Category Archives: Black bears

Free to Roam

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Normally Aki refuses to follow me onto Gastineau, giving me her “are you crazy, I am just a little dog with short legs and tiny feet who will just flounder out there” look.  But it is still morning and the sun has not had time to soften the frozen surface of the snow. We are free to roam.

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On the far edge of the meadow, where we can enjoy an unfiltered view of Mt. Juneau, Aki goes on alert. I can’t find anything among the stubby Douglas pines to merit her attention. Twice more during our walk across the meadow, the little poodle-mix will bark and stare into the woods. Twice more I will fail to spot anything worth barking at. I will hear a hawk whistle, see two bald eagles circle over our heads, and trace the track of a black bear made yesterday afternoon in softening snow.

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Storm Breaking

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I crunch along behind Aki as she trots down an icy trail through old growth woods. If snow still falls outside the forest, we wouldn’t know thanks to the trees’ thick canopy. This morning the weather service issued another winter storm advisory, predicting heavy snow tonight. But the snowfall was easing when we left the car for the woods.

Aki sniffs at the stump of a thin hemlock tree that had been growing on the shore of their pond. Recently, beavers chewed through it’s trunk until it fell and then stripped it of bark. Believing that they prefer cottonwood bark for eating, I wonder if the naked hemlock is a sign of famine in beaver country.

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The sky is brightening when we reach the beach. Across Stephens Passage, sun shines on Admiralty Island. Named by Tlingits “The Fortress of the Bears,”

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Admiralty has the most brown bears per acre in the world. The big grizzlies are still hibernating. Brown bears are rarely seen in our section of the rain forest but their smaller cousins the black bears often wander Juneau streets. Last summer I watched standing on out lawn to better reach an apple on our tree. Aki has chased one or two of them out of her yard.

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Bears and Birds

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The salmon are returning to the Eagle River. I have to take care not to step on their desiccating bodies as we cross a riverside meadow. There are no bears or their scat just see a cranky pair of ravens, so I decide to continue our walk along the river. Just in case, I place the little dog on her leash.

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The dead salmon smell blends with the others of fall—the sweet and sour smell of ripe cranberries, leaf mold, and the sharp tang of grass. I wonder if the strong bouquet threatens to overwhelm Aki’s sensitive nose. But the poodle-mix shows her usual keen interest in, for me, unremarkable spots along the trail.

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We pass a family with small children picnicking along the river. One of their members operates a drone, which gives off an annoying hum. I’m thinking about letting Aki loose when she gives out a little growl. Two people just up the trail point to a bear munching away on a salmon it had carried up from a nearby stream.

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I’m holding Aki now. We watch the bear saunter over to an alder tree and bury her nose in tree moss. Then it moves into the forest. I carry Aki a little further and then let her walk. She stays on the lead. We pass gravel bars covered with gulls, crows, and ravens and, just seconds before I can focus the camera on it, a fishing bear.

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On the drive home, near a different salmon stream, I have to stop the car to let a black bear waddle across the road. Just after Aki gives another low growl, the bear turns, for the first time, to look in our direction. Who knew that bears had such sensitive hearing?

You Would Be Nervous Too

 

4Fifty feet ahead an immature bald eagle rises from the creek, a twelve–inch-long fish dangling from its talon. The fish drops as the bird wings skyward. I know the scene took only seconds but when I play it back in my head, the bird and prey moved in slow motion, like I could have dashed over and caught the fish before it hit the meadow grass.

3Aki clung to my side during the walk. She was spooked by the sound of 10-20 pound king salmon splashing in the creek pond and the off-key symphony performed by ravens and crows in the creek side alders. I was spooked too by the angry sounding splashes and the smell of dead salmon, both of which draw bears.

2It was low tide when we reached the creek delta. Clutches of six or more eagles loitered on the exposed wetlands. One burst out of the tree just above my head when I stopped to count its cousins. Any peace the eagles and gulls had reached was broken when an immature eagle flew over a gull-feeding zone. The little white birds dived bombed the eagles and drove them into a nearby spruce forest.1

Now Aki and I prepare to pass again through the salmon zone. Just ahead a Sitka black tail deer feeds among a thick patch of flowering fireweed. Aki will never see it or its companion. In a fluid series of jumps, the deer reach mid-meadow and turn to look at me until I lower my camera, walk beneath two roosting bald eagles, and enter the spawning zone.5

Before the Bears Arrive

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This is the first time that Aki and I have seen Montana Creek since last winter. Then I skied. She dashed around in the snow. Today we both slog along in the rain, stopping every so often for me to pick berries. We here not for the berry picking, which is marginally productive, but for the calming stream. Its rushing sound blocks that of rifles being fired at the nearby gun range. It also seems to carry away the day’s stress.1

I don’t worry about bears, even though we pass smashed plots of grass where one reclined and spots where bears have dug up roots. The berry crop here is not good enough to draw them away from the downstream gravel bars where they can easily snatch a just-arrived dog salmon from the creek. Soon the salmon will be flooding this part of the creek. An immature bald eagle just flew by us on a low altitude reconnaissance mission up river. Then I’ll find another place to pick.2

Picking and Tossing

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Seconds ago, Aki dropped her orange Frisbee at my feet. Now she barks—her way of asking me to send the toy flying so she can chase it. I want to ignore her and continue picking blueberries. It’s past mid-summer and this is the first time I’ve had to put up berries for the winter.2

When I pick up the Frisbee, Aki charges down the trail in the direction I have already thrown the thing five times. I wait until she is well on her way before tossing it another direction. Now I’ll have some time to pick while she searches for her precious.3

Bears have already gone over this patch of bushes—cubs judging from the size of their scat. They high-graded: tromping over the lower lying fruit to tongue fat, sweet berries from the topmost branches. It would be very bad to startle the mother of the hungry cubs that wreaked all the damage. Thanks to Aki’s barking, there is no chance of that.

Bears

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Aki could be riding on my bike as I climb from Tee Harbor to the mouth of Eagle River. But she doesn’t like sitting in the bike basket. So, she is not here to see the cinnamon-colored bear that was asleep next to the bike path when I rode by. Startled, it bolted awake and crashed into the woods. Minutes later I pass a yearly cub chopping on dandelions. It has been a week for seeing animals from the seat of my bicycle. There was the harbor seal that chased dolly varden near the hatchery. Then I spotted two black tail does that continued to graze on grass as I rode past. On the way I stopped at the Arboretum where a blooming cherry tree frames a view of the Shrine.2