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. 

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