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.
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.
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 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.