Category Archives: Black bears

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?

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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

Sun on Ice

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This is our first return to the Troll Woods since the bear incident. That ended with a curious black bear peering down at us from atop a spruce tree. Now, hopefully, the cold that has iced over the ponds and flooded the moraine trails has also driven the bears into hibernation.

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The rising sun can’t reach the first section we cross but its reflected power brightens the frost feathers from gray to a subtle white color. Ahead, Aki trots towards a sun-washed portion of the trail. But I want to linger in the calm dusk knowing that I won’t be able to appreciate its beauty after seeing the woods in full sun

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Fish Creek

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Aki and I slog up the Fish Creek Trail, entering a land gone to rest after the salmon runs. In late summer, pink and chum salmon fought for space and mates on the creek’s shallow stretches. They mated and died, providing food for bears, eagles and herons. Thick brush lined the trail, hiding the presence of bears until a black mass darts away when you round a corner or you narrowly miss stepping in a half eaten salmon.

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In summer this creek valley is an exciting, dangerous place, especially for a ten-pound poodle mix with a Napoleon complex. But today, with old growth canopy providing some protection from the rain, and the creek waters humming their calming song, I can relax and pretend that the creek is carrying away my blues.

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Aki is not relaxed. She stations herself a few feet in front of me as we wind around hundred foot high spruce trees, checking back often to make sure I am not about to do something stupid. Thinking that she smells danger, I look for the tracks of bears or wolves but only find one made this morning by a deer pivoting off the trail.

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I wonder what it would be like to spend your whole life in this little creek valley, smoking and drying salmon and deer meat to carry you through to next summer. After years of watching the creek bring salmon to your camp would you claim it as your god?