Bears!!!

If a picture tells 1,000 words, this is going to a very long blog!  The biggest highlight of our first week in Alaska was spending an incredible day at Anan Creek watching the wildlife gorging on the largest run of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska.

The trail from the beach where we anchored the boat to the observatory on Anan Creek is about a quarter-mile hike through thick forest.  There is a ranger station near the beach where a ranger meets you to give a quick overview on what to do and what not to do along the trail.  We were all a little nervous since one of the local brown bears has been a bit “frisky” and as the ranger said, we didn’t want to have a “negative bear encounter”.  Uh, yeah, I’m with you there!

After getting our briefing the 10 of us started walking up the trail with Jim in the lead and the rest of us leap frogging at the end of group so as not to be the last one in line.  We had a shotgun with us, and I was also carrying bear spray, just in case!  The main idea is not to surprise the bears so we were all singing and talking loudly, especially when we came around the blind corners.  The thought of having to “stand your ground” if a bear charged was a bit intimidating!

(**click on a photo in the gallery to open a slide show)

Along the trail Jim went ahead to take some photos of us walking us up the trail, but as he did so I noticed the branches of the bushes shaking on the hill above him.  I called out that there was a bear there, and sure enough not 12 feet away out walked a large brown bear.  Jim came back to where the group was and the bear made its way up the hill.  Phew!

There was another bear sighting on the way up the trail when we saw the Momma Brown bear with her four cubs on the other side of the creek.  She could see us clearly as we were on the trail only about 50 feet from us and we were making her a bit nervous.  It’s not a good thing to make a momma bear nervous so we walked on by.

We made it to the next ranger station where there is a deck built over the river, and a bear blind right on the river at bear’s eye level.  Only five people at a time can go into the blind, so we signed up for our time slot then spent a few hours on the deck just gazing down at the incredible show.  It was absolutely amazing to see these huge beautiful animals in their natural environment and we were impressed with the low impact that our presence seemed to have on the bears.  They were much more concerned with each other and with getting their share of salmon than they were in watching us watching them!

We saw numerous eagles young and old, two sets of brown bears with cubs, a lone brown bear, and five black bears of various ages all within a very small area at the mouth of Anan Creek.  One of the browns was a female with four baby cubs born this year and the second female had three cubs that were a year or so old.

These are photos of the female brown bear with the four cubs born this year.  The cubs would play and run all over while Momma Brown was fishing.  She looked pretty tired and hungry and was very wary of the other bears nearby.

These are photos of a female brown bear with three cubs that were born at least a year or so ago.  The rangers had named her “Donna” and one of her cubs was getting a reputation as a trouble maker.  We spoke with one of the rangers who was from Louisiana and had just started working at the observatory.  His first bear encounter was when Donna charged him, stood on her hind feet right in front of him, made some noise and snorted at him, then (thankfully) turned and walked away.

These photos are of the black bears on the river.  The blacks are actually afraid of the brown bears and it’s very unusual for them to be so close together on the creek.  The blacks stayed close to the creek and hid in caves made by the huge rocks.  A couple of them were obviously older and wiser, only coming out of their cave to quickly grab a fish then squeeze back into the cave to eat in safety.  The younger blacks stayed higher on the hill were very wary of the other bears, only running down to the creek to get a fish, then haul it back up the hill to a safe place where they could eat it.

There was also a lone brown bear who seemed fairly young, fishing by him/herself on the side of the creek across from the other bears.  When I was down in the bear blind on the river I was literally 10 feet from him watching as he swam and fished and chowed down on salmon.

So there you have it, our day with the bears.  It was something we’ll never forget, seeing these giants interacting with each other in their own environment.  I’m not sure how to describe it really; primal, heart-stopping, awe-inspiring, humorous, and just plain WOW.  I hope you enjoy our photographic attempts to display a little bit of our day with the bears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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