Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bear soup - Katmai
Float plane to Katmai
OK, so we’ve gave up on counting bears when we got to 80-something, and yes, we’ve posted lots of bear photos, but when you get to Katmai you realise that you have reached the centre of the bear universe and every bear that you saw before was merely an appetiser. 
Landing hazard
An early start from our campsite in down-town Anchorage (on the train line and under the flight path) saw us flying to a remote village called King Salmon (I wonder if that might be a fishing town?). From there we transferred to a little float plane which took us to Brook camp on the shores of XXX Lake where encountered our first bear on the beach within minutes of arriving. It proceeded to stroll down among the float planes while we were briefed on the rules of how to behave when living with bears. Unlike anything we had encountered elsewhere in the US, this was very much about managing people, not about managing bears.  This became apparent as we set out on the trails where, whenever a bear turned up, people were moved out of the way so the bear could carry on with its bear business without us getting in the way.  Whilst more ranger intensive, this management strategy created an environment where bears were confident to do their own thing without fear of us lot, and fortunately, because they were here to eat salmon, the bears were not at all interested in eating us (presumably we’re less tasty than salmon)....although they did make a point in maintaining a certain level of doubt in the minds of the anglers who were there to share (without invitation from the bears) their salmon.
Bear soup!
After an afternoon of bear watching at Brooks Falls, where over a dozen bears gathered to employ a range of fish catching techniques to harvest salmon intent on ensuring the passage of their genes to the next generation, we returned to dinner in the lodge, with a couple of glasses of wine, before retreating to the campsite to pitch our rented two person tent (for some reason Christine decided that my one man tent wouldn’t do the trick) in the rain. As you can imagine, too much rain, combined with too many wines made the pitching of an unfamiliar tent quite a challenge, so we settled for something that was remotely tent-like and crawled in for the night. 

Apart from my trousers which contained my now soggy passport, we woke reasonably dry and spent another day watching fishing, cavorting and rampaging bears and frantic rangers shutting down and opening parts of the trails and herding tourists whenever the bears chose to come into close proximity - which was reasonably frequently. I would have thought that I would have resented being herded about by rangers, but because it was all about giving the bears, rather than us, first priority, I really came to admire both the  strategy and the skills and commitment of the rangers tasked with keeping us, rather than the bears, under control. This contrasts markedly with our earlier experiences in places like Jasper where, whenever bears encountered people, it was the bears that were harassed (hazed) by the rangers, rather than the people. 
Another day of leisurely bear watching started to reveal the different strategies employed by the different bears. Some would position themselves at the top of the falls facing downstream to catch salmon in mid-leap. Others would position below the falls waiting for those salmon that didn’t quite have enough “oomph” to get up the falls to wash back into their waiting jaws. It seems that the dominant males got these prime spots. A bit further down stream in the riffles, younger bears or mothers with cubs would resort to pouncing on fish passing through the shallow waters. Even further downstream, where the fish left the lake for the stream, other bears would either “snorkel” with their heads beneath the water, or stand upright in waist deep water, trying to get a better view from a higher vantage point.  And all the time, they would watch each other, ensuring they knew exactly where everyone else was, without making actual eye contact, looking away as soon as a more dominant animal looked their way, presumably a mechanism for otherwise solitary animals to deal with the unusually closed proximity forced upon them by the concentrated food source. 
Fishing hazards!

Boxing on the beach

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