Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kadashan, Tenakee Inlet to Pavlof Harbor

Days 61-64                  21.4 nm

Hah! Who needs to run rivers to see bear? On the way out of Tenakee Inlet we paused to watch a sow and her older cub chase salmon in the shallows and pools of Kadashan Bay, a huge estuary totally filled with low, marshy ground and mudflats. 

This pair lumbered along the flats, occasionally putting on bursts of speed as one or the other splashed through the shallow water to bite or swipe at a salmon. Their fishing technique wasn’t always effective, but it was fun to watch.

Surprise! Pavlof Harbor was empty when we arrived, so we had our pick of scenic spots to drop the anchor. We headed for our favorite location, away from the reefs and rocks but with a great view up the slot to the waterfall and fish ladder, backed by tall timber and the mountain looming tall in the distance. In past years the best bear watching has been at the base of the falls or the fish ladder, but this year we saw grizzlies more often on the gravel beaches and trails around the small harbor. It was interesting to see how how the bear timed their appearances after several more vessels arrived.

This grizzly ambled along the favored hiking path immediately after one group of cruise-ship hikers had rounded the bend and before the next group had arrived on shore via inflatable. 

Several hours later the bear sauntered along the grasses on the favored “dog-walking” and “stretch-your-legs” gravel beach, disappearing over the berm into a stream outlet every now and then. I was content to stay afloat, ignoring the chance to go hiking with a Pavlof brown bear. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crab Bay, Tenakee Inlet

Days 59-60                  65 nm

M/V Rhapsody at anchor in Crab Bay, Tenakee Inlet

SE Alaska’s ABC Islands - Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof - are renowned for their high concentration of grizzlies. Chicagof's Pavlof Harbor, one of our “special” anchorages, was the original destination, but VHF radio chatter indicated this location would be full of charter boat activity all day. With scores of kayakers dotting the water and waves of hikers wandering the shore, the bay would be far too busy for any bear watching. We needed a Plan B. Our recent VHF conversation with Capt. Dave of M/V Grocery Boy, and his casual mention of grizzlies with new cubs, sent us off to explore a new-to-us anchorage, hoping to discover a new “special” place.

We were alone in Crab Bay during the days we hung out on anchor and watched bear... and more bear… herds of seals… squadrons of eagles… a plague of jellyfish… and occasional billowy white clouds puffing over mountain peaks that still sheltered polka dot patches of snow amidst sparse forests and high meadows. It was quiet, peaceful, and just plain gorgeous territory on Chichagof Island. I’ll admit, days of sunshine and light winds added to the enjoyment as well.

Soon after we anchored one fat, light-brown sow and her good-sized cub appeared suddenly on a near shore. They settled in that one area, almost hidden by the tall grass as they munched away. Our skiff was already in the water so we grabbed the bug spray and camera gear and set off to drift closer. This pair seemed as interested in us as we were in them. What a terrific introduction to a new bay!

Back on board again, still smiling over the successful photo shoot, I glanced across the bay at the far shore and spotted some dark “spots”. Did they move? I grabbed my binoculars to investigate since all too often some intriguing dark spots turn out to be bear rocks or bear stumps instead of real bear. Bear rocks again? Nope, bear bear. These moving dark spots were a very dark brown/almost black bear with 2 small cubs! Wow! Back into the dinghy and off we went for a close look. This sow was very wary, we we never got too close and she didn’t stay exposed in the grass for very long. Black bear or extra dark grizzly bear? The two don’t often hang out together in the same area, so I’m guessing grizzly.

What an afternoon! Later that evening the light-colored sow and her cub wandered the shoreline of the main estuary and two other adult grizzlies grazed along the river farther upstream. Low light and distance made this a viewing opportunity rather than a photo op, but it didn’t matter. Lengthy bear watching on the first day, in a gorgeous new anchorage, in the sunshine – that’s a combination to enjoy.

One lone youngster roamed the river bank in the estuary, occasionally galloping along the bank as he raced to catch up with a slow-moving salmon. The humpies (pink salmon) were running in ever-increasing numbers and the bear switched their foraging efforts from grazing to fishing. Our shallow-draft dinghy took us close to the river mouth, but this bear moved farther upriver as he followed the returning fish. We stayed outside in the somewhat deeper water of the delta, grabbing a photo whenever the bear climbed up on the bank. I’m too timid smart to run up a narrow, shallow riverbed with steep banks, tall grass and winding curves at low tide when bear are active in the area. Nope, don’t ever want to surprise a grizzly!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Two Grizzlies, One Beach

Where are the bear cubs hiding this year? We haven’t seen one yet in any of the usual spots, neither black bear nor grizzly bear cubs. Bear sightings in general were scarce during our trip north, but that could mean we weren’t alert enough, or in the right place at the right time. Ah, location, location… etc. Finally we've anchored in a bay with at least three grizzlies that wander the shoreline almost daily to graze on the lush grasses. 

The same grassy meadows are frequented by five black-tailed deer, but never when the bear are dining. Deer are herd animals, often appearing in a group, but the several wandering grizzlies are definite loners. Each bear cautiously sniffs the air, looks over his/her shoulder frequently and displays an overall alertness while feeding. Interesting that they don’t seem to mind passing skiffs, though they are obviously aware of human presence.  

One afternoon two grizzlies appeared on the same side of the bay, grazing in adjacent coves, separated by a rocky promontory, and each out of sight of the other bear. Neither bear was aware of the other’s presence for the longest time, and then things changed. The larger bear, one we call The Boss, raised his nose and hurried uphill to shelter under overhanging tree branches, all the while sniffing and turning his head side to side.

The other bear, called Buffalo Bear because of his distinctive shape, looked nervous, but not nervous enough to quit feeding. Perhaps alerted by some noise, this bear slowly moved farther along the shore, repeatedly looking over his shoulder after each mouthful of grass.

Then The Boss rounded the point, increasing speed and racing up the rocks as he spotted the other bear. Buffalo Bear sprinted for cover, crashing through low brush and heading into the dense forest beyond. Both grizzlies disappeared from sight, but considerable growling and roaring came from the woods. And then all was quiet. No more bear, no more noise, and no idea how it all ended. We haven’t seen either bear in the two days since that encounter.