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Bear Viewing – Kodiak Style

June 12, 2010

In my last post, I mentioned my three-week work/play trip to Kodiak Island last August and the incredibly large Kodiak Brown Bears which reside there and on Katmai.  While there, I went on a bear viewing trip and have had that story on my mind ever since the last post , so I thought I’d share it again.  For those of you who have already heard it, I hope you don’t mind.

Kodiak Island  is situated in the Gulf of Alaska and is very near the Katmai Coast where the famous grizzly bears reside…not that the Kodiak brown bears aren’t famous in their own right, being the largest of all land carnivores after polar bears, but I digress.

Bear viewing is one of the main attractions in Alaska for locals and tourists alike, so it’s not surprising I found myself flying shotgun in a 4 seater Bush Hawke float plane with the intention of spending a few hours looking for some bears to “view”.    The hour-long flight to the Katmai Coast took us over the island of Kodiak (bears and elk below) and the Shelikof Strait (grey whales below) to Geographic Harbor, which is one Bay over from where the infamous Timothy Treadwell met his demise.  In fact, our morbid curiosity made us ask the pilot to fly over the site of the attack on the way back to Kodiak.

After landing and anchoring the plane, the four of us gathered our little bit of gear, which included nothing more sinister than a single can of bear spray and headed up the beach.   Thinking the red and white plane might make a nice picture against the bay and surrounding mountains, I turned around  to take the shot and lo’ and behold there was  a sow and her 300lb “cub” ambling down the beach towards us.  Um, excuse me mister pilot, but we seem to have company.  No zoo fences between us and them, nowhere to go except into the water or straight up a rock wall, no trees or large rocks to hide behind…..just the 4 of us and the two of them and a narrow stip of beach…..should be interesting.

The pilot (picture Doogie Howser, not Indiana Jones) calmly asked us step the few feet back toward the cliff wall and gather together in a group.  He cautioned us not to make any sudden moves or noises while he kept up a steady monologue as they got closer and closer.  All eyes were glued on their slow motion approach.  100ft.  80ft.  60ft.  40ft.  20ft.  And then they were directly  in front of us (maybe 30 ft away) and then, with barely (no pun intended) a turn of their heads, they passed on by and were on their way softly huffing and chuffing as they went.

Oh my, that was quite the experience, but other than keeping an eye on us, the bears seemed as though they couldn’t have cared less about our presence.  The pilot too didn’t seem ruffled in the least.  Not once did he make a move for the bear spray which stayed holstered on his hip.   I’ve wondered if he is like flight attendants in that they are trained to look serene and as if nothing is amiss even when the plane is plummeting toward the ground.

Our target destination was up at the head of the Bay where the salmon stream enters and where a few bears were already gathered.  This is surely where our two bruin friends were headed and since we were all going in the same direction, we gave them a couple of minutes head start and then fell in right behind them.  How bizarre it was to follow two grizzly bears… on foot…on purpose…to their feeding grounds.

Welcome to Alaska.

Earlier, the pilot had mentioned something about a grassy knoll (no, not that one) that would be our viewing spot.  I figured it was well off to the side somewhere out of the way of the now 6 bears.  Not so much.  He led us to a patch of grass immediately next to the salmon stream.  We had bears to our left and bears to our right and bears to our front.  Talk about bear viewing!  I trusted Doogie’s judgment completely.  He does this every day for about four months a year and has done so for many years.  He explained about reading the bears and how they dictate where and how close he takes his customers.  I guess we were lucky that the only fully grown male was a really old guy, the rest were sub adults, sows, and cubs.  If there had been males in their prime, he said we would not have gotten nearly as close as we did.  Lucky us.

We stood in that spot for almost 2 hours watching them fish, play, and sleep.  They often walked by us, as close as 20-30 feet again seeming indifferent to our presence.  Twice we had to move out of the way because we were in their line of travel, but once they passed, we resumed our position next to the stream.  More bears came from many directions.  The cutest was the mother bear hanging back behind the bushes shyly sticking her head up every now and then to get a lay of the land before coming out.  When she finally got comfortable, out she came with not one, not two, but three babies.  In addition to that little family, we were joined by  2 sub adults and a mom  with her baby.  I guess the final count of bears we got to watch was around a twelve to fourteen.  It was awesome!  I’ve got tons of great photos.  Way too many to post, but I’ve included a representative few.  Did I mention that we were the only people around?  Unlike bear viewing in the nearby Katmai National Park, we had the place to ourselves and there were no electric fences or viewing platforms or park rangers to contend with.

If any of you find yourselves in Kodiak, please look up Kyle at Kingfisher Aviation.

Stay tuned.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lucinda Denton permalink
    June 12, 2010 9:57 am

    Oh my, what an adventure and your pictures are so clear and well composed that I expect to hear the rushing water, cry from the gulls and a snort from mama bear.

  2. Lil Eubanks permalink
    June 13, 2010 10:59 pm

    I think this is how I make a comment to Margie on her blog. If I’m wrong, I hope someone will let me know. I had to put this comment on the Eagle River posting because I think I stood in that very same spot that you did when we were at Eagle River and I did the nature hike there, when we visited you last summer. I also wanted to say that even though I read your Kodiak Bear story and saw the pictures last year, I enjoyed hearing about it again. I wanted to tell you that even though I haven’t commented before, I’m really enjoying your blog. With your talent for writing and your great photography skills, I think there might be a book about your travel adventures in your future. You might consider submitting some articles to some of the RV magazines. Thanks again for including us in your mailing list. Take care Lil

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