Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Alaska Brown Bears - Day 3

Day 3 – Mon July 27, 2020

The engine fired up at 5:50am and it was time to cross Shelikof Straight. The open ocean was the roughest water of the trip so far, but still nothing compared to the Drake straight on the trip to Antarctica last December.  It was slow going and took us about 5 hours to cross the straight and finally we pulled into Hallo Bay.  This is an area with very unpredictable winds and weather and we were warned that we might not be able to get into the bay, but luck was on our side today, as the weather was beautiful and almost TOO hot really. 

Hallo Glacier coming down off the mountain made for a very cool backdrop against the beach and open meadows beyond.  There was one other boat in the bay when we pulled in and we spotted a mama bear and 3 cubs down near their boat so we decided to head up the beach away from them and over the berm into the open meadow beyond.  After a short hike, we spotted another mama bear and her cub off in the distance, near a stream that crossed the open area.  When we got to the stream and started to walk along the banks, we passed over a lot of bear track including one set of prints that were easily the size of a big dinner plate.  It was hard to miss that you were certainly in bear country now…. Even if you hadn’t already spotted 5 of them before you’d been on land a couple of minutes.

We continued walking down the bank of the stream and lost sight of the sow and her cub.  They must have wandered off into the tall grass on the other side of the river to escape the heat.  We kept walking through and as we came to the top of a small hill, we saw yet another mama bear with cubs, this one had three yearlings with her.   A little behind those 4 was also another bear… most likely an adolescent that had been sent off on his own in the last year or so.

We decided to head down and cross the river and work our way to the far side of the mama bear and her cubs, to get the sun to our back for a better chance at good photos.  This also gave us a chance to make sure all the bears could see us and get used to our presence and we could get a read on how they were going to react to us being there.  It quickly became apparent that the sow and her cubs couldn’t care less that we were there, but the adolescent bear got up and started moving away from us and crossed another stream so it had a little more distance between us.

We found a good spot and settled in to watch these 4… while keeping an eye on the bear across the river to make sure he didn’t decide to come back our way and squeeze us in between him and the mama bear.  The babies and mama just grazed away in the meadow barely even bothering to look up at us.  It was a hot day and after a while, a couple of cubs decided it was time for a water break and one decided even better, that it was time to just lay in the water for a bit to cool off.   The other cub stuck pretty close to mama the whole time and one of the two more adventurous cubs quickly joined them again, while the third continued to just do his own thing.   The guide told us he was the single boy cub and that the two females tended to stay closer to mom than he did.  

We got to watch one of the cubs begging to nurse and the mama bear just totally ignoring her, but she was persistent  and the more noise she made about wanting to nurse the closer the other two cubs got as well, and after a while the mama bear gave in, and brought the cubs closer to us before sitting up and looking right at us and then flopping back onto her back only to be pounced on by her cubs.  The three of them only fed for about 5 minutes before we realized all 4 of them had totally fallen asleep... the cubs right on top of mama. 

After about 20 minutes, mama bear woke up and wanted to get back to eating so she slowly rolled her way from under all that weight and managed to get out from under the cubs without waking them up, and she went back to eating while they just dozed away.   We got some of the best views and photos of her at this point as they were now only about 100-150 feet away from us.  We watched her for a while and then decided it was time to go looking for the other mama bear that had been on the beach with her spring cubs.   There were a few other bears that had also come into the meadow by now, but the 3 little ones would make for better photos.

We found them pretty much where we’d last seen them. All hanging out on the beach.  The three little cubs were much more playful than the older three we’d been watching for hours and they were running around a bit and playing …. And as mama walked up the beach toward us they had to run to keep up with her.  We didn’t get to watch them up close nearly as long as the other group, but it was still fun to see the smaller cubs and watch how different they were when interacting with each other. 

They slowly moved away from us and now we could see the other three cubs finally wake up again after about an hour long nap.  We just sat on top of the berm and watched all the bear in the meadow for her for a while before deciding to call it a day and head back to the boat.  

The bear sightings weren’t over just year though as we crossed paths with one more bear as we walked down the beach.  This one was just sound asleep amongst the drift wood and we almost walked right past without even noticing it.  This one was pretty sleepy from the heat and when hearing us, barely had the energy to lift its head to look at us a couple of times and lay right back down to go back to sleep.

First view of the meadow after coming over the berm from the beach

First river we crossed and the view beyond

Another view of the meadow

First view of the mama bear and her three cubs we would watch for hours

Was so hot out, this cub needed to take a dip in the river to cool off

Three spring cubs tryin to keep up with their mama - you can see the heat shimmering

Cubs finally caught up to mama

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