There appears to be a rowdy clamor emanating from a certain Watch-For-Rocks-following contingent – “Where are the bear pictures? We want bear pictures!!! If you don’t post some bear pictures we are not going to believe anything you say!”
I’m nothing if not obliging.
So I got up early on my day off (again!). I pretty much get up early anyway so this was no big woop, but Sunday I specifically wanted to beat the post-breakfast Lodge crowd out to Brooks Falls in hopes of catching some quality bear-catching-the-fish-jumping-the-Falls action. I also didn’t want to share the platform with 40 other people and their tripods. I like my space.
Call me selfish, but at 7:30 a.m. (after a quick breakfast and the 30-minute walk to the falls from my cabin - yes, I may come upon a bear or two or more anywhere along here – I sing Pink Floyd and Beatles tunes out loud as I walk) I arrived at my destination and nearly had the Falls platform to myself. For about 45 minutes, it was just me, the fish, the bears, and the foggy, misty river. And people think I’m crazy for getting up at 6:15 a.m. on my day off?
This is the first time since I have been at Katmai that I have watched the salmon jump the Falls in such great numbers. I guess I watched perhaps thirty or more salmon jump per minute for the nearly two hours I was out there. I was totally enthralled. I have been told that the numbers of salmon jumping the Falls will increase over the course of July. The salmon do come in “pulses” from Bristol Bay, however, so there are no guarantees that on any one day there will more or fewer salmon at the Falls. The commercial catch at Bristol Bay is monitored and so the approximate “escapement” numbers are known (those salmon which are not caught and so are able to migrate further up the Naknek River to Brooks).
This is finally IT, and IT is happening right now, in July, as promised. This is what people from all over the world come to Katmai to see, and they are surely seeing IT now. IT is the BROWN BEARS. They are doing their big, wet, furry thing because the salmon are at last doing theirs.
The other afternoon while I was working the lower river platform at the bridge, it seemed that out of nowhere came a gaggle of bears. A minute previously there had been perhaps three or four bears browsing quietly in the grass along the upper stretch of the lower river, looking for that salmon to jump into their paws. And then, all of a sudden – BOOM!!! There were bears everywhere! We counted ten of them. They ran! and jumped! and swam! and splashed! and caught fish! and chased each other! downstream to the bridge where they created bear-havoc for about 45 minutes and then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over and the bears disappeared upstream again, into the high grass and alder shrubs. It was crazy wonderful to witness and visitors were altogether going nuts with their cameras.
It seems that the foot bridge across the lower river is being closed to visitor traffic more than it is open these days due to any number of bears within the 50-yard safety distance of the bridge. But so with any bridge closure (of any length of time, from minutes to several hours) comes bear-viewing opportunities for visitors and directions from the rangers to move this way or that, perhaps back down the trail to the fish-freezing building or out to the beach and back another way or even across the back trail at the edge of the marsh. Be prepared to move, people!!! We need to give the bears their space and keep that 50-yard distance away from them.
Working “the corner” means most often not being able to see the bears at all; there exists the need to rely on good radio communication with the ranger across the river who is working the lower platform. That person is the eyes of “the corner.” He or she can see across the river and so relays info to “the corner” on bear location. The lower platform is on one side of the bridge and “the corner” is on the other side.
We are now able to hear the bears from far-off, too, because there are so many of them. They posture and growl at each other upriver and at the Falls, and we can hear them from our cabins which, to a crow, are no more than a mile away. Whenever I leave a building (cabin, bath house, ranger station, etc) I first peek out the door left and right before I step out. It has become habit. The other morning I couldn’t leave my cabin for a couple of minutes because there was a bear waltzing along right outside. A couple of evenings ago as I was using the computer, a sow and her cub moseyed on past the ranger station. Did they think they might be able to check their email?