It’s a rare, sunny, blue-sky, August day on the Katmai Coast. There’s a nice breeze that is keeping the bugs at bay. I can see bears fishing in the river and others walking the beach toward the mouth of the bay. I am eager to finish breakfast and hit the beach.
The tide is low this morning as we skiff out, necessitating landing at a beach and then walking a good way to the river mouth and the bear activity.
We are walking on the sea floor, exposed twice a day by the massive tidal flows. As the tide comes in, the brackish bay tends to be saltier, and as the tide recedes, the freshwater river continues to flow into the bay tending it less salty. The salmon spend time in these brackish waters to allow their bodies to adjust before they can swim up the freshwater river. We walk around baby mussel shoals, tiny iridescent bivalves adhered like gorilla glue to the sand and each other.
We are in the Land of Ten Thousand Smokes, and everything here is covered in century-old volcanic ash. The exposed volcanic sand looks like grains, oblong and tan, but is nearly weightless like pumice. I’m fascinated by it, picking up handfuls and watching it run through my fingers.
Closer to our viewing area we encounter many trails of brown bear prints, a rare river otter print and the ever-present gulls.
We cross from sand, through narrow channels of fast-moving, bone-chilling waters to sand again. The mossy rocks can be slippery, and in shin-deep water, it doesn’t take much for the current to sweep you off your feet.
We stop to let a bear pass. She is just coming out of the thick grass along the shore at the head of the bay. She has the right-of-way, and we don’t want to displace her. Once we see where she is going, we can continue on a route away from her.
We settled onto our gravel bar and spent the day marveling at all of the bear activity.
There’s a sow with a single fat cub that is more successful in catching fish than any other bear we’ll see on this trip.
An old male approached her while she and her cub were eating a salmon on shore. She stood up, squared up to him, stared him in the eye, and he retreated.
A while, and many fish, later he approached again. This time the sow and cub retreated and let him take the fish. They didn’t go far, and after he tore off a couple of bites, the sow charged back at him.
The cub stood up on hind legs. This is cub speak for “oh no! danger!” The smaller male took the fish and ran off at full speed. The sow’s message was clear, “Just because I let you have this one, don’t think I’m an easy mark.”
Maybe the cost:benefit has changed since his first approach. She and her cub’s bellies are getting full, this fish isn’t as important as that earlier one when they were still hungry?
A sow with three small, very wary, spring cubs is fishing a side channel. I can’t see the water between the grasses from where I sit, but she dips down out of sight and comes back up with a fish from time to time.
She is sort of hidden and out of the way of the other bears. The fact that she is focused on fishing shows how comfortable she is. Her cubs are another story. They are concerned about all of the other bears – if one moves closer, if a new one shows up if one is charging through the water after a fish.
There was a lot of “oh no! danger!” going on. These adorable faces kept popping up in the grass, reminiscent of Star Wars Ewoks. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Returning from lunch, these three cubs were all up on hind legs wailing. I heard them before I saw them. It was a very distressful sound. I was just as worried as they were.
Why would these cubs be all alone on the tidal flats and so distressed if their mom was around and able to do something about it? “What happened to their mom?!”, I worried. Then she came charging out to them.
They ran toward her and all nuzzled in greeting. All was well. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
This large boar fished peacefully among the sows and cubs, at one point yielding a preferred trail to a female with her cubs. His fishing technique was to sit on the shore and wait for the perfect moment to belly flop into a deep pool.
He was fairly successful. Like the bear fishing this part of the river yesterday, he took his salmon safely into the alders to eat it.
These two spring cubs are much more confidant than the triplets. Although they stay close to mom, they are playing and dawdling while she fishes in the river.
A different set of triplets are also more comfortable in their surroundings, lingering some distance from their mom. It’s hard to keep up when there are so many interesting things to investigate and play with. Abruptly they all stopped.
Two sought refuge in the grasses. Oh no! Danger! The other didn’t think it was anything to worry about and carried on. His siblings look worried about that brazen decision.
From my vantage point, I have no idea what caused the alarm.
Whatever caused these two cubs to go on high alert also caught the attention of their mom. She’s not alarmed, but she’s definitely on alert and they are all moving purposefully away from the river.
I could stay here forever, in this gorgeous scenery, watching these magnificent animals, but there are more bays to explore and more adventures to be had. We pulled anchor in the afternoon and sailed out toward Kunka Bay.