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.

Winter is Coming

The Summer Solstice has now passed so the days are starting to get shorter. Today we’ll have almost 18 hours of daylight, but it will shrink to about six and a half hours by late December and we’re all very aware of losing those precious minutes every day.

Speaking of seasons, we haven’t had much summery weather up here so far. It has been chilly and rainy, with highs in the mid 50s and lows in the high 40s. But sometimes the rain brings a rainbow…

The flowers don’t seem to mind the weather – the lupine has been blooming…

…and the plants that thrive in the acidic muskeg (Alaskan bog).

Bog laurel
Buckbean

Deer stroll along the rocky shoreline when the tide is out…

…and the salmonberries are just starting to form fruit. I suspect the berries will be late this year because of all the cold, wet weather.

From Red Bluff Bay we cruised to Warm Springs Bay – a place we’ve often visited, with a dock and tiny boardwalk community. The roaring waterfall is deafening, especially after weeks of rain and plenty of snow up on the mountains.

Warm Springs Bay is also where there’s a natural hot spring next to the top of the falls – you can hike up there to soak in the rocky pools, or there’s a little bath house plumbed to the hot springs if you prefer to soak in a tub. Understandably, the tubs were closed due to the virus.

The phase of the moon meant that we had some very big tides, which is a great opportunity to take the kayak into the salt pond across the way. It’s not accessible at low tide, and with these big tides it was like running rapids as the incoming tide was rushing through the narrow entrance. Inside it was a world away – peaceful and pretty.

From Warm Springs it’s only five nautical miles up to Takatz Bay – another beautiful place with a number of waterfalls. Here’s a drone’s-eye view of it.

Words can’t describe it.

It’s hard to leave, but there are more places to explore…

Shy Bears

It’s peaceful out here on the water, without the usual cruise ships and small tourist ships and charter boats. The marine radio and the anchorages are quiet – the waterways are largely the domain of the locals this summer, so we’ll visit some places that have been “discovered” and aren’t often as solitary as we like. Red Bluff Bay on the east side of Baranof Island is one such place – a stunning inner bay surrounded by mountains and silvery cascades, with a big roaring waterfall and a lush green “bear meadow.”

The entrance to the bay is marked by distinctive red cliffs along Chatham Strait.

According to my geology book, the unusual red rocks are ultramafic – the exposed roots of volcanoes raised by oceanic plates shoved against each other. There are about 25 spots like this within the Alexander Archipelago (southeast Alaska).

Once we thread our way among the small islands protecting the entrance, there’s a roomy outer bay with some rusty vestiges of an old cannery, and snow on the north-facing slope – all the way down to the tideline!

Snow!

The real gem is the inner bay, partially hidden by a narrow pinch between heavily forested shorelines.

As you enter the inner bay you can’t ignore the roaring waterfall – 500-600′ tall.

I flew the drone to give you a better feel for this magnificent place – mountains and meadow and falling water.

The head of the bay is very shallow – you might have noticed the brown areas adjacent to the green meadow – that’s the tide line. It’s a perfect place to explore by kayak, and even better at this time of the year since it’s when bears are out eating sedge grass. One evening we scanned the meadow with binoculars and spotted 10 brown bears.

I found that the bears here were very skittish – even with the generous distance I typically keep from them in the kayak, they were not comfortable. Bears will stand up to get a better look at things sometimes…

…and though it’s a great photo op it’s also a sign that I needed to give them more space. If I didn’t move off they would have bolted into the woods. They’re hungry and they need to eat, so I backed away until they stopped checking to see where I was. You might have noticed that there weren’t any bears in the drone video – that’s on purpose. First of all, the drone’s view is so wide-angle that it’s difficult to see something even as big as an 8′ brown bear. Second of all, bears don’t like drones – they can hear them but can’t see them, and they will leave the area. Out of respect for the bears, I only flew when the meadow was quiet.

A sow and her two second-year cubs were frequent visitors to the meadow – we saw them several times a day, but even with her bigger cubs she was extremely skittish and ran back to the forest even when I was quite a distance from them.

As soon as I saw how intolerant she was of my presence, I stayed away from her part of the meadow. Some photographers will do anything to get “the shot”, but that’s not the ethos we have when we’re in nature.

Fortunately there was plenty more to see up close – mergansers and harlequin ducks, this curious seal…

…and a couple of mink. I saw this one jumping into the stream, grabbing something and then scampering back up the rocks to eat it.

The wildflowers were starting to bloom – no chocolate lilies just yet, but shooting stars and buttercups lined the creek shore.

We had a great few days all by ourselves in this lovely place – we are so blessed to be able to do this. It’s always hard to leave a pretty spot, but there are other pretty spots waiting to be savored. And of course, whales to keep us company on the way.

Wrangell Narrows

I think it’s time to shift gears and show you a little more of the scenery around Petersburg, Alaska. This little video shows you some of the Wrangell Narrows just south of downtown. It starts out looking towards the north with Petersburg Mountain reflected in the morning calm water, then takes a little peek towards Petersburg Creek on Kupreanof Island, then turns west and south down the Narrows. Enjoy!