Charismatic Megafauna

Although the title of this post would make a great name for a rock band, it’s a phrase used around here to describe my favorite kind of fauna – big furry bears. Whales would also fall into the megafauna category, but I can’t say that they share the same expressiveness that bears have. Sorry whales, you’re awesome, but not what I would call compellingly cute.

So where have we been, and why has been almost exactly a YEAR since I last posted? There’s no big secret – we’ve just been super busy. We’re fine. Nothing bad happened, and I hadn’t planned to stop blogging. I just ended up with a huge pile of photos and videos that became overwhelming, then we got back to town and had to get the boat ready for winter, and we did a little traveling, and then the holidays, and then… well, you get the idea. And still, that big pile of photos needs weeding out and editing. In addition, I really want to re-format the blog to a more contemporary style, and I need to fix the email notification subscription thing since the old service went away… but all that takes lots of time to work out, and time is the one thing I’m perpetually short of.

Lately I’ve been working hard just to keep up with what I’m shooting this summer, and the June trip to Glacier Bay is still a work in progress. Living in a rainforest has its advantages, since pouring-down-rainy days are perfect for long sessions working on photos. But this summer has been pretty dry, which means I’m out taking photos instead of dealing with them. So that’s our story…. now, back to bears.

Cubs fighting

We were up at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island a few weeks ago, visiting our favorite rangers and watching for bears. The fish hadn’t come into the streams yet, but the bears were clamming at low tide and eating berries in the forest the rest of the time. Little cubs were brawling in the tall grass. Once high tide passed and the water started to ebb, bears would come to the stream to check for fish – so seeing them was very hit-and-miss, though persistence pays off. We hiked the trail to the observation tower and encountered bears in the woods – a sow and her skittish little first-year cub, and the two sub-adult sisters – the brats.

This is the brattier of the two sisters (above). We had been calling out “hey bear” as we were hiking, as one does in bear country – best not to surprise them. We stopped and heard rustling in the brush just off the trail, and got cameras ready. This gal walked out to the trail, pretended to sniff at something else, then turned towards us. She’s a sub-adult – a teenager – who wanted to test us to see if she could push us around. We had to say “NO bear!!” loudly a few times, and didn’t budge when she took a step towards us. She finally figured out that she wasn’t going to get her way, and went back into the brush for more berries. A moment later her sister came out, looked at us, and when we said “NO!” she went back into the brush without a fuss. “Good Bear!” we told them.

Many of the places we go to see bears are areas where they’re habituated to humans, to some degree. Humans stay in the human areas, and that leaves the rest for the bears. If we respect them and their space, there’s no problem. It’s all about ethical bear viewing that many of us practice… and groups like National Geographic absolutely don’t! I’ve seen irresponsible behavior by all their boats up here. They bring gigantic groups of people ashore to a bear stream, stand in bear trails, and effectively chase all the feeding bears away until they leave. Local guides try to educate them, but they ignore and disrespect them. The bears only have the summer to pack on the pounds they need to survive the winter, so depriving them of their prime food source (fish) with crowds of tourists is shameful. We feel pretty strongly about respecting our wildlife around here.

The curious first-year cub in the photo above is a great example of the reward for ethical bear viewing behavior. About 90 minutes after one of the obnoxious NatGeo groups left, the bears started returning to the stream to feed. This little first-year cub paused to look at me and a guide with her small group – we were sitting quietly in a tight bunch. The sow had just walked right past us, along with the cub’s sibling. But this one pretended to take a great interest in a clump of grass so it could get a better look at us. Breathtaking!

In other places where bears are not accustomed to seeing many humans, they’re very shy and harder to photograph. I spotted this good looking bear in Takatz Bay, and was able to photograph it from the kayak. Once the bear saw me, it was a little more cautious, so I backed away to give it more space, and then it ignored me.

Eventually the bear got tired of fishing on that side of the creek, and jumped in to cross the frigid water, climbing on the bank and heading up the waterfall, out of sight.

We’re having a good summer so far, and it’s evaporating quickly! The days are growing noticeably shorter, and it’s dark enough at night to see stars. The rainy, foggy, more windy fall weather pattern is starting to appear, with fronts coming off the Gulf of Alaska. We got spoiled with very light winds we’ve enjoyed for most of the summer so far!

I’m still conflicted about what to do with this blog. Does anyone read it anymore? Is it worth the effort to maintain, or should I just post photos on Instagram? Opinions are welcome. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep it up for a while and see how it goes.

16 thoughts on “Charismatic Megafauna

  1. Keep the blog coming. Format does not matter, content (pictures + your writing) does.
    Love to you and Jim,
    Bill R

  2. Both! Would love a more regular stream of photos on insta just to see awesome nature shots, and the more personal writeup of activities when you feel like it on the blog. Insta is great with captions if you want to do that too.

  3. Your blogs are always enjoyable. I try to read them as soon as they arrive. You give excellent information and your pictures are awesome. Keep them coming if you have time. I enjoyed your “story telling” mixed with lots of information in this blog entry.

  4. We’re fans and always look forward to reliving your adventures this way. The blog packs more “punch” than Instagram.

  5. I looked at your bear pictures and read your writings for the first time today. I really enjoyed it. Please keep them coming.

  6. R&R,

    You know how much we look forward to your blogs! But, even if they get overwhelming to put together, we’d welcome just an occasional email (w/pics of course).

    Love ya,
    Jim & Cathy

    You absolutely MUST share this wondrous talent for up close and real life of mega Fauna!!!!! This is an amazing source for insight into animal behavior and shares your hope and love that respectfully honoring wildlife is the very best way to see such magnificance!
    Many people will never ever have this type of experience and living vicariously through your delightful writings is a precious gift.
    Never doubt the impact your adventures have on others. Don and I would feel we have lost something incredibly precious if you didn’t follow your heart in portraying your stories and exquisite photos with others.
    Thank you for giving all of us this opportunity.

  8. Your blog & ;pics are amazing! Please don’t let it hinder your travels but I enjoy reading about the areas we traveled through over 12 years ago, but didn’t see as many bears!

  9. The stories and knowing some of the places you describe make the pictures priceless! Keep up the blog! You use such descriptive writing and share the personalities of the bear you capture with your cameras.

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