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
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.