Kuiu – Tebenkof Bay

Tebenkof Bay is a big place with a number of smaller bays, creeks and anchorages to explore. We checked out a few spots at the end of last summer, and added a few more to our list this time… but we left plenty of spots to investigate some other time. There’s just never enough days and weeks to explore all that we’d like.

Fortunately, the trend of seeing lots of bears continued.

The first morning in a new anchorage was a three-bear bonanza. I watched two of them while drinking my coffee, then I decided to jump in the kayak and get a closer look.

This bear (above) was more skittish than the others, and as I drifted in the kayak he suddenly decided that he didn’t like having me around.

In the meantime, the first bear (the one reflected in the water in the first photo) meandered back into the forest, but I spotted a third bear turning over rocks a little farther away. This one looked like an old bear – its face was gray and it was a little skinny compared to others I’ve seen.

Sitka blacktailed deer were plentiful too – bedding down in the grass or walking around and watching me paddle.

We’ve had so much rain all summer and it has been very overcast much of the time, but on this day the wind was feather light and the sky was gorgeous. We savor every day we can spend out here in nature, but we really appreciate the pretty days.

A friend was in the area, and he needed to check on a cabin that his friend was building on a small island nearby, so we jumped into his skiff and had a fun ride zipping among the little islets. The cabin is new, but the site had some older buildings from a past owner that were neat to see, as well as a skull from a medium sized marine mammal of some sort.

It was a perfectly protected spot from the weather in any direction, with lovely views out the channels.

Our friend left us back at our boat, and by then it was time to start heading back towards town so we could re-provision for the next jaunt. Once again, a pod of Dall’s porpoise graced us with their acrobatics and amazing speed. You don’t see them as much as you see their rooster-tail splashes!

Kuiu – West Coast

Here’s a map showing Kuiu Island and the next two bays where we spent some time exploring.

We’ve been wanting to explore the Bay of Pillars for some time, but a few comments about rocks in the cruising guide had given us pause in the past. This time we decided to poke our noses in there and see what we could see. We imagined all these rock pillars, maybe some hidden under the water, ready to crunch a propeller or something. It turns out that there are no pillars in the Bay of Pillars, and a local told us that the name probably came from some tall Spruce trees near the entrance to the bay that have since been cut down.

There certainly was a nice amount of wildlife in there, as well as some ruins from an abandoned cannery.

There were once canneries and salteries in nearly every bay around southeast Alaska – we still have two operating fish processing plants in Petersburg, and there are others in Sitka, Juneau, near Hoonah, etc. Then as well as now – it’s all about the fish!

And for us, it’s all about the beautiful scenery and wildlife.

Merganser
Mink

Sublime. Lovely. Peaceful. We thoroughly enjoyed our exploration of this intriguing place, including a large back bay accessible via a long, narrow rocky cut where the current can be quite strong (we saw little whirlpools when we headed back there by skiff). Salmon streams are fed by mountain lakes, and fish were already starting to make their way up.

It’s always hard to leave a pretty place, but there are always more places to explore. Last summer we spent a little time in Tebenkof Bay – the next bay south, and left tons of territory that needed to be explored. We intended to make a little dent in that list this time, but would still leave more to see. On the way we were entertained by a couple of humpbacks feeding. One was laying on its back, slapping alternate pectoral fins….

…while the other one made a few small breaches.

We had some weather coming in so we tucked into a snug nook for shelter and some kayaking. I found a few bears – one big boar was standing in the stream hoping for some fish. There were a few around, but not too many yet. Grass would have to do for a snack.

Sea otters were plentiful – large mats of them floating on their backs. They’re wary – often one would keep an eye on me while the rest napped, played with their pups, and did all the things that sea otters do.

I found that the best way to get close to the otters is to find one that’s asleep and sneak up on it in the kayak. As I was doing that, I realized that I was right next to a rock with a number of black turnstones on it – they blended in so well that I almost missed them.

Stay tuned for more from Tebenkof Bay on Kuiu Island…

Kuiu Island

It’s the fifteenth-largest island in the US, but I’ll bet you never heard of it. Pronounced “koo-you,” it’s 65 miles long and that means there’s a lot of coastline to explore. Starting on the northeast corner, we explored some new anchorages for us. We’re cruising like “butter on an English muffin,” getting into all the nooks and crannies, and the best spots are the ones with bears on the beach! Here in the “panhandle” of Alaska, brown bears tend to dominate on the islands from midway to the north, and black bears are more common from midway to the south. Black bears can come in a variety of colors – black, cinnamon, and the rare glacier bear morph which is blue-gray. Farther south in one small area in British Columbia there’s creamy white morph (not albino) called a Kermode or “spirit” bear.

While waiting for the fish to start heading up the streams, bears need to find other things to eat. We’re seeing a lot of black bears turning over rocks at low tide. On the video that follows, I left the sound alone so you can hear the sound of the rocks clacking together. I went ashore later on and tried to turn a few of the same rocks – no way!

We found a gang of river otters splashing around – about 8 animals, though they were pretty wary – keeping a close eye and snorting at me.

River otter

Wildlife… wild flowers… there’s so much to see.

Young bald eagle
Young bald eagle
Columbine
Red paintbrush

I found a fluffy young Steller’s jay perched on the rocks – these birds are plucky and noisy!

The islands around us had some neat pillars and pass-throughs, as well as small sea caves – a bounty for exploration, especially in the kayak. I saw some of the usual jellyfish – moon jellies and lion’s mane, but this one was really striking.

The water was teeming with tiny marine larvae – they were not much bigger than the head of a pin, little blue-gray balls with tiny wings – millions of them. Our scientist friend Brian said that they are most likely Nauplius larvae – the earliest development form of many marine creatures.

After a fun couple of days it was time to move to the next nook, but not before Jim had to clear the anchor of kelp (and a starfish, and a piece of hose)! Yes, there is an anchor somewhere under that hairball.

The weather has been generally overcast, but the seas were glassy – giving us beautiful reflections of the mountains on Baranof Island across the way as we headed south. This pretty blue sky disappeared shortly after I took the photo.

In the center of the photo below you can just make out the low red bluffs that give Red Bluff Bay (where we stopped in early June) its name.

Aside from a few trollers, the waterway is very quiet. Trollers catch the beautiful, perfect salmon you would find in a five-star restaurant.

Commercial fishing troller

We’re tucked into a new anchorage now, closer to the west and shorter mountains so we can enjoy a rare sunset.

First Year Cubs

Brown bear cubs are born in the late winter, and we refer to these new little ones as “first year cubs.” There is no mistaking first year from second year cubs – the firsties are skinny little fluff balls, and the second year cubs are much bigger and more rolly-poly.

I found this brown bear sow and her two cubs on Chichagof Island in Pavlov Harbor. They came out to eat grass by the beach several times a day on one side of the peninsula or the other. If I didn’t see them for a while, I would paddle around the corner and wait – which was usually worthwhile.

The sow was a pretty bear, and one of the two cubs was particularly curious – climbing on small tree limbs and trying to eat flowers.

One of the little bears was very curious about me, even though the sow didn’t seem to mind.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I adore bears. I can’t get enough of them, especially brown bears, and my idea of a perfect day involves hanging out with them.

Nap time

Pavlov Harbor is a nice anchorage with a good salmon stream, small waterfall and a lake up in the woods. I flew the drone one morning to show you what it looks like, and I got lucky towards the end when an eagle soared below my little bird for a bit.

The area just below the waterfall is a favorite of the bears when the salmon start running – in very late July and early August for this stream. The incoming tide brings the fish up, and as the tide goes out the fish are trapped in shallow pools among the rocks – easy pickings for the bears. We’ve seen as many as 9 bears at a time fishing here in late summer.

We made a very short stop in Juneau to hit Costco and fill the freezers, glad to see so many people wearing masks in the capital city. The weather continued to be pretty rainy, which made for rather unhappy eagles who just want to dry out.

Heading south down Stephens Passage we encountered a lot of glacier ice from Tracy Arm – a sure sign that the glaciers are calving a great deal, and that getting up the fjord to see them is not very likely right now.

Whales were abundant in Stephens Passage as we got closer to Five Fingers Lighthouse and the intersection with Frederick Sound. We stopped counting at 40 one day, but it seemed like the only ones breaching were far away.

It’s always a special treat to see Dall’s Porpoise riding our bow wave. If we’re lucky we’ll see them once or maybe twice a summer, but one afternoon we had pods riding our bow wave twice! They’re incredibly hard to photograph – they are very fast swimmers, able to hit 34 mph over short distances – but I realized that my camera shoots video too.

We just never know what we’ll see around here. And if we stay up late enough we’ll even get to see the sky just after sunset.