Sunday, August 9, 2020

Alaska Brown Bears - Day 7

 Day 7 – Friday July 31

The rains had stopped and the weather forecast looked promising for a pretty easy crossing of the straight today and since the captain wanted to get to a harbor tonight that would leave us a short run back to Kodiak tomorrow morning, he told us we needed to pull up anchor and get moving by 9:45.  We had all decided to get up at 6 so that if the weather cooperated, we’d have a few hours to take the last bear photos of the trip and it looks like mother nature was on our side today.

We got ready and headed to shore one last time, and it turned out that today was going to be a good morning for bears. We could already see a Sow and her three cubs up near the rocks.

When we first got off the skiff, we had to make our way past two big boars that were standing on the beach in kind of a standoff with each other. They were both holding very still about 100 yards apart, and just watching each other and we kind of approached the beach right in between then.  We stood and watched the one to our right, to see what he was going to do if anything at all and just decided to slowly work our way around him, along the water’s edge.  We moved slow and would stop every time he turned to look at us and then when we went back to watching the other bear we would start moving again.  Just making sure he was okay with us going behind him.   We wanted to get over to where the mama bear was hanging out with her cubs but didn’t want to encroach on this big boy’s territory if he got agitated with us being there.  Turns out he really didn’t seem to care and only watched us with curiosity as we went around him.

Mama and her cubs as we first arrived

This might have been the only time they followed her this close all morning

Getting into the hole for the good stuff

The mama watched us coming and showed no signs of worry about us either, in fact at one point she changed her position so she could put us between her and the bigger bears on the beach, kind of using us knowing that the boars wouldn’t approach with us between them.

Her and her cubs were doing some clamming on the beach and doing pretty good at finding food from what we could see. It was really cute to watch these three cubs disappear half way down into the holes their mom was digging and then coming up and crunching on their catch.  We spent about 2 hours hanging out with the 4 of them, moving up the beach and crossing a couple of small streams as they worked their way from left to right in front of us.  The cubs would go from digging for clams with their mom, to watching us out and you could see their fascination with … especially the smallest of the three.  He seemed to watch us much more than the others combined. 

The funniest part of the morning with them was when it came time to cross the streams and the three cubs would just start complaining non-stop as soon as the mom hit the water….  They didn’t want to have to cross and get wet and made a big stink about it, but they all piled in the water and followed her knowing she wasn’t going to change her mind no matter how much fuss they made.  

At one point they all moved down the river and it looked like they were going to head back up the river a little further ahead of us, so we hurried to get to the spot where we’d already spent a couple of days watching bears, in the hopes that she would turn back our way eventually.  We had guess right and she did end up coming back up that far stream bead and we got some great close up views of all 4 of them. 

She made a pass right in front of us with the cubs, and at first looked like she was just going to keep heading up river where we’d lose sight of them… but less than a minute later, she changed her mind and made another pass in front of us, totally ignoring us and just watching the river and looking to see if there were any salmon in there to feast on.  When she didn’t see any fish to chase, she crossed the river one more time with the young’uns in tow and got into the grassy area on the other side and they all started munching on grass instead. 

Mama and one of the cubs

Just about time for them to head back for more clams

Just as it felt like that was the end of the bear sightings for the day, another female popped out of the grass directly in front of us, and slowly walked along the river bank about 10 feet away from us.  She was looking for fish too and did a pretty tight circle around our spot checking the streams in front of us and behind us … before moving down river to the beach to go looking for clams instead. 

Looking for a morning salmon feast

It was getting close to the time we have to get back to the boat and head out of here, so we made our way to the shore… and ran into one last bear that came around the corner in front of us.  That made 8 bears this morning.  Not too bad for a 3-hour beach visit.

We all got back into the boat and out of our chest waders and wet boots, showed and settled in for the long haul back to the real world.  The ride wasn’t too rough and the day got nicer as we headed west. We had another great breakfast and lunch and mostly just talked and hung out and enjoyed the scenery along the way.

We stopped at a cool island that had a ton of sea otters living on it, and watched them floating in the beds of seaweed, popping up around the boat to watch us and mostly just floating around in the water, and then moved on again until we reached our stopping point for the night.  There was an island that had a lot of puffin nesting on it and we circled around it twice, trying to get some good shots of them, as they tend to be very photogenic birds, but they are a lot harder to photograph than you would think. 

One of the many curious sea otters on this trip

Island with Puffin and Gulls nesting together

Closer look at the puffin

These Puffin nest in those holes in the hillside

After than we dropped anchor for the night and just enjoyed the great weather.  Randy and Kevin both flew their drones for a while and got some great footage of the boat from the air, and the water around us…. It was a nice way to spend the last evening.

Sunset on the last night

Tomorrow we’d be making the last 4 hour run to Kodiak and then it will be a long day of travel until I get back to Seattle at midnight.

Alaska Brown Bears - Day 6


Day 6 – Thu July 30

Woke up to a very rainy day, with very little bear activity in any of the usual places.  The few bears we could see weren’t doing much other than wandering the beach or eating grass so we thought we would hang out on the boat and wait out the rain and keep an eye out on the bears in case anything more exciting started to happen.  After a while we realized it may be a long wait and we all broke out our laptops and started going through photos just to see what we’d gotten so far.  The rain picked up and we were all happy to just hang out telling stories and playing with photos.  That was about the extent of the excitement for the day.

Rainy day in Geographic Harbor

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Alaska Brown Bears - Day 5


Day 5 – Wed July 29

Started off the morning, getting up early, as there were already 3 bears on the beach shortly after sunrise.  

The first bear we saw was a youngster and he left pretty quick after we got there, passing by us and heading in the direction we had just come from.  We could see that there was a sow and cub heading into the main river area and think that maybe the young bear didn't want to deal with a protective mom this early in the morning.

First bear of the morning but he didn't stick around long

In just a matter of minutes there were three different mama bears heading our way, each with a single cub tagging along side them. Two of the cubs were spring cubs and the third was at least 2 years old now.  We took our spots along the river again, this time making sure we would have much better light working in our favor than we'd had the afternoon before.

Each set of bears reached the river and looked around,  but none of the them seemed to be too serious about fishing yet this morning and mostly seemed content with eating grass and wandering up and down the river giving halfhearted attempts at fishing.  We just sat there enjoying the small parade going past us as the bears would slowly head up the river and out of site.  

The soon to be "bullies" showed up first

They slowly crossed the river looking around but not really fishing

They made one last pass before heading up river and out of site for a while

The second sow and cub of the morning.  She would turn out to be the most dominant

They were confident as they approached the river

Mama spent a little time looking for fish, but didn't see any she liked I guess.  The cub was more interested in watching us.

At one point, a young sow and her cub were just getting to the river to the left of us, when the sow that had passed us earlier with the older cub started coming back downstream.  The two year old cub must have been feeling his oats this morning because he locked eyes with the young mom and cub and started to hurry down the river in their direction, and the young sow and cub got scared to took off running the back the way they came from.  The older cub seemed pretty proud of himself and then him and the mama bear went to check out the area they'd just chased the other two away from.  They spent a lot of time sniffing every rock and blade of grass the other two had touched, and reminded me of how dogs act when they can smell another dog in their area.

Young sow and her spring cub

She seemed the most cautious of the three mamas this morning

She suddenly had to scratch that itch

The bullie cub saw the sow and her cub as she scratched on the rocks

After looking like he might chase them, he slowed down and just stared as they ran off

Now looking back up river, we saw the first sow and her spring cub heading down the river in our direction again.  Now it was the bullies turn to have the tables turned on them.  The bully sow stood on her hind legs staring up the river at the two coming her way and watched them for a few minutes like that.  He cub started to get nervous too and at one point stood up on his hind legs as well, only he was looking everywhere but up river.  LOL  Now these two decided they'd better get out of there and they quickly left the river bank, away from the two they had chased off just 10 minutes before.  It was funny to see how fast the tide had changed and to watch the hierarchy between the bears play out in front of us like that.  It was obvious that out of the three mama bears in the meadow this morning, this one headed our was was the dominant one.

He come the dominant sow and her cub again

The bullies suddenly don't seem so sure of themselves

The smell of victory - or the smell of the scared bears.  Depends on  your perspective.

The new dominant mama and her very active and brave young’un pranced around, sniffing the grass that the others had just vacated, and then wandered back and forth kind of watching to make sure the area was now theirs…. Not that they did any fishing or anything exciting with it now that everyone had been scared away.  They wandered around for a while and then slowly drifted off into the high grass.

The mama and cub spent quite a bit of time wandering around, eating grass but never fished

After a short break of not much happening we then saw a series of individual bears come down the river, walking past us and watching the river but not really seeing any salmon in there, they headed into the meadow to eat grass.   It was only just as we thought we might head back to the boat that a bigger bear started down the river towards us, and then proceeded to fish the river about 10 feet in front of us for the next 30 minutes.  He splashed up and down the deep part of the river in front of us, getting up on his back legs to get a better view of the fish and once again splashing around like crazy trying to catch them.  He managed to finally catch one and took it up on the far bank to devour the entire fish.  The funny part was just as he took his last bite he saw another salmon flash by and he was racing into the river splashing around again trying to grab it before he probably swallowed the last of the first fish.   When he missed, he climbed back out of the river and want over to make sure he had indeed finished the first one off… before getting back in the river and starting the whole dance all over again.  It made for some great photos ops and even got a little video footage of him splashing around.

Solo bear time

Watching for fish but didn't see any he liked

Now this bear has a hankering for some salmon

He decided he wasn't going to mess around and got busy right away

See how easy that was?

Gotta get high to see through the glare of the water

He saw it, but just didn't catch it

Once he decided he was tired and wasn’t going to catch anything else… he headed back up the river and we went back to the boat for lunch.

Went back to the land after a nice break and found 4 bear there…. Two totally sleeping away in the heat of the afternoon.  We watched a couple of other bears come and go right past us, all the while watching the river but not seeing enough fish to catch their interest I guess and on they went.  Not a whole lot happened this evening with the bears….  Although we had a couple of really close passes by younger bears as they just kept moving around us, teasing us with the idea we might get another fishing exhibition.  As the sun went down behind the mountain we decided to call it a day and headed back toward the pick-up spot for the boat… passing 4 bear on the way…. Two sleeping and two just eating grass.   By now that has become so common a site that we barely even paid attention to them.   We’re hoping for cooler weather tomorrow which hopefully will leave the bears with more energy than they showed us today. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Alaska Brown Bears - Day 4

Day 4 – Tue July 28 - Geographic Harbor

The morning started off with being woken up and told there was a wolf walking along the shoreline.  The boat was anchored a little too far into the bay to really get any kind of great photos of the wolf so we all just sat around the table watching as it slowly worked its way along the shore.  It was the first time I think I’ve seen a wolf in the wild so it was kind of exciting to just get to watch it.  After about 20 minutes we noticed that there was a bear in the tall grass ahead of where the wolf was heading and started to wonder what was going to happen when the wolf finally saw it. 

The wolf eventually noticed the bear as he got a lot closer to it, and it paused for a minute or two trying to decide what to do.  The bear was busy eating grass and had his back to the shore, and I think the wolf decided he could sneak past if he got closer to the water and decided to go for it.  Sadly the wolf must have made just enough noise to catch the bear’s attention and the bear spun around to see what was behind him, and they both froze for a second before the wolf decided he was going to kick it into another gear, which made the bear give chase and the race was on!   Luckily it was early morning and still kind of cold out and the wolf had warmed up with a much longer walk than the bear had taken …. So he was able to speed past and put some distance between the two of them after a short but exciting case to watch.  I really wish we hadn’t been 500 yards away and I could have gotten better photos of it.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what it was like though. 


Wolf on a morning stroll

Oops, made a bit too much noise

The chase was on

Just before the bear gave up

We could only see two bears in the area we planned to head to so far this morning, so before heading to shore we opted for a skiff ride around the bay and through some of the small rock outcrops.  During the ride we spotted another bear on one of the small islands, at first walking along the rocks but then working his way up the hill to go get some berries. We slowed down and watched the bear for a few minutes before it disappeared out of site and so continued on, passing some very cool scenery.  There were cliff walls that went straight up with trees poking out here and there. It almost had a Jurassic Park kind of feel to it.  We also saw a couple of big sea otters that just refused to pose for photos and then turned a corner to find a rock covered in Gulls.  It actually made for a nice quick photo with the reflections they were casting on the calm water.  After a fun ride in and out of all the side channels, we went back to the boat to get ready to head to shore. 

Once we had all our gear and put on our chest waders, we headed out and could see that things had already gotten a lot busier around the river.  We picked out a spot that we would camp out on for the morning and headed that way.  As we got closer to that spot we could see a huge bear that was sleeping in the grass just on the other side of the river from us, and saw a smaller bear working its way down stream in our direction.  The smaller bear was watching the big one, who slowly got up and started staring at it intently.  This seemed to make the smaller bear a bit nervous and it would cast its gaze our way and then back at the big bear…. Every once in a while, taking a quick look in the river to see how many salmon might be close by.  You could see that the bear was a little too nervous to dive in with that huge bear so close by, and then it decided it might like to pass by, much closer to us to put as much room between the two of them.  The bear got about 6 feet away as it walked past, and even took a second to look each of us in the eye, sniffing the entire way, before heading off into the meadow behind us.  The big bear just kind of stood there, moving his head side to side to make sure no one else was encroaching on his area before going to get a drink of water and then laying back down in the grass.

The big bear stood up to let the smaller bear know this was his spot

She was watching him and the river while making her way towards us

This was about the time she decided to leave the river to the big boy

Nothing seemed to happen for a little while other than bears moving around in the meadow, happily grazing on the grass there.  Just when it seemed this big bear might keep all the other bears away from us…. He got up and decided to take a stroll through the river, looked to see if he could see any fish and when there were none, he wandered off into the meadow himself.   No sooner did he clear out than that first bear circled back behind us to take a much closer look at the river.  She didn’t really spot anything from the river’s edge so she climbed down into the river and did a bit of snorkeling, but must not have seen any as she never really gave chase to anything nor came up with a fish in her mouth.   She slowly worked her way up the river to where there was a small waterfall and splashed around up there for a bit.  We couldn’t see well enough to know if she was catching fish but that spot turned out to be very popular with a number of bears as the day wore on.

Next up was a bigger male working his way towards us.  He would turn out to be the best fishing bear we saw the entire trip.  He certainly didn’t waste too much time jumping into the river and splashing around at everything that moved.  He would spin in circles, swatting at fish, lunging head first into the water and coming up empty, he tried to push them to the side of the pool he was standing in and pin them against the wall…  and at first seemed to really just not have a clue on how to catch one.   It seemed like he carried on like that for at least 20 minutes, coming up empty over and over again, and then finally with a huge lunge, he stuck his head under water and came up with a really nice-looking fish.

Chasing a salmon

His first catch

By this time another group of photographers had shown up and were on the other side of the river from us, and the bear looked at them, and then us, with this big fish hanging in his mouth and them seemed to decide he’s just take the fish to a shallow part of the river and eat it there.  He seemed to inhale that fish and ate the entire thing in 4 of 5 bites and was right back at it with the fishing.  This time he came up with his second fish after about 3 minutes, and once again looked at that other group of photographers and then us, and decided we looked least likely to take his fish so he came up on the shore right in front of us to once again make quick work of the fish.  He was so close you could hear all the bones crunching with every bite he took, which reminded you just how powerful these bears are.

Once again, he jumped into the river and this time had his next fish in under 2 minutes, or so it seemed.  He didn’t hesitate at all, and came right up on the shore in front of us, moving even further away from the river this time and went to town on his latest catch.  We had an excellent view of just how fast a bear and eat a huge salmon.  Lol

This time he seemed to take his time before climbing back into the river, and he kind of looked around but didn’t seem nearly as hungry anymore nor as frantic to catch another fish.  He splashed around a little bit, but not with the same energy as earlier, and started to wander up the river now.  I think he decided he was full enough for now and then kind of wandered off.  We were given a great show for sure!

By the time we were done for the day, we had seen at least 14 bears, and about half of those coming so much closer to us than I had expected before this trip started.  It was a great day but now we were hungry and it was time to head back to the boat for another amazing meal.