Sunday, June 8, 2008

Admiralty Island Bear Photos

I've been asked to add a few photos from my recent trip to Pack Creek. The bear on the left is a young female maybe 5 years old. They normally don't breed successfully on Admiralty until they're 7-8 years old but that doesn't mean the males aren't interested. The post behind her is about 40 feet from the viewing spit we were standing on. So she's obviously much closer.She wasn't any threat to us in fact she was probably just trying to avoid the big guy in the next photo.

When the above bear appeared this large male stopped eating and started huffing and puffing trying to get a good wiff to see if she was shall we say "in the mood". He's looking over at her in th e picture. Fortunately, he didn't seem to mind her using us as interference.

She was most concerned with him but also wanted to test us. After we shouted at her when she was within nearly 10 feet of us she changed course very slightly and continued on by while keeping a close eye on us. I'm still getting used to my new Nikon D40. I deliberately over exposed some of the shots because another local Alaskan told me over exposing dark animals like brown bears makes the details in the fur and eyes stand out. It worked okay but it's a bit much.
After she made a wide arc around him he must have been thirsty from all the huffing so he decided to get a drink.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

May and June in Southeast Alaska

It's been awhile since I've posted with lots happening now that the days are longer and field work has begun. I spent the first part of May doing deer pellet surveys (counting piles of poop). Normally we would have started in April but there was too much snow again this year. So we had to wait until May and even after waiting there were lots of places we had to because of too much snow even at less than 700 feet elevation. But we went to some pretty cool places like Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof and Prince of Wales Island to name a few. It was kind of cool and a bit spooky bushwhacking through some of the most densely populated brown bear country in North America.

Nature is always fascinating and even though it can be harsh. We saw quite a bit of evidence of this while out doing surveys. I came upon the bones of a black bear cub that had been eaten by wolves on P.O.W. island. We saw some cubs and subadult black and brown bears that seemed to be having a tough spring. But there were also alot of animals that seem to be doing well like the Sea Lions hauled out on the south end of Catherine Island and all the seals, porpoises and humpback whales that were out feeding in the frigid waters around the islands we worked on. We need those kinds of sights around here to put up with the short rainy days in the fall.

After returning from all the deer pellet work we had just a few days to get settled before we headed to Pack Creek again. I got there around June 22 last year and it was cool to see the bears feeding out in the meadows and occasionally see a subadult bear approach close but things didn't really pick up until the salmon run in July. This trip was quite different and definitely kept us on our toes. We rode out there in the 19 ft work skiff for almost five hours in 3-4 foot seas. While we weren't in any danger, it wasn't exactly enjoyable except for the fact that it was sunny and the mountains were spectacular. Well at least when I could see them once in awhile after my eyes finally stopped burning from all the salt water that would crash over the bow and soak my classes and rain gear. After we arrived at our camp on Windfall Island we had to set up the wall tent and then we were finally able to relax for a bit while one of our coworkers that flew out earlier made steaks on the fire.

The next day we used the skiff to cart a 250 gallon tank back and forth between Admiralty and Windfall Island were we keep our camp. This involved the use of three fire pumps which the forest service has on back packs for firefighting. Basically a pump with a lawnmower type pull start. We could only fill the tank with 150 gallons of water at time or the boat wouldn't be able to go fast enough to get anything accomplished. The guys that have worked there for years developed a really efficient system so that in less than five hours we had shuttled 7 or 8 tank fulls which was enough to fill the 1,000 gallon tank on our island with some left over for to flush the filters.

The next task was to go over to pack creek and take care of several downed trees that were lying across the trails. In some places they would just let them be but we can't do that because if people veer too far off the trail they could surprise one of the bears that frequent the area. After we finished cutting the trees and hauling wood off the trails we walked up to the viewing tower a mile into the woods. It's a very cool spot and the beavers were quite active over the winter so we noticed some new damns and as if we had planned it they thinned a few of the areas that were blocking some of the better bear viewing so that will help at least a bit this season.

Finally, on June 1st my coworker and I went over to the south spit to meet a plane with visitors and upon arriving noticed a subadult that we think we recognized from last year. The bear wasn't afraid of us and frequently when young they'll approach to "test" you. They get sick of being bullied by the other bears but also don't have mom around as back up so it's almost like they decide to see if they can find a situation where they can be the boss.

We always stand our ground and sometimes even have to give them some gentle encouragement to move away if they get too close. Since the young bear was coming we moved away from the treeline so we could pay attention to what it was doing and keep on eye on our human guests as well.

The bear headed down the beach past us and then suddenly ran off the down the beach after it heard something in the trees nearby. As we watched and listened we soon heard some brush moving and saw a young female bear pop out of the woods. Then we heard branches breaking like all hell was breaking loose inside the trees and a huge male came out huffing and puffing following her sent all the way down the beach until she jogged away. We waited about 20 minutes since that was the direction we were headed and then we walked around the corner to the viewing spit only to see the male out eating sedges. He was such and impressive animal with huge hump and probably as big as any bear I saw last year except that this spring and this bear will gain a ton more weight by the time it dens up for the winter after feasting on salmon, berries and plants.

After about a 1/2 hour the female popped out of the woods and the male started huffing again so she came right up to us probably for protection from him. Despite our shouting she came withing about 8 feet before stopping and then barely changed course as she walked along about 6 feet away from me. It's pretty amazing how much more I know than last year. This bear was closer than any I've ever seen an yet I wasn't nearly as nervous as the beginning of last summer when they would come within 30 feet. Anyway thankfully the male stayed out in the sedge until she was well clear of us and then decided to move on off after her. She seemed somewhat interested but I guess they wanted some privacy so we never got to see if she

The next day we got to see a sow and cub from last year and the cub was over 100 lbs. It's pretty amazing watching these coastal brown bears knowing that the bears on the Alaska Peninsula are even bigger and not quite as big as the bears on Kodiak! I was recently sent photos of an 11 year old black bear sow from MN that weighed only 165lbs.

The final bit of drama was when the same young subadult from the day before was out eating sedge and then got chased by the female right toward the viewing spit! The young bear ran around us within 50 feet but the female just ran right across the edge of the spit within 25-30 feet at a full sprint. Well I guess that's all for now. I'm hoping that after the first two days the rest of the season won't seem boring. But I doubt that since we've gotten reports of lots of cubs this year and a group of film makers from PBS are shooting an episode called "Fortress of the Bears" due to air hopefully next winter. There's even a slight chance that some of us will be on the show although I'm guessing it won't be the new guy.

Check out this website for some of the photos I took. I'll add more here later if I have time.