In August 2010 I had joined an 11 days trip to Kamchatka – a 780-mile (1250 km) long peninsula located in the Russian Far East, which separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean and equals the size of France, Belgium and Luxembourg combined. Lying on the Great Pacific “Ring of Fire”, Kamchatka Peninsula is one of the most outstanding volcanic regions in the world, with its high density of more than 160 volcanoes 29 of which are active. There is a multitude of thermal and mineral springs, geysers and other phenomena of active volcanism. Consequently, 19 volcanoes with their kaleidoscope of unusual landscapes, including the famous “Valley of Geysers” located in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, constitute the “Volcanoes of Kamchatka” UNESCO World Heritage Site. Furthermore, Kamchatka is home to the densest population of brown bears in the world. From a photographer’s perspective this was one of my main motifs to travel there. The exceptional concentration of bears is related to the fact that Kamchatka produces over a quarter of all wild Pacific salmon. Its river system hosts the greatest diversity of salmonid fish on Earth. The Kamchatka Brown Bear is a very large subspecies, with a body length up to 3 meters tall on hind legs and a weight of 650 kg (1433 lbs) or more. It nearly has the size of the Kodiak Bear. Normally, the bears are not so aggressive and predatory as their Grizzly counterparts. That said, the known Japanese photographer Mishio Hoshino had been killed in 1996 when camping overnight close to the Kurile Lodge. Despite its great size, the peninsula is home to just 400,000 people of which half live in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. As such, the peninsula is vastly uninhabited, still untamed wilderness and many parts are only accessible by helicopter. Arriving in the capital after a 9 hours flight from Moscow in fact takes you to another world. Due to the weather conditions, we had to stay in Petropavlosk for another 2 days, visiting local museums, a Salmon farm in the Paratunka area and went on a boat ride in the Avacha Bay, which unfortunately was affected by the bad weather. The helicopter flight to the Kurile Lake and the 3 days stay there for photographing numerous bears from a pretty close distance definitely was the highlight of the tour and in this respect surpasses all other locations in the world that I know, including Katmai. Of course, we also visited some other places and attractions shown and described in the gallery, such as the Valley of Geysers, Uzon Caldera, Koduktka Hot springs.
It was a great trip and the local guide did an excellent job. From my personal view, the only disappointment was the fact that we didn’t encounter Stellar’s sea eagles and had not enough time to look for them intensively, because the itinerary had also scheduled a visit to the reindeer herds and locals in the Esso region some 500km north of Petropavlosk. Stellar’s Sea Eagle is the largest sea eagle and another unique attraction besides the Kamchatka brown bears. So I hope I can come back some day to photograph these amazing raptors.
The wildlife shots were taken with the 500mm/f 4.0L IS, 300mm/f 2.8L IS, 100-400mm/f 4.0- 5.6 L IS and 70-200mm/f 2.8 L IS II on Canon 1 D Mark IV, 7D and 1 Ds Mark III cameras, some by using 1,4x and 2x converters. The landscapes photos were captured with the 24-105mm/f 4.0 IS, 24-70mm/f 2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II lenses.