Friday, October 29, 2010

Season 4 Highlights

My fourth season as a wildlife guide at Knight Inlet Lodge has just wrapped up for another year. This season was eventful in a lot of different ways. Once we think we have things figured out, Mother Nature throws us another curve or reveals more of her inner secrets. Thankfully, due in part to a mild winter and a huge pink salmon run in 2009, we were presented with a set of triplet bear cubs by a bear we call Bella. Their antics and drama were the highlight of many of our guests trips and the cause for more than one set of tears. We witnessed a wolf attempting to steal one of the cubs from Mom, but due to good training and obedience, the cubs all hustled up a tree when told to and Bella was then free to deal with this potential predator. We think that the wolf was more successful later in the season, as one of the cubs went missing in early September. There were plenty of oohs and aaahs as we were allowed into the estuary nursery to witness the three cubs contentedly suckling Mothers rich milk. Once full, the family curled up in a heap of bears to have their afternoon siesta. Lenore and Peanut also spent the season around the cove and we marvelled at how quickly Peanut grew and matured in his second year. These bear families stayed around the estuary all season as guests and guides alike enjoyed the curiosity of the cubs as they explored their home, constantly on the lookout for danger and food.
A pair of eagles added onto their nest in the corner of the cove and began setting early this spring. We watched patiently, waiting for the first sign of an eaglet sitting on the nest, however, it did not come to pass. After a month or more, the parents abandoned their duties and went on with their own lives. We wish them more success next year.
Mating season was exciting with Bruno, Pretty boy and two other male bears hanging around to create some excitement and choice for the girls. There seemed to be more boys than girls to us this year.
We had time to spend with the little creatures of the cove and the river this year. As the moms and cubs explored the shoreline we noticed many of the struggles that the local birds have daily. I was watching a merganser mother with two babies when suddenly an eagle settled into its predatory glide path to pick up one of those chicks. One of my guests suddenly and unexpectedly leaped to her feet and began waving her arms and yelling at the eagle. The eagle slammed on the brakes, hovered for a couple moments about ten feet above it's prey, trying to figure out this crazy human, then left to ponder the situation from the safety of a nearby spruce tree. It decided to try again and the woman once more did her dance and song in the skiff to the benefit of the merganser family. I and the rest of the guests did not know whether to laugh or chastise the woman for disrupting Mother Nature's greatest bird predator. She spoke only broken English, but her French was well understood by the marauding eagle who left to find less protected prey. The lady exclaimed in her best English, "Not babies, you can have fish, not babies!!"
As the tide begins to flood the estuary, sand lance begin to emerge from their muddy lair. Alert gulls, crows, ravens and eagles await this event daily, and we spent some time one morning observing this drama. We got the skiff maneuvered into the tiny channel in the mudflat amongst the screaming and diving gulls. The water was clear and shallow enough that we could see the fish squiggle out of the mud but lie or float helplessly for about a minute before finally coming back to their senses. In this minute was when the scores of birds were having their feast of fresh, stunned, sand lance. What drama happening in front of our eyes when from afar it seems as if the estuary is empty and boring.

Butterflies on foxglove, sapsuckers in crab apple trees, spider webs spun over huge distances are all topics for observation, discussion and wonder. A pair of Transient Orca cruised quietly into the cove one misty morning to the surprise and delight of us but to the chagrin of the dolphins and seals. Rain, fog, wind and sun all provided the everyday beauty and challenges due to too much or not enough, depending on your point of view.

Once again, the end of the Wild Salmon Odyssey of pink salmon run failed to materialize in the Glendale, unlike the record sockeye run in the Fraser River system.. We were not expecting a huge run, but we did expect more than the approximately 20,000 adults that did slowly arrive and disperse throughout the river and the spawning channel. It made for slim pickings for the salmon predators that depend on their healthy numbers for their own health and well being. The bears continuously paced the river shorelines looking for shallow water salmon or dead and weakened carcasses to eat. Some of the bears such as Lenore and Peanut adapted to eating barnacles and mussels on the inter-tidal shoreline. They along with Bella and her two remaining cubs spent hours digging rice root and other bulbs and roots from the sedge flats. All five bears looked to be in fine shape the last time I saw them near the middle of October, so they should be OK. The other bears appeared to be fat, but not overly obese, so I trust that they will continue to find fish until they finally go into hibernation sometime in November.

Our season opened and ended this year with The Vital Ground conservation group. They left us with their message: "Where the earth is healthy and whole, the grizzly can roam!" We wish the bears a good sleep and hope to see you next spring.

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