Bears, Bears Everywhere!

Birds of course are the primary focus of our trips, yet we regularly encounter other scenes so spectacular that they command our attention. So it was with the bear shows in Alaska this year–in 2009 the bears came in droves.

Denali looms large on a sunny day in the park, June 2009. (Photo by guide George Armistead)
Denali on a sunny day in the park, June 2009, dwarfing everything around it. (Photo by guide George Armistead)

In Alaska on a given tour or a given day, we never know if we will see a bear. This year, however, on our full day in Denali National Park not only did immense Mt. McKinley (Denali) loom large; Grizzlies were everywhere. We found one, then another, then a third, then two more on the road at close range–and all of a sudden we’d seen 21 Grizzlies! Most memorable was a sighting not far upslope from the road: a big sow with two “springer” cubs (cubs born this spring) that were busy frolicking in the sun. Suddenly wanting the cubs’ attention for some reason, the mother began bellowing at a very low frequency not clearly audible to us. What was up? We weren’t sure, but it sure turned the cubs’ heads.

The mother Grizzly in question, with two cubs in tow (one showing just a paw between mother's front legs). (All photos in this Alaska post by guide George Armistead)
The mother Grizzly in question, with two cubs in tow (one showing just a paw between mother's front legs). (Photo by guide George Armistead)

In Barrow the bear show was of a different flavor. Seeing Polar Bears at the northernmost point in the United States is even less a certainty–some years we see none, while other years we see a couple. This spring we made our annual pilgrimage out to Point Barrow to dip our toes into the Arctic Ocean, and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by nine Polar Bears. There was a sow trundling over the pack ice with a couple of perfectly adorable cubs, and several singletons scattered about loafing or loping. Best of all, though, was a hungry young male intent on getting some food. We could observe him at close range (from the comfort of our vehicles of course) as he tugged away at a bowhead whale carcass. Quite a lunch!

The young male Polar Bear at Point Barrow takes a break from the whale carcass to watch our group, while Glaucous Gulls work the same feast.
The young male Polar Bear photographed at Point Barrow by guide George Armistead takes a break from the whale carcass to watch our group, while Glaucous Gulls work the same feast.

The birds we saw this year were fun indeed–the Hawk Owl, that red Ruff, the Bluethroats, the Wood Sandpiper, the Gyrfalcons, and so many others–but the bears sure kept us entertained as well.

Northern Hawk Owl, Alaska 2009
Northern Hawk Owl along our route to Denali, Alaska, June 2009
Ruff at Barrow, Alaska, June 2009 by guide George Armistead
Ruff at Barrow, Alaska, June 2009 by guide George Armistead
Bluethroat, Nome, Alaska June 2009 by guide George Armistead
Bluethroat, Nome, Alaska, June 2009 by guide George Armistead

One thought on “Bears, Bears Everywhere!”

  1. Birders might be interested to know that, high on the glacier covered slopes of Denali, there exists a population of Ravens that have developed a special adaptation: They can dig through 5-6 feet of snow to steal food stashed by climbers. Climbers typically stash food in snow caves 5-6 ft deep. Experienced climbers know that they can’t mark the stash with a wand directly over the food. To outsmart the Ravens, it is necessary to mark the stash with a wand placed 100m down the trail. When I climbed Denali in June 1986, another climbing party had to turn back, 2 days from Kalhitna Glacier base camp because Ravens (not bears) ate ALL their food.

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