.The nitrogen from the fish decays into the soil & the nutrients are absorbed by the root systems.Mother Natures fertilizing technique!

They’ve sampled these trees & found fish nitrogen in them!

This Chum salmon volunteered to be dinner tonight for this lucky bruin!

THEIR GETTING READY!

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I like this spot.It’s at the rivers corner,so I can see upstream & downstream.When I see a bear in either direction,I paddle my canoe in that direction.While waiting for one of my furry friends to drop in for tea,I kept seeing the salmon jumping downstream! So I decided to play a game to pass the time.My goal was to get a shot of one of them jumping! I found it fairly hard! I had to basically prefocus,get the exposure & wait.I put my elbows on my knees as an in prompt bi-pod. I held the camera steady but didn’t look through the viewfinder.Instead I watched over the camera with both eyes & shot as quickly as I could when I saw one of the buggers jumping.Even than the best I could do was a tail! The amount of time we’re talking is measured in hundreds of seconds to react!

 

SALMON VIDEO

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It’s Fall time in Tofino & that means the salmon are staging in their natal stream to spawn.Basically a big party for everyone! All the animals gather around these streams to feast! Bears,Eagles,Wolves all eat the salmon.
As a wildlife photographer,I try to capture these party moments. I’ve searched around to try & find great salmon streams. There are many good streams around Tofino.
When I find a good stream,I study it.I canoe up stream to check things out.
The most critical skill a photographer requires is, observation. I try to learn from what I see & feel.
I’ve found the best bear/salmon action happens when the tide is low.There is less water for the salmon to manoeuvre in.If a bear jumps in after a bunch of salmon & it’s high tide,the salmon have plenty of room to dart away & escape capture.However,during low tide the reverse is true.There is a lot less water for the salmon to hide in.The bears know the “shallow spots” where the salmon must pass through in order to go upstream & spawn.The bears gather around these exposed gravelled spots & wait for the salmon to “run”.In the shallows the salmons dorsal fin becomes exposed.Bears have poor eyesight in general but excellent vision for movement.When they see these dorsal fins coming into the shallows they run over,grab the salmon & high tail it out there into the forest! They do it quickly in case there is another larger or more aggressive bear around.These bears will charge forcing it to drop the salmon! It’ll than run off into the bush frightened! The charging bear will pick up the salmon & usually eat it right there.They do this to show that they are dominate. They usually eat the brains first……….almost like Zombie bears.
Once the run is underway,a bear may have anywhere from 5 to 15 lbs of salmon in it’s belly. Having these constantly full belles makes them much less aggressive. Think of how you feel after a large Thanksgiving meal.You don’t feel like fighting. Which means the bears are more docile. Mother Nature has designed it that way.Bears mate during the spawning season.It’s the only time they feel comfortable around each other. I’ve observed this behaviour many times.You can se in the picture below two bears getting to know each other.The male is on the left with the female on the right.If you look really closely,you can see my white boat anchoured downstream.

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I wear my neoprene chest waders when I go upstream.When I approach the bears on these gravelled spots,they move out of my way.It’s like parting a black sea of bears sometimes!
I remember the first time I did that.I was scared but after observing how they reacted I was pretty sure they would be scared of me……or at least I was hoping?

This is where I should tell you why I wanted to go upstream in the first place.
I found a spot where the salmon group together to wait out the low tide cycle. Hundreds group together in this spot! They don’t swim forward or back,they just stay stationary swimming against the streams current. (in the video,it looks like the salmon are swimming past but they actually are staying still & the camera is drifting through them)
The problem with getting underwater pictures of salmon is that they get scared easily & dart away if you try to approach! So I wondered how does one get underwater video of salmon? After trying several proto types,I came up with what I called a “Drift Rig”.
It basically is “T” shaped device.The top of the “T” is made out of wood & floats on the surface. The rest of the “T” is made up of two 18 inch ready rods with a small platform at the bottom for the Go Pro. Ready Rod is a long threaded rod.It comes in 36 inch lengths.I cut it in half to get two lengths.The threads allow me to attach everything together.I’ve included a picture to show you what I mean.

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I walk through the bears to this spot, start the camera & release the Drift rig. Once I let go of the rig I have zero control over it.If it decides to turn right,it’ll turn right. I let the rig drift through the salmon & pick it back up downstream.. I’ve found that the salmon are not afraid of things drifting downstream.When the rains come in the Fall,the river swells.This increase in speed under cuts the banks releasing all sorts of flotsam downstream.
This is where I’d like you to watch the video I took.The salmon you are about to see are “Chum”. There are a few larger “Chinook” salmon at the rear & one trout!

enjoy!

“MINI” CATCHING DINNER

20121113-20100622-20080925-20080926-IMG_7722I didn’t just shoot this. I’ve decided that when I’ve been grounded (due to weather!) for longer than a week,I’m going to add a shot from the past.
I shot this back in Sept of 08 at Thornton Creek. I know this bear well & she allowed me to be close to her while she was searching for her dinner.
She is smaller than normal,so I called her “Mini”. She’s the best fishing bear down there! Very smart! Most bears stumble upon opportunities,but Mini looks for them!
Her cub’s each year are like her……..very small & very cute!
Mini was trying to draw her cub out from the it’s hiding spot in the forest. “Doodlebug” was watching Mum catch several fish over the course of the hour. Mini was bringing the fish over to Doodlebug with the intent of bringing it out in the open.
She was dropping the fish into a pile about 30 feet or so from the forests edge.
(you should understand that Cub’s has been protected by their Mothers all year from other animals! During the spawning season,it’s kind of like a “Debutantes Ball”,where the Cub’s are introduced to the rest of the bear world. They must get use to other bears being around.)
So “Doodlebug” came out slowly,sniffed one of the paralyzed fish & promptly picked it up in it’s mouth! Unfortunately the picking up awakened the fish & it shook violently, causing Doodlebug to run away & up a tree!
Live & learn!

Bear Wrestling with his Dinner

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I was very happy to get this sequence! The thing I found unusual about his sequence is that I took 22 shots and every single one worked! Not one dog in the group.
I don’t think I’ve ever done that before! Very lucky and I’m so happy that it happened when it did!
I do not know this bear ,but have seen him around. He grabbed a large Chinook female.
They hang around the spillways waiting for salmon to swim into these very shallow spillways.They will make alot of noise from the flapping and this is what the bears home in on…… noise/movement!
When they do,this is the result…….

Cruiser Grabbing A Salmon

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I’ve been trying for years to get a sequence like this! It’s all about being at the right place at the right time! (My Mantra)
This is Cruiser.He’s a younger bear and always seems to be on the move. Hense the name.
On this day he grabbed this salmon and had a bit of a struggle inviting his newly found friend to dinner. He and all the other bears are all so full with salmon ,that they just catch them out of instinct. You can see him just posing on the far bank. He stayed there for several minutes looking at me! They normally do not do this.
Think of the way you feel after a big Thanksgiving meal! Than they clear the table,and bring out another fresh Turkey dinner(with trimmings!) again and again and again…….
Now you know why he was just staring at me! Because the blood surrounds the stomach after eating,they sometimes just stand in the water enough to let the water cool their tummies down! If a salmon bumps into them on the way to the party upstream…………their still history. They will instinctively attack. They may only take one bite and drop the fish in the forest,but who’s counting. The salmon’s carcass will be eaten by somebody and the rest will decompose and it’ll make all the trees on either side of the stream grow bigger and faster! Win,win,except for the chosen salmon, which doesn’t get to go to the party upstream!
Normally the bears hurry off into the bush to chow down. They don’t want to be seen because other bears could charge them and they would loose their meal!
However,after the salmon run has been on for several weeks,they become properly stuffed!!

Bear Attacking Salmon

There are four shots to this sequence.
Bears during spawning season will cruise along the rivers and creeks looking for opportunity’s. Which means ,they basically are looking for food(salmon)
Alot of times salmon who get tired will move out of the main current,and will go to the shallower sides of the river to take a breather! The current is not as fast & they rest here. Unfortunately,the Bears know this & cruise along the shore looking for these tired Salmon & grab then instantly.
Thats whats happening here.
In the first shot ,the bear tries to grab the salmon & the salmon realizes that it’s about to die and makes one last final leap.
These 4 shots show this salmon’s last moments on this earth!The bear pinned it after this shot and went off to the forest to munch on his meal without being bothered.