A week in Bear Country

From the time we entered Alaska, we have seen bears often. Sometimes a lone bear, sometimes a mother and cub, we enjoy watching them all. We have taken pictures each time, but they are usually so far away that the pictures just look faintly like bear shaped blobs. Along our journey we made friends with some fellow Krogen boat owners who had extra tickets to visit Pack Creek, a bear viewing area near Windfall Bay. They offered their extra tickets to us, and we gladly accepted. As it turned out, there were a total of 5 Krogens in the harbor, so we had a mini Krogen rendezvous. There’s nothing like comparing notes with fellow boat owners in beautiful surroundings.

Krogen Corner at Windfall Bay
So green, you’d think it was Hawaii

This remote area can only be reached by boat or floatplane. The park is administered by both the Forest Service and the Department of Fish and Game. Their goal is to keep the habitat completely natural for the bears, but to habituate them to seeing people in certain areas. Visitors are briefed on how to behave, where to walk, etc. Bears have the right of way here, so if a bear is on the path, it’s the people who need to give way or stay still, and the ranger will tell them which action is appropriate. One viewing area is delineated by a low barrier of fallen logs. The people stay inside, the bears stay on the outside. It’s almost as if the people are the ones in the cage, only there’s no cage. A ranger is present at all times. The other viewing area is a raised platform over a river where you can watch the bears hunt for salmon. This platform is reached by walking a one-mile trail through the forest, and a ranger is not present for this. In the park’s history, no people or bears have ever been harmed, so their plan seems to be working. We enjoyed being able to watch the bears do what bears do, and we witnessed some of their daily dramas. We would never have witnessed these things without spending time just sitting and waiting, because the bears aren’t there to perform, they are just living life. So we sat in rain. We sat in wind. We sat with bugs swarming and biting. We sat or stood with cameras and binoculars ready. And all that time was well worth it.

View from the platform

Bears are amazingly quick and agile for their size. They seem to be all muscle. They spend their time moving from place to place and eating along the way. They eat grass and berries. They catch and eat fish. They dig up clams when the tide is out, and crunch them up, shells and all. It’s amazing to see the ease with which they can turn over a heavy rock to look for crabs and bugs. These bears look cuddly and fluffy, but they are strong. We loved watching them as they ran through the creeks, splashing water everywhere, and then pounced on a salmon.

Splash splash, salmon dash

We loved watching the mothers with their cubs. I especially love when they stand on their hind legs and look around like giant groundhogs.

A bear outstanding in his field

Here is a bear mama drama that we witnessed: One bear had a cub that ran off both days we were there. This cub just ran willy-nilly into the forest without concern. The other cubs we saw tended to stay pretty close to their mothers. This cub’s mother eventually became concerned and we could see her standing up to look for him. Then she headed off to find him. We wanted to tell her, “Hey, he went the other way!” A bit later, she reappeared without the cub, still looking, and a bit agitated. She headed toward another mother with 2 cubs, and they became uncomfortable. The mother guided the cubs away from this other adult, looking over her shoulder, and obviously nervous. They passed quite close by our logs. The ranger instructed us to sit quietly and not move. He would redirect the bears, if needed. He said, “Try not to be nervous.” Ha! Watch the video below. In the video, when the bears are the closest to us, they are about 12 feet away.

Mama drama

Another behavior bears will exhibit is a bluff charge, meant to scare or intimidate. If another bear seems to be encroaching on its hunting ground, or threatening its cubs, a bear may bluff charge. Here is an example that we witnessed:

Conflict management

To say we enjoyed our two days of viewing would be an understatement. And thanks to the weather, we had more days of enjoyment. There were storms, with winds and big waves just outside our bay, so we stayed put for about 6 days. During this time, we were anchored in Windfall Bay, which is also home to many bears. It was not uncommon to look out our window and see 4 to 6 bears onshore at any given time. We could kayak closer, but not too close. We had lots of bear observation time. It was an absolutely beautiful place to spend a week with bears and with friends.

Salmon jumping, Windfall Bay
Digging clams at low tide


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