Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer of 2009 in Southeast Alaska

The spring and summer have been the busiest I can ever remember. This year seems to have been almost the exact opposite of last summer. Instead of thirty plus straight days of rain we've had long periods of sunshine with record high temperatures. I think there were about 14 consecutive sunny days in both May and July with lots of partly sunny days mixed in. June was a bit wet but still no one can complain after the summer of 2008 or as we all said what summer?

What's been happining since I last wrote? I spent most of May and the beginning of June coordinating deer pellet surveys throughout the region. I was a manager for many years in the hectic EMS industry but I don't think I was ever quite so busy as this spring. Thankfully I had lots of coworkers and volunteers that helped conduct deer pellet surveys in over 50 different locations many of which could only be reached by boat or floatplane which meant they were dependent on the weather. It was a lot of work but it felt good to have the experience and to realize that even though I'm not a seasoned veteran I'm no longer the brand new guy.

I went straight from the deer pellet trips back to one of my favorite places of all, Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area. It hasn't been the busiest year with bear numbers or people numbers but the dull moments don't last long when you work around unpredictable wild animals in close proximity to people.

We've had several subadult bears attempt to push us around which is always interesting. Imagine you're a brown bear cub that spent the last 3 years with 500 lbs of protection in the form of a huge fur covered sow with 3 inch long claws and sharp teeth that's always close by. Then suddenly in the spring of your 3rd year of life she turns on you and sends you off on your own so she can breed. Now your essentially a teenager without any back up and trying to make sense of the world. Everywhere you go there's other bears that might be dangerous so you spend your days looking over your shoulder and running away a lot. Except there are these two legged critters(humans) that have never behaved threateningly because you live in a bear sanctuary. So why not see if you can push them around a bit? That's essentially what happens to us every year. What makes things interesting is that a 3 year old sub adult brown bear can be bigger than some adult black bears and are equipped with bigger teeth and claws. We've had a few of these young bears approach within 20-40 feet of us on several occasions. It's very interesting to watch despite the fact that it can occasionally make the visitors nervous. Since we carry bear spray and a rifle we're never really in too much danger as long as we don't get careless. However, nobody has had to spray a bear at Pack Creek in over a decade and no bears have ever been shot there so none of us wants to be the first.

Lots of drama this year at the viewing area. We had one of my favorite sows come out with two beautiful new spring cubs and spend almost 3 hours trying to convince them to cross the creek and come closer to us on the viewing spit. The cubs would have no part of it until she finally picked them up in her mouth and dropped them in the water. I'll never forget they're wild animals but watching a sow with cubs in an area where she feels safe enough to behave naturally is surreal. 5 days later we got a harsh reminder of how tough life is for a bear cub when the sow came back with only one cub. Large males will occasionally kill cubs and we found positive evidence to confirm that was this little one's unfortunate fate. Happily the single remaining cub has put on lots of weight since it's gets all the milk to itself and doesn't have to share any fish or other food with any other cubs. He's been quite the crowd pleaser running after mom trying to learn how to catch fish and occasionally chasing ravens for fun or nursing in full view of 8-12 people.

Thanks to my girlfriend Allie and some incredibly generous friends I've got more fish in my freezer and some friends freezers than I know what to do with. I've caught all five species of salmon this year most notably my first King Salmon and my first Sockeye on a fly rod. I guess $300.00+ in fly fishing gear I had to get at least one keeper on a fly rod:) Allie and I even caught a 62 inch halibut July 4th! Quite the mind blowing experience to watch my friend Chris harpoon it(it took three tries but who's counting?) and then tied it off to the boat. Always adding to the fun in Coastal Alaska are the marine mammals. We came across a baby humpback whale tale slapping and breaching like crazy on the way back that day and we've seen bubble feeding humpbacks, orca feeding on salmon and many other critters. One crazy day my friend Randy caught a 40 inch long King Salmon and had to fend off a harbor seal that took the fish for about 5 minutes during the fight! Definitely a new experience for me to have to worry about the potential for marine mammals trying to steal a fish off the stringer or the fishing pole.

Well that's about all the time I have for an update at this point. I sure miss my friends and family down south. In case you guys aren't sure how this works. Planes can come to AK just as easily as they can leave from Alaska.:) I hope everyone is having an amazing summer! I'll try to put up some photos when I get a chance.