What an amazing day! The day began at dawn with an incredible sunrise displaying its colours on MT Stupendous as we sat in the wildlife hide by the river hoping for early morning visitors. None arrived but our luck was about to change.
After an excellent breakfast we met our guide Bryn for our first river float to last about 3 hours down the Atnarko River system. After finding and photographing a banana slug (who was not impressed) we boarded our raft and set off. The early morning on the river was outstanding, mergansers, gulls, lots of bear tracks, some bear day beds and salmon (dead and alive) but no bears. We had two very impressive young men guiding us who filled us in on the natural history of the area, fish and bears – with the occasional philosophical discussion thrown in the mix. The river world casts a spell and the three hour drift passed quickly.
As we rounded the final corner, there she was, a young grizzly sow just sauntering out of the woods to feast on the dead and decaying fish along the riverside. We had a privileged 30 minutes with her before she moved on. Grizzly bear females generally do not produce offspring until they are 4-5 years of age. Mating season is in the summer but embryos are not implanted until the fall with implantation being nutrient dependent. A thin badly nourished female will generally abort any embryos she is carrying. This one looked very well fed, fingers crossed she will appear next spring with a couple of cubs at her side.
Following a lovely roasted red pepper/tomato soup at the lodge, we got our walking shoes on and joined Bryn again for an ecological walk through Big Rock Kettle Pond Park. The park boasts some huge glacial erratics (hence the name) – rocks that are carried by glaciers great distances from their origin and deposited when the glaciers retreat.
The walk turned into a mycological adventure and a chance to spend time with douglas firs 800-1000 years old.
Hoary giants who had survived fires that decimated the pines around them and had acted as bear rubs for centuries – if only they could talk.
The ecology of riparian (stream/river bank) zones that surround bear/salmon habitat is interesting. Bears often will drag their fish up away from where they were caught – a habit often seen in juveniles to protect their dinner. The remains of the fish are then left to decay into the soil. The result is a 200 m corridor running to parallel to these watercourses which has a very different soil composition than the remainder of the forest. We noticed this today – resulting in very different plant/tree community, before the moss and fern system began about 200 metres from the Atnarko tributary we visited.
An interesting discussion ensued regarding the purpose of bear rubs (trees rubbed on and clawed by bears) . Some scientists regard them as address posts – there is also some research that indicates that bears who use them are more successful at mating and producing offspring.
Following a couple of hours in this magical place we received word of another female grizzly working the river below the lodge and away we went. “Ivory”, named after her white claws, appeared shortly around the bend in the river, engaging in what is called kick fishing – bringing up dead fish from the river bottom with her hind feet. Another 20 minutes in the company of a magnificent animal.
We have a walk planned tomorrow morning and then another river drift in the afternoon. This is an amazing place, peaceful and spiritual – highly recommended! Many thanks to my friend Pat for some of the photos!