Thursday, 16 September 2010

A Moment of Crisis - the Bear Truth.

Since I have many, several, may be one or two? astute readers out there, I am sure that most of you have noticed that I have a new header for my blog. Just look at those lubbly jubbly bears up there. And look at the face of the poor, long suffering mother bear. You can almost hear her thinking "Don't make me come over there..........if I have to come over there......." Alternatively, she could be thinking "Four!?! FOUR!?! One would have been plenty, thank you very much!"

So, I have been to Alaska, to Katmai National Park, located on the Alaska Peninsula. This wilderness park, the size of Wales, is the place to go if you want to see brown bears, aka grizzly bears. The whole brown bear / grizzly bear thing is all a bit confusing, but as far as I can work it out, the grizzly bear is a subspecies of the brown bear and it is this subspecies that is found in Alaska and British Columbia. There, that is enough educational content for this post. Let's move on to the photos.........

To get to Katmai National Park, you need a float plane (or a boat and lots of time and seasickness medication). Now, I am not overly fond of small planes that have a habit of tipping over when they land on water, entombing you and dooming you to a cold and watery grave, but then I am even less of a fan of hours and hours of stomach churning sea faring, so we opted for the plane. The flight was flawless and we landed without a single hitch - that is until we noticed that our luggage, which was on a slightly later flight, seemed to be taking a very, very long time to arrive.

Me: "Excuse, but I don't suppose you know where our luggage is, do you?"

Guy who looks like he might know something: "Is it not here yet?"

Me: "Nope, just checked. It isn't sleeping with the fishes, is it?"

Gwllhmks: "Oh no, nothing like that, I suspect it is just being held up."

Me (rather sarcastically): "Oh, what might cause a luggage delay here? The baggage handlers haven't gone on strike have they?"

Gwllhmks: "Oh no, nothing like that. Go down to the beach and have a look. That will probably answer your question."

Hmmmmm, what kind of answer is that? So, slightly mystified, I trundle off to the beach and, sure enough, there is my answer. It is large, brown, very hairy and softly snoring right behind the plane on which my luggage is ensconced. Well, I have to admit that that is the best excuse that I have ever heard for delayed luggage.

"I am sorry, Ma'am, but there is a bear preventing us from off loading your luggage."



And so we arrived in Katmai. Our luggage was being safely guarded by a sleepy bear and we were then met by the welcoming committee - one mother bear and her four cubs. We had only been there 10 minutes and I already had enough photos to fill five editions of National Geographic (I am talking volume here, not quality). But just look at these adorable little characters...........


After the obligatory safety talk (don't feed the bears honey or pic-a-nic baskets, don't poke the bears with sticks and, whatever you do, no matter how tempted you might be, don't go up and try to hug one or try to squash one of the baby bears into your bag to take home), we headed off in search of bears. This proved to be surprisingly easy, and before we had even crossed the bridge to head out to the river and the falls where the bears like to gather, we had spotted several. Crossing the bridge, however, proved to be a little more tricky and things all got a bit dicey a couple of times. At the safety talk (I was actually listening, honestly), we were told we had to stay at least 50 yards away from all bears and that bears always have the right of way (like I was going to be arguing with a 500lb stinky ball of hair covered in teeth and claws). So, when we saw a bear approaching us, I calmly turned around and told Mum that we should head back down the path. Oh, wait, there was another bear walking up the path behind us. Ahhh....hmmmm, perhaps we should nip into the woods a bit? Oh....oh dear.....there seems to be a bear heading towards from that direction too.


Have you ever wondered exactly how you would react in a real crisis, where lives might be on the line? Do you imagine yourself being all cool, calm and collected, saving the children and the pregnant women first and sacrificing yourself for the greater good? Well, here was my reaction:

Me (while grabbing my mother and pushing her between me and the nearest bear): "Take her. She is old. She has lived her life. I am still young; I have my whole life ahead of me! And I am one of her beneficiaries!"

Mum (not to be outdone): "No, take her; she is still young and tender. I am old and stringy. She has much more flesh on her bones."

Mum (as an aside to me): "Right, that is it; you are out of the will!"

Luckily for us, one of the bears decided to head off the path, down to the beach, leaving us an escape route. So, I pushed past my mother and made my escape. To be fair, I did pull her along behind me and did not completely abandon her to the other two bears. Not that any of them looked particularly interested in eating either one of us - they had salmon on their minds.....

Anyhoo, we did finally manage to reach the bridge and, after about half an hour of patiently waiting for the lounging bear to remove itself from the ramp leading onto the bridge, we finally made it to the viewing platforms above the Brooks River Falls. This is where all the heavyweights of the bear world were ..........



At its busiest, I counted 17 bears at the falls or just below them. The biggest and strongest bears got the best spots, right on or in the falls, while the smaller, younger bears were relegated to slightly less desirable real estate just downstream. Each bear seemed to favour its own fishing technique, probably related to how it was taught to fish and the location of the fishing site.

Here we can see what I term the "snorkelling" techniques, where the bear shoves its head under the water and wanders around looking for salmon.


Seemed to work for this guy.........


Then we have the "watch and leap" technique. All very energetic and entertaining, but not so successful.


The most successful of all of the bears was this one, who used the "wait until it leaps into your mouth" technique.


This guy was so patient, just staring into the water, not moving a muscle until, bam, a fish jumped close enough and his jaws slammed shut. And so ends the monumental and epic journey of a salmon........


........and the bear enjoys another salmon supper.



Another technique is the "sitting in the jacuzzi" technique.



Quite a few bears favoured this technique and they appeared to just be sitting there, but they must have been doing something under the water to locate the fish, since every-so-often a head would dive under the water and a salmon would be caught........



..........or perhaps not.



Now, bears are generally solitary animals, a little bit grumpy and a lot antisocial, so having so many bears in such a small area inevitably lead to a couple of arguments over fishing rights and territory. Many of the bears show wounds and scars to attest to the ferocity of some of the fights.




And, of course, you have to start training even while very young.......



There was also competition with the idiots fishermen who go to Katmai in search of a prize salmon. Quite frankly, I think you have to be a bit soft in the head to willingly stand around surrounded by salmon and a lot of hungry bears.


Just a couple more photos to finish off this post. Of course, if you want to see even more, you can always go to my Facebook page. Just remember........enough photos to fill five editions of National Geographic....... Don't say I didn't warn you..........


Spot the Bear

A Bear Bum.........snigger.....sorry, I couldn't help myself.

18 comments:

Moon said...

Just brilliant... loved the 4 bears and the one giving a super right hook !.. reminds me of our childhood !

jabblog said...

Fabulous sequence and great narrative. I'm glad your close encounter with bears had a happy ending - well, of course, or I couldn't have just read about it, could I? The one that made me laugh the most was the bear guarding the plane - let sleeping bears snore!

English Mum said...

I've had to tweet this because these really are quite the most incredible photos I've ever seen. Does anyone ever get eaten? Like the odd fisherman or...erm... photographer?

Suldog said...

I have to admit, a bear sitting by the baggage compartment is probably the best excuse I've ever heard for a delay in getting one's luggage! Great pics!

Cortes said...

Love the new post header. Love the photos and the story. Will not likely go hiking anywhere with you, knowing how prepared you are to sacrifice your companions. Really do like reading about your adventures! This one was full of smiles!

Sistertex said...

Awesome!!!

Never seen so many bears in one place before, not so sure I want to unless I have more than a bridge as an escape route... ;)

I loved the photo of the bear looking down the blurred falls. Gorgeous, just spectacular, all of them and the narrative as well.
Thanks so much for sharing, I really enjoyed it.

Don't Bug Me! said...

Moon: I had the same thought......

Jabblog: Absolutely - always let sleeping bears snore.

EM: So far, no one has been eaten. At least, that is what the rangers tell me. Actually, the rangers don't even carry guns, just pepper spray, and none of them have even had to use that. I suppose if you have the choice of eating my Mum or a nice piece of salmon, you choose the fish.

Suldog: Not an excuse you very often, to be sure.

Cortes: I am a beneficiary on your will? If not, then I am less likely to sacrifice you to the bears.

Sistertex: The bear on the falls is one of my favourite shots too, along with the same bear catching the salmon. Classic shot, the one that I was hoping to get from the minute I booked the holiday.

Robyn said...

These photos are magnificent and I would like to link to this post to share with other bloggers.

Really magical and I am so glad that I landed here today.

best wishes and thank you for sharing this wonderufl experience with us all.

Don't Bug Me! said...

Hi Robyn! Thanks for the compliments and feel free to link to this post - I am flattered.

Moon said...

I was thinking, if both you and Mum did get eaten ... hmmmm $$$$$$$$ !!

Don't Bug Me! said...

Moon: You have a point, but all the bears were too stuffed on salmon to even consider us, I think.

Jay said...

What a fantastic post!! Such a great experience and you brought it all over to us poor mortals ...

Your photos are stunning, and I love the bear bum, but especially the 'wait until the fish jumps into your mouth' shot!

Katherine said...

Everyone has taken all the superlatives. Bother. I'm going to get in early with your new post and see if I can guess the Disgusting Thing.

Carolina said...

And again you had me laughing out loud a couple of times (the bear bum for instance, which I think is priceless, but not the only occasion where I laughed out loud, so you know I do have a certain level). Your photos are simply stunning and gorgeous and lovely and I only wish I could make photos like that. WONDERFUL POST and I'm going to pull hubs off the couch and MAKE him read this.

Johnny Nutcase said...

well holy crap! These are just fantastic (and i'm painfully jealous! i've been to AK but only saw grizz scat). you got some AWESOME shots!! love the story too! I just saw some grizz in Montana last month but the encounters were nuthin like this :) Great stuff! Love the banner!

Don't Bug Me! said...

Jay: I have even more photos of the just missed the fish in the mouth shot.

Katherine: Well done with the Disgusting Thing - such a smart thing, aren't you?

Carolina: Ahh, the old bear bum humour - gets me everytime. I have never claimed to be very sophisticated.......

Nutcase: A compliment from you is a compliment indeed! This is definitely the place to go to see bears in all their glory.

Cottage Sisters said...

Awesome pictures! I am so jealous....bears are on my list of things I want to photograph! Denise

Don't Bug Me! said...

Cottage sisters: You definitely need to go to Brooks River Falls then - just make sure that you go in July when the salmon are running.