Anyone who has been following the Blog for a while knows that I adore bears, so we headed to Pack Creek to visit with the wonderful rangers and to hang out with some of Admiralty Island’s brown bears.
Run by the Forest Service and Alaska Fish and Game, Pack Creek limits visitors to no more than 24 people per day during high season (when the salmon are running). Most people arrive by float plane with a guide from Juneau, and for those of us arriving by boat, they have a “clothes line” that we can tie our skiffs to in order to keep the boats in deep water – to manage the big tidal changes and to keep nosy bears from shredding our boats. One day we tied up to the secondary “clothes line” and apparently we didn’t run the skiff far enough out. So much for going back to the boat for our lunch! By dinnertime it was afloat again, and one of our ranger friends made sure to keep any bears away.The salmon are late this season and the unusually dry weather isn’t helping either, so the bears were clamming and eating grass. A few fish have made it up the stream, but most of the time the bear’s chase was half-hearted.This bear would stand up to get a better view of the fish, and sometimes walk around until she spotted something worthy of pursuit.This bear had a more relaxed approach to fishing, sitting and waiting for a big one to come along.While visiting a different creek in the area this sow and two cubs started heading our way……until we firmly told them to go in a different direction. They thought about that……and all three of them wanted to get a much better look at us before they finally broke off their approach.Back at Pack Creek we enjoyed watching a sub-adult pair of siblings: Java (a girl)…and Joe, a boy and a serious fluff-ball!These bears are about two and a half years old, recently sent out on their own by their mother. They tended to stick pretty close together a lot of the time as they’re figuring out how to manage in the big wide world.
The weather has been sunny, warm and dry – enough so that even the bald eagles jumped into the water to cool off. We saw two of them do it, and friends said they’ve seen the same thing for the first time ever. It’s a hoot to see these majestic birds splashing around like a little bird in a bird bath!We were surprised that more bears didn’t cool off in the water, especially wearing those beautiful fur coats, though a few did. This one really enjoyed herself, splashing her face and playing in the water. Rain or shine, the experience at Pack Creek is always exciting and magical, made even better by the rangers who generously share their deep knowledge, experience, and love of the bears.
As we started working our way back down the west arm of Glacier Bay we got a terrific surprise while coming into the evening’s anchorage – a wolf!I’ve been looking for wolves every year that we’ve lived up here and I’ve only seen one, once, for just a few moments. Supposedly there are three packs that live on Mitkof Island (where Petersburg is), but they are rarely spotted. This wolf was tan colored, blending in with the beach. He chased a river otter without success.A nearby sea otter was also too quick for the wolf, and in frustration he eventually picked up something from underwater and ate it on the beach.We got to watch him for about 15 minutes – a fantastic way to wrap up the day!
Sea otters were hanging around near the mouth of the bay……and one was clutching a pup – a “mini me”.As we headed into Icy Strait we saw a humpback in the distance, but as we started towards it we spotted a small pod of orcas so we had to choose which kind of whale to watch.The orcas won out because there was a mother and calf among the group… another “mini me”.It was a pretty exciting way to wrap up our time in the bay, and we were glad to pull into Hoonah to chill out for a day or two.
It’s always fun to visit the carvers, Gordon and Herb, as well as our friends Owen and Sherry who work with the log canoes.These Tlingit people are very special – so generous with their time and talent, patiently sharing history and culture with everyone.
We took some time to walk in the woods, marveling at how big the devil’s club leaves have grown so far this summer.Devil’s club, a relative of the ginseng family, is an important plant for the Tlingit people who harvest the roots for tea and the stalks to make a salve that’s good for the skin. It’s challenging to harvest because it’s covered in tiny thorns – you don’t want to fall into it!
I’ve had a few people ask me if they could receive an email whenever I post something new to the Blog. I’ve looked into it a few times but didn’t get it figured out until today – so the “Follow” feature is now live on the right hand column of the site.
What happens when a glacier retreats (as so many of them are)? What plants come first, and how long does it take for trees and other forms of life to take over the scoured landscape left behind? In Glacier Bay National Park, the Reid Glacier is a perfect little laboratory for plant succession after glacial retreat. In fact, the whole park is a living lab. But for today, we’ll focus on the Reid Glacier. We have anchored in the bight formed by the terminal moraine of the Reid many times, savoring the view of the glacier in sun, rain, mist or fog. Reid is very accessible, and we’ve enjoyed hiking to the edge of it to touch the ice and sometimes stand on it.The rocks carried by the glacier down from the mountains are a wild variety of types and colors, and I particularly like the rusty ironbound rocks.All along the shoreline, wildflowers are blooming – particularly dwarf fireweed, which is a “pioneer plant” – an early arrival after a fire or other catastrophic event. Fireweed helps to fix nitrogen into the soil, making it more hospitable for other plants. This year paintbrush and other flowering plants joined the dwarf fireweed.Bird life along the cobbles and gravel on the shore was plentiful and varied. At least this year I didn’t get poop-bombed by an angry gull!
Pelagic cormorants camped out on a lone rock just off the shore, and I’m sure there were other little birds that I never saw, camouflaged against the rocks. Life abounds! Willows and alder have grown noticeably taller in the five years we’ve been coming here, requiring a little bushwhacking to get through them when the tide is too high to hike the mud flats.
And the mud – slippery slimy stuff, held a faint paw print of perhaps a wolf, softened by a few cycles of the tide.We know wolves are around in the area – friends spotted one a little north of here.
As we were hauling up the anchor to continue our exploration, we saw a beautiful brown bear on the far shore. We were able to get the boat fairly close to him – quite a big bear.Thank you, Reid Glacier, for showing us how life returns after you’ve scoured the landscape clean. It is very sad to see such noticeable change from year to year, a powerful reminder of the dramatic changes to our planet’s climate.