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
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!