Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bear Island Excursion 2011

Holland America Cruise Line call the place Icy Straight Point. National Geographic calls the island "Bear Island". They say, "One of the last grizzly strongholds, the dense rain forests of Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska hide more of these bears per square mile than any other place on Earth. But logging, road construction and human development are changing the shape of the grizzlies' world."
Note out of focus bear tracks in foreground of this photo.

We landed here from the ship the MS Amsterdam via a small boat and took a tour of a brown bear watching area provided by the Tlingit Tribe who own that area of the Island and live in the village of Hoonah near by. Right away our expectations of seeing a bear were lowered by the fact that the salmon were not running. There was only an outside chance of seeing them as they fed on the plants and berries because most of them were already grazed out by the bears.

So we boarded a school bus from the tribes elementary school and rode over logging roads to a site prepared with gravel paths and board walks down to the raised viewing platforms over the creek and adjacent meadows.

On the way we did see several small sitka deer (about the size of a big German Shepherd) which were game for people and bears alike.

It was apparent that the "wild" started at the edge of the road.

We got of the bus and started down the gravel path. For me down was the operational phrase. At about a 10 degree slope every step took its toll on my knees. In no time at all I was at the end of the line being urged to 'keep up here in bear country'. 800 yards later we made it to the first viewing platform.

Great view, but no bears. There were eagles that of course showed up as everyone else left.

I took a few hurried shots. Here we were joined by a middle aged tribesman carrying a lever action 45/70 rifle. In that he was bringing up the rear of the group he and I walked together. I had two emotions. First I was embarrassed that I could not keep up with group. Second I was gratified that the guy with the heavy artillery was walking right beside me.

So we get to the next viewing platform and there were ravens there. So I silently asked Grandfather Raven to show me a bear. Ravens are often tricksters. Almost immediately at the other end of the platform mumbles about 'there is a bear' started. So I leaned way out and sure enough 50 yards away was a very big brute of a bear walking across the stream. He went out of sight , but then came back and stared at us, even took some steps in our direction. I had my camera set to a high f-stop landscape and multiple shots so I started clicking away, then I heard the the guy with the rifle chamber a round. Talk about a distraction.

So here is my picture of the bear. I have six more just like it. Didn't use the telephoto, but that didn't matter much because of the low low light we were in, the camera (against my wishes and programming) decided to focus on the tree limbs in the foreground as a default setting. If you look very carefully at the picture you can see a brown smudge just to the right of the center of the photo. That is my Alaskan photograph of a Grizzly Bear in the wild. But aren't those limbs in sharp focus, hey? I'll share more photos like this one with you as I post my pictures.

P.S. If you have troubles walking and actually take this tour, ask ahead of time and see if they will let you start on the trail at their pick-up point. It is only 100 yards from the viewing platforms, but is still down hill. It will save you a lot of grief however.

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