Thursday, July 17, 2008

Baranof Bears

2008 must be the year of the bear in SE Alaska. We are spotting them in all of the usual spots, typically inlets with one or more river estuaries. A cold spring and several very late snows kept the grizzlies in their winter dens longer this year (according to some locals and 3rd hand from a Forest Service ranger. They emerged late, looking gaunt and very hungry. We see bear along the shoreline and in the grass at river mouths, feeding on the greens which are their primary food source until the salmon return. Plants?! yes, those enormous omnivores bulk up on vegetation - grasses, tubers, berries, etc. - and add protein when it's available. Several salmon runs are late this year, and others are showing light returns, so the bear spend hours grazing the lush meadow grasses. Salmon arrival means protein and the bear maximize the intake rate by eating the belly meat and the roe. We've seen them grab a salmon, eat the good stuff in one or two bites, and then toss the rest of the carcass aside.

Grizzlies welcomed us in Red Bluff Bay (Baranof) at the head of the bay and later in our anchorage cove, grazing slowly along the shore about 100 yards from the boat. They were visible during most daylight hours (roughly 3 am till 11 pm) - when not obscured by fog or heavy rain! It's fun to watch them through binoculars, but WOW! it's a much better show when they stroll along the near shore.

A Gut Bay (Baranof) grizzly "posed" for hours, nibbling on wildflowers and bear grass while we shot photos from the skiff and then from the big boat.

The long Appleton Cove (Peril Strait) grizzly at our end of the anchorage kept to the beach and the woods near a Forest Service cabin (unoccupied at the time). We wondered if he had become a nuisance bear who had discovered a food cache and garbage opportunity, or was it just a coincidence. He was wary and ran back into the woods when our pennant snapped in the wind. A bit later he peeked out of the bushes, then roamed around the cabin again.

Kalinin Bay was a terrific base for coho fishing and bear watching at anchor. A sow and two yearlings grazed the adjacent shore, ignoring boats ad skiffs in the bay. This trio somehow skirted several groups of hikers and dog walkers without appearing to adjust their pace or direction. The people walking the beach never saw the bear, and the three bear just watched  from the woods. That was an experienced mama grizzly - and those were some lucky humans

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