One Bear Came Out To Play.......

Trip Start Jun 05, 2012
Trip End Jul 01, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday morning and I was picked up at 7.00 the shuttle from Rust's Flying Service (despite the name, one of Alaska most renowned services) to go to the Lake Hood seaplane airport in Anchorage, for a 1-hour flight across the Cook Inlet and down the coast to Redoubt Bay Lodge, situated on Big River Lake, in the Lake Clark National Park close to the active volcano of Mount Redoubt. The aim of the day was to sight some bears - either black or brown bears, as both inhabit the area.  

We were flown out by Dan, our pilot, in a De Havilland Otter, a 10-seater float-plane - my first experience of taking off and landing on water (I'd been told how terrifying landing on water could be - absolutely not so, the landing at both ends was smoother and better than on dry land, though the weather and water was calm in both cases).  We flew along the coast of the Cook Inlet, seeing some pretty amazing landscape of extensive and unpopulated coastal marsh, with river outflows, patchy forest and off-shore natural gas rigs.
When we landed at Redoubt Bay Lodge, a very secluded place only reachable by float-plane, we hooked up with our guide Kyle  (a dead ringer for a young Matt Damon), who ferried us out onto the lake in a pontoon boat  We headed for an area where Wolverine Lake empties into Big River Lake via a narrow creek, forming a small beach in one corner of Big River Lake.  This is apparently a favourite spot for bears to fish. 

This is currently the Red "Sockeye" Salmon season, when the fish reach the lake in large numbers before spawning and dying.  The salmon start off in their normal silver colouration, then gradually the males turn red and eventually die after spawning is completed.  The brown bears come down to the lake to catch the salmon, an easy source of catchable high-protein food while they fill the shallows in large numbers.  This supplements the bears usual diet of berries and other vegetation - an adult bear might eat up to 35lbs of salmon in a day.

The bears also have to compete with human anglers who also flood the area in salmon season, fishing off special Parks permits which limit them to 3 fish per person per day.  But Kyle told us that the bears are unconcerned about the presence of the anglers just off shore, as they are usually quiet and respectful of the bears and are not seen as any kind of threat by them.

We waited just off shore from the beach, in amongst the anglers who were busily landing salmon almost one after another.  We passed the time looking at other things of interest - rock formations, a juvenile Bald Eagle (later being chased off by an adult eagle), watching the salmon, some red though most still silver (the reds are not favoured by the anglers, as this is a sign they are already deteriorating before dying, and thus are less tasty to eat).

Eventually we decided to move on as there was no bear activity (as Kyle reminded us, the bears just "do their thing" at random, this is nature and is totally unpredictable).  A few minutes further out into the lake Kyle got a radio call from one of the anglers to say there was a bear on the beach - you'd swear he had just been waiting for us to leave before showing himself !  We turned back and I could see it, distant at first, ambling across the beach, then it turned to head up the "creek" towards the undergrowth.  I managed to grab a couple of shots in between watching through binoculars - but this bear didn't linger very long and then disappeared from view.  But hey, this was a wild coastal Brown Bear (bigger than a Grizzly) and I saw it at fairly close quarters - that was enough to make the whole day worthwhile for me.

We then tried a couple of other possible bear haunts around the lake shore, but the Bruins were not in a sociable mood today and we saw no others.  So eventually we headed back to the lodge and had a very nice lunch (black bean soup, salmon cake on focaccia, salad) cooked by the team at the lodge.  We then had a spell chilling out on the deck overlooking the lake, as the sun had broken out nicely - hard to imagine that, as our guide told us earlier, the lodge area had seen 27 feet of snow last winter and they had to dig it out in March.  

Then our return plane arrived and we boarded a small Cessna for the flight back to Anchorage, piloted by Bob (great landing by him back in Anchorage). On the flight Bob spotted two Beluga whales, exactly at the point where outbound pilot Dan had earlier predicted they would appear.  I grabbed a shot but all you can see is a tiny pure white blob - but it's cool because that makes up my set of the "big" Alaskan whales - Humpback, Orca and Beluga - so that rounded off the trip nicely.

After landing I was shuttled back to my hotel in Anchorage, where the late afternoon sun has been very pleasant,and a nice dinner is in order for this evening.  I just have to choose where.

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