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7 Nights on a Small Boat in Alaska


pomkiwi

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pomkiwi

@Zim Girl, @TonyQ Thank-you. We were very lucky on both the afternoons we spent at Hallo Bay.

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pomkiwi

Playtime and Running From the Weather

 

We were picked up from the beach by Mike and then it was decided that some playtime was in order.

 

Patti, my companion passenger, was extremely keen on photographing birds in flight - any bird, from any distance in any weather.  The Single Star was moored close to a small island on which there was a puffin colony.  It was a beautiful evening so we headed over to practice photographing much smaller animals moving much more quickly.

 

We spent a fun 40 minutes circumnavigating the island a couple of times. Puffins came and went:

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There were cormorants:

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As well as a 'bonus bear' who had clearly swam out nearly a mile from the beach for some meditation time alone:

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Eventually it was time to head back for some dinner:

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The evening light was beautiful:

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However the breeze was getting up and the forecast was that the expected increase in wind blowing out from the mainland was likely to be earlier than anticpated. With that the decision was taken by Mike to move from what would be an exposed position and return to Kukak Bay.

We left at about 10pm as the sun set behind the clouds:

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Towing our skiff behind us we ran before the wind, finally anchoring at around midnight.

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pomkiwi

Expectations

Dawn broke on our anchorage at Kukak Bay:

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This was to prove a difficult day in part and on reflection I think it was all about expectations. Neither my fellow guest or I had spent much time on boats and our crew essentially lived on them. I think we all forgot this at times and as such we did not ask the questions we should have done while at the same time were not given explanations that would have been useful because nobody thought to do so.  Although we had been incredibly lucky with our two days at Hallo Bay what I haven't emphasised is that the time available for bear spotting was around 4 hours each day, rather less than might be expected on a land based safari. This is because the large tidal range made accessing the beach difficult and this was further influenced by the wind and sea conditions. The rest of the time we were on the boat which at times was amazingly relaxing (see the image above) but could also be a little restricting at other times. 

The plan for Wednesday was to head up the coast before the wind got too strong and to anchor up in Geographic Harbor about which we had been given enthusiastic reviews (more than justified as we would find out over the next couple of days). In the end the wind was such that we went all around the harbor, exited and ended up anchoring in the outer portion. We had seen quite a few bears in the distance but it was never the correct place or time to stop and see them. 

I think we were frustrated and a bit quiet (there is nowhere to have a discreet and confidential discussion on a small boat!), this upset our crew who were used to having bubbly guests. Anyway it settled and we had a clear the air discussion over dinner - the lesson for me was to be much more detailed in my questioning in the future so I fully understand why some decisions are being made - the lesson for the team was (I was told later) to volunteer much more information to there landlubber guests.

It was not a big issue and the rest of the trip continued to be as amazing as the first few days. This will become clear in following posts.

 

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kittykat23uk

Wow, what a fantastic trip so far! Love the bears, otter and those cute tufted puffins!

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pomkiwi

To Geographic Harbor

 

The day dawned still without any evidence of the wind that we ran from the night before. The forecast was still that it would arrive. We watched a couple of bears play on the beach before we had breakfast.

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We set off and were accompanied along the shoreline by another young bear.

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The Katmai coast was spectacular in the sunshine.

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Midway along the coast we passed a colony of harbor seals with a dispute for primacy going on.

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There were a couple of stellar sea lions in the colony who dwarfed the seals:

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Geographic harbor is a natural harbor felt to be the remains of an ancient volcanic caldera. It is named after the National Geographic Society who launched an expedition here after the huge eruption 1912 that created the Valley of a Thousand Smokes. The eruption was 15 miles away but left boulders the size of houses on the beaches and large depths of pumice which show as the light grey patches on the mountains - initially mistaken by me as snow. The harbor is beautiful and the geoplogy as interesting as the wildlife.

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After quite a frustrating afternoon we went out late in the evening when intitailly we saw both a mother with cubs and a fairly young bear take fright from each other:

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We then saw another bear on a beach and waded ashore to spend half an hour with it as it dug for clams in some beautiful evening light:

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Finally we saw another bear on the rocks heading for some salmon berries:

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The smoke from the forest fires 80 miles away added colour to our sunset:

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Atravelynn

You got your bears and so much more, both wildlife and scenery!  Those juveniles are so lanky, just like teen aged boys.  You did well with birds in flight too.  Hope your cabin mate is not jealous.

 

How many people were on your trip?  Looks like good weather so far. In a boat you are so dependent on weather and winds.  Any comments from the staff on the temps which I have been reading were record high this summer? 

 

You are a seafarer after 7 nights!

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pomkiwi

@Atravelynn Thanks for your comments. We had mixed weather. We missed the heatwave and were told that it had been very negative in terms of bear sightings as they tended to hide up in the shade of the woods until late in the evening, even then they would tend to come down, dip into the water and head back again. The first couple of days of this trip were extremely wet and kept us on the boat all of one day. winds were an issue in the middle but we had lovely still weather at the end which was not too hot.

This will be covered shortly!

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Atravelynn
1 hour ago, pomkiwi said:

@Atravelynn Thanks for your comments. We had mixed weather. We missed the heatwave and were told that it had been very negative in terms of bear sightings as they tended to hide up in the shade of the woods until late in the evening, even then they would tend to come down, dip into the water and head back again.  Just like people.  That would have been disappointing.  Lucky you missed it. The first couple of days of this trip were extremely wet and kept us on the boat all of one day. I was holed up for 2 days due to rain on a similar boat trip and we did not have an entire week.  winds were an issue in the middle but we had lovely still weather at the end which was not too hot.

This will be covered shortly!

 

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Peter Connan

Magnificent photography here!

 

Thank you for taking me along vicariously on a trip I could never afford. Bears and Beavers (the flying variety) seem like a great way to spend some time to me.

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michael-ibk

Wow, a fantastic report with sensational photography. What a great place, and what an experience!

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TonyQ

Excellent- really enjoying your report.

I am a land lubber also, so would not have thought of such things.

Beautiful bears, Puffins and land/seascapes 

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pomkiwi

A Day Exploring Geographic Harbor

 

Apologies for the delay - I've been away at the wedding of the eldest daughter (which was a lot of fun before you ask :))

 

We had a whole day at Geographic Harbour and got out early enough to have some sunrise light on a bear eating mussels from the rocks the direct way:

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A cub was trying out clam digging - this hole was nearly as deep as he was:

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In the distance we saw a bear on a beach:

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We went over but did not seem completely welcome:

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Tomorrow we would spend a bit longer with this bear in what would be my favourite sighting.

 

We had a lazy few hours on the boat enjoying the sun as the tide ebbed. Late on we went out again.

 

Three red-breasted Merganser ducks raced across the water:

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I found them more difficult to capture than birds in flight because of the amount of spray and reflection.

 

The same young bear as earlier seemed to be splashing along the beach purely for the fun of it:

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We would see more of this behaviour the next day - earning the bear the nickname of 'Psycho Bear'

 

The sun was setting and again the smoke in the air was obvious:

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Cormorants were common - I think this is a Pelagic Cormorant:

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We found another bear enjoying salmon berries:

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Finally all was still:

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Edited by pomkiwi
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gatoratlarge

Such incredible photos!  Thanks for sharing!  The scenery, the bears, eagles, puffins...stunning!

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Sangeeta

Really really enjoying this, @pomkiwi - it reminds me a little bit of @Atravelynn’s boat-based adventure in Alaska some years ago. Your photos are spectacular, and Psycho Bear, galloping around for the sheer fun of it, is a joy to see. So many beautiful bears!

 

would you say Aug would be better weather, or does it not really matter, July or Aug? 

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Atravelynn

I'll chime in and  @pomkiwi can also offer an opinion on July or Aug in Katmai.  July means fuller coats from the previous winter,  younger cubs for "cubs of the year" which were born that Spring, and maybe some mating behavior, but June is a bigger month for mating.  More sedge grass and berry consumption in July than Aug.  Aug brings more of a focus on salmon fishing, which is interesting to see.  (But I've seen bears catching salmon in July too in Katmai).  The salmon fishing also occupies the bears' attention so they spend more time fishing and slightly less time interacting with each other in the meadows.  Wild flowers peak in July.

 

But if you are going to the famous Brooks Falls in Katmai, which is not the focus of this report, mid-July and September are the peak months due to the salmon runs in that area.  August is not peak time there.  For other parts of Katmai, I believe August would be considered peak for the number of bears around and their fishing activities.

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pomkiwi

@Sangeeta Apologies for the late reply but i have been with polar bears :D

Both of my Alaska trips were in Early/mid July. The weather was mixed but I'm not certain it would be any different in August.

From my discussions with guides and other travellers when there I agree with @Atravelynn. I was lucky to see a bit of fishing but was told that the salmon had come earlier than usual. We saw a variety of behaviours which ight have been less if the bears had been focussed on fishing. I was also told that after a couple of weeks of fishing the smell of rotting salmon can be fairly overwhelming...

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pomkiwi

Leaving Geographic Harbor

 

Our final day in Katmai started much as the previous one had finished - with a stunning view:

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The plan was for a fairly short trip out to view some bears but ended up being nearly 3 hours with 6 or 7 bears and a few other non-bear encounters.

 

Our first bear was the active youngster from the day before who caught a salmon as we headed over. She seemed excited and ran up and down the beach carrying half of it:

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Some fruitless gull chasing was alternated with further unsuccesful attempts to catch salmon by diving and we watched from a few metres away on the skiff:

 

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An amusing end to our time with her came as she ran up and down the beach falling into deep pools of water topped with pumice. As a result she came out looking as though she was having a beauty treatment - and repeated this several times.

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Reluctantly we left her and went to two young male bears (probably siblings) who were searching for shellfish together before breaking for some sparring.

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Heading back across the harbor we we accompanied by a harbor seal.

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A gull dived for fish:

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An adult bald eagle sought some peace from a large and demanding chick:

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There were other bears on the beach but we did not get very close and the light was difficult and so I will spare you the photos.

 

After a late breakfast we headed out of the harbor past another 3 bears and crossed the Shelikof Straight in calm waters and bright sunshine.  We anchored in a sheltered bay and again played with puffin photography (without much success). We were treated to another amazing sunset:

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That was our last full day and memorable in many ways.

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Beautiful photos, great bears, and the morning scene is stunning 

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pomkiwi

@TonyQ Thank-you.The light at our anchorages was beautiful over the last couple of days we were there.

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pomkiwi

Summing Up

 

The final morning was greeted by a return to rain and nothing of note was seen during our cruise back to Kodiak. After diembarking I went for a long walk and caught the afternoon flight to Anchorage and on to Seattle.

 

I really enjoyed the week and it was a great way to have the opportunity to view bears in a number of habitats on the same trip from an unfamiliar (to me) perspective. I enjoyed being on a boat and in particular loed being up late and the early to enjoy the evening and morning stillness.

 

As always the Alaskan weather had its influence and for that rerasson I was glad I was able to commit a whole week so a lost day didn't have too much impact. I had failed to appreciate just how much impact the tides and winds could have on our activities and I perhaps should have realised that opportunities for close up time with bears was going to be significantly more limited than on some land based trips.

 

Overall however I was very happy and would recommend the team I went with if you ever wantrd a similar experience. The sall size of the boat made it very special.

 

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Zubbie15

Thanks for sharing this report @pomkiwi, this is definitely a trip I need to find the time to do sometime soon.  You really had some great sightings, and captured them well. 

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pomkiwi

@Zubbie15 - Thank-you. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to go/

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