Monday, May 22, 2017

Bob's Blurry Bear Blog (and wolf)

To be honest, this won't be too much of a bear blog, more of a random series of photos from the last week or so.  There are a couple blurry bear photos though and one of a wolf from a bear hunting trip that I did with a couple friends two Saturdays ago.  An unsuccessful bear hunting trip I'll add so anyone who thinks hunting bears is bad can be at ease!  I'm not much of a bear hunter but would like to get one nice spring black bear to have as a blanket in my attempt to keep things as natural as possible.  I did make 3 more attempts to get the bear I mentioned in the earlier post about whales but only saw him once and wasn't able to get close enough for a shot.  I think a future blog post will be about hunting and my thoughts regarding it as I know there are some people who disagree with it or feel that it is unnecessary or cruel.  There truly is a spiritual and deep connection to nature and the animals being hunted that comes with hunting them.

This was one of 4 brown bears we saw on that Saturday bear hunting trip.  It was a small bear that was only about 20-25 yards away from us when we first saw it.  It didn't see us for a minute or two so I was able to get out my camera and get this not so good picture of it before it saw us and ran away.

This bear was small enough that I was initially concerned that there might be a mother bear nearby but fortunately there was not!  There were 3 of us humans there and we were all armed with big caliber rifles but I still prefer to not encounter a mad mama bear, mostly for my own safety but also to avoid any need to hurt or kill a bear just doing what she should be doing - protecting her young.  It still amazes me how quickly bears will avoid conflict and confrontation with humans given that they could so easily rip us apart.  The strength and speed of a bear is just incredible!  I love the constant state of heightened vigilance a savvy person should have when in bear country.  Everyone should feel like potential prey occasionally to keep the world in proper perspective! 

This is one of two wolves that we saw several hundred yards away.  I will never get bored with seeing wolves, every tine I have seen one is a special experience.  I am an unashamed wolf proponent although many of my fellow Wrangellites and hunters still have a personal policy of shooting them on sight using the reasoning that the wolves kill too many deer and moose.  My thought is that they kill just the right amount of these animals and until my fellow humans live in the wild 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and have to kill their food with their mouths, we should give them a break.  I have had 3 wolf encounters that stand out in my mind, all in the Wrangell area. 

The first of these memorable encounters was on a large grassy salt marsh in a tidal estuary where I saw 17 wolves at one time!  They were stretched out over several hundred yards crossing the grassy area into the timber and was obviously a pack with individuals of varying ages.  I was in the area moose hunting at the time so quickly knew that my moose hunting plan had been dashed by their presence but I was still happy to have had this encounter.  Later on that same day, I discovered sign of wolves chasing a cow moose with a calf in the sand of a dry channel of the river.  There was one area with moose hair scattered all over the ground which was churned up and disturbed where the cow moose obviously was fighting off the wolves.  I saw no traces of blood and was able to follow the moose and calf tracks to the river where they entered the water and must have swum to the far shore and escaped.

My second memorable wolf encounter was on a trip up the Iskut River which is the largest tributary of the Stikine River and is just a few miles across the border in British Columbia.  Two of us were in my 16' jet skiff on our first excursion up the Iskut which is a very fast flowing large river in the middle of the wilderness.  As I was navigating the channel, I noticed some splashing in the water right on the shoreline of the river ahead of us on the right side of the river (or river left for you paddlers).  I saw that it was an agitated cow moose frantically running back and forth along a short stretch of the river bank.  I then noticed two smaller animals swimming across the river toward her in front of us and thought that they were two moose calves.  One was a moose calf but the other was a wolf in close pursuit of it!  The moose calf was calling out and swimming hard but so was the wolf.  The river current was very swift so the smaller animals were swept downriver from the cow moose causing her to go up into the forest where I lost sight of her for a few minutes.  The bank of the river was fairly steep and very rocky which presented a significant obstacle to the moose calf, the current and the rocky, steep bank made it impossible for the calf to clamber out onto the shore.  The wolf had no such problem and quickly got out of the river a short way downstream of the calf and then began trying to find a way to get to the calf.  While the calf couldn't get out of the river, neither could the wolf get down to the calf so for several minutes there was a dramatic standoff with the calf bawling and struggling against the current and the wolf searching for a way to get the calf.  While this was happening, the cow moose reappeared on the river bank upriver from its calf and the wolf and then re-entered the river  and was quickly swept passed her calf and the wolf.  When she realized this, she quickly and powerfully swam to the shore and got out once again but was now a hundred yards downriver from her calf and in a spot where she couldn't see it.  She was not happy with the situation at all and then went back into the forest.  Meanwhile, the calf and wolf standoff continued until the calf swam back across the river to the far side, the opposite side from its mother, and got out and ran into the forest.  The wolf watched the calf swim away and then it too disappeared into the forest on the same side of the river as the cow moose.  Then this incredible story we were fortunate to witness was over.  We didn't see any of them again and have no idea what the outcome was.

The third encounter happened in 2015 on August 1st which is the first day of our deer hunting season and is the only reason why I remember the date!  My friend Beth and I were hiking and deer hunting on one of my favorite islands in the Wrangell area, Sergief Island up on the Stikine River delta.  It was a beautiful sunny and warm day on the delta so we were just leisurely walking through the thigh deep grass of the salt marsh along a slough leading back out to one of the main channels of the Stikine River when I saw 3 small wolves run across the sandy bank of the river channel out of sight behind the river bank.  They were wolf puppies in that gangly, leggy, goofy stage of puppyhood and didn't seem to have noticed us at all as they romped by with each other.  Just moments later, I saw a full grown wolf running by us in the grass about 50 feet away.  This adult wolf's course put Beth and I between it and the puppies who were still somewhere in front of us on the riverbank.  The adult went about 50 yards and then stopped and turned toward us and began barking just like a dog!  It didn't bark kind of like a dog, it sounded just like a big dog and if I hadn't been watching it do this, I might have mistaken it for a domestic dog.  While we were being barked at by the adult, I turned back toward the river where I had last seen the puppies to try to get another sighting of them.  I couldn't see them but could hear some faint whining coming from some willow bushes and moving further downriver from us.  When I turned back to the adult barking wolf, I saw something truly cool and unexpected, the wolf was standing on its hind legs!  The height of the grass was such that we could only see the wolf's head and face and the very top of its back when it was on all fours but now I could see its chest!  It must have been trying to get a better view of the area to determine where the puppies were and what our intentions were.  We didn't want to disrupt this wolf family too much but neither did we want to end this amazing encounter so we started walking in the direction of the puppies and put some willows between us and the adult wolf which kept barking and began to keep pace with us on a parallel course just on the other side of the willows.  We never saw the puppies again but periodically could hear whines from various parts of the willow thickets which seemed to be angling toward the adult wolf.  Eventually the adult stopped barking, we heard no more puppy whines, and never saw any of them again! 

This is an example of an estuary of a small river at low tide.  This is a river valley about an hour and a half from Wrangell where we saw the small brown bear and the wolf in the photos above.  At high tide, the majority of the land seen here would be covered by water and you could bring a shallow draft boat into the estuary.

Alaska's state flower, the forget-me-not, is in bloom.

Just a few okay sunset photos to fill out this post.

Willows against a beautiful blue Stikine River sky about 1 mile from the Canadian border.

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