Thursday, January 28, 2010

2008 KATMAI TRIP REPORT: PART 2 (GEOGRAPHIC HARBOUR)

Geographic Harbour (Amalik Bay) is picturesque, sheltered and infested with brown bears!

On previous trips to Katmai, most of our bear-viewing had taken place at Hallo and Kukak Bays. On our 2008 trip, we didn’t get to either of these sites as bear numbers were sparse at the time. Instead, we spent much of our adventure in Geographic Harbour, a picturesque site at the head of Amalik Bay. Like the rest of Katmai, the scenery is magnificent and bears are ubiquitous - there are usually at least two or three bears fishing in the main stream that flows into the bay. The harbour is surrounded by a high profile landscape that provides natural protection from the inclement weather that rushes across the Gulf of Alaska. It provides an ideal anchorage and a calm landing “strip” for float planes.

The downside of Geographic, is that on a clear day you are likely to share the prime bear-viewing spots with a number of “day-trippers” (these bear-viewers arrive by floatplane and remain in Geographic for two to four hours before being whisked back to Homer or Kodiak). During our stay, there were times where we were in close proximity to at least 30 other bear-viewers. While it certainly takes away some of the “wilderness feel” of the experience, this “bear paparazzi” did not seem to bother the bears that frequent Geographic Harbour (mind you, there may be other bears that would come and fish here but do not while the viewers are present). Also, in the early mornings and from mid-afternoon on, we were the only people among the bears.

A rotund sow (possibly a barren female - see notes in text below) exhibiting the typical Geographic Harbour dark pelage.

Interestingly enough, the bears that frequent Geographic Harbour tend to be darker in color than their Hallo Bay “cousins.” While you see some darker bears in Hallo, almost all the bears at Geographic are chocolate brown. While I am sure it varies from year to year, there were fewer bears at any one time on the Geographic stream than we had seen in early to mid-August at Hallo (we saw as many as 23 bears at once during one of our previous Hallo Bay visits, while the most Ursus arctos in view at any one time in Geographic was less than 10). This may be due to the fact that the prime fishing spots (at least those in view of the bear-viewing areas) in Geographic are not as abundant so there is less space for bears to fish comfortably around one another (fishing spots are more abundant when the tide is out).

In Geographic, there is high grass meadow (Calamagrostis spp.) that grows right up to the edge of some portions of the river. It was not uncommon to see subordinate bears, standing on their back legs, peering above the grass to make sure it was safe to take up a position along the water way. At low tide we would take-up a station on the intertidal flats, where bears fished in the dendritic tributaries that branched out from the main river channel. There is also a viewing pad, consisting of a flat, slightly raised bank situated along the edge of the stream that can be used at both low and high tide. It was not uncommon for bears working the stream edge to come within 15 to 20 feet of this viewing area.

While the area was never overrun with bears, there was often good fishing action in Geographic, especially at and around low tide. We saw numerous salmon pulled from the water by subadults, and both adult boars and sows (although the latter were slightly more abundant in the area). There were some fat, beautiful sows around the river, several of which were very effective at catching fish. One of these females was huge! Brad Josephs, brown bear expert, speculated that this was possibly a barren female, as they have a propensity to become very rotund.

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