McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Moderators: edfrank, dbhguru

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by Don » Tue Jun 18, 2013 5:46 pm

Noting Bob's fine floral images as he and Monica traverse Wyoming, it occurred to me that I should put up some images that Rhonda and I captured last week when we had the good fortune to spend five days at the McNeil River Bear Camp.
For more than thirty years, the Sanctuary has provided a special environment for Alaskan brown bears, free of human/food conditioning, and full of respect for the bruins and THEIR way of life.
As a result, we were fortunate that the bears let us share some of their space. Images that follow range from 300 yards away to 30 feet away, and were captured by a Sony point and shoot, pocket-sized travel zoom (DSC HX9V 24mm-360mm). Most images were Auto-enhanced, straightened but otherwise appear as taken. I'll attach a few here and now, and if requested, more in a later posting.

{Double click for actual image size, for this one only...apologies for submitting such a large file size!}
DSC02018.JPG
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
dbhguru
Posts: 4485
Joined: Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:34 pm

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by dbhguru » Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:01 pm

Don,

Splendid shot. That's the natural world on a whole different scale. Brown bears are magnificent animals. It is a toss up between them and polar bears as to which is the most awesome. Polar bears, brown bears, and siberian tigers are the planet's three largest land predators. Love'um all - at a distance.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

User avatar
jamesrobertsmith
Posts: 906
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:32 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:14 pm

One of my former pals went there two years ago before he went into Katmai. He had some pretty dicey encounters with some bears while he was at McNeil.

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by Don » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:32 pm

JR-
How dicey, at McNeil? We had some apprehensive moments (dicey-lite?) but had developed full-faith in our guides.
How did your friend like Katmai? We have friends interested in going there (us too), but haven't talked to anybody who has.
Don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by Don » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:58 pm

Bob-
They are, as they say in Alaska, the most 'charismatic of mega-fauna'! Our guides had (yep) guidebooks that identified many of the bears we saw, and knew them often by name. The third day out, Boog and a young challenger began what we soon recognized as a 'space recognition' issue (not so much territory in the geographic sense, but in a here and now chronological sense...guides referred to it as bubbles, and saw bear bubbles bouncing off of other bear bubbles). The two continued "compressing bubbles" until the bubble 'popped' in a pretty dramatic altercation. In their approach, they both practiced what the guides called "the Cowboy Walk" (essentially the wide-legged stance that cowboys develop after years of horseback riding). During this walk they'd urinate, essentially 'drawing the line'. [Males urinate down to forward, females urinate down to behind them, sometimes the only way to be sure of gender ID]
They were no more than 50 yards away from us, over a slight hill. They rose up on two legs (both formidably 8' or taller) and swiped each other with clawed paws (claws longer than Arsenio Hall's fingers!) before things got serious. They began a Sumo Wrestler kind of shoving match (they're still on two legs), until Boog decided to raise the stakes. With a firm bite on the massive neck of his younger challenger, Boog eventually took him down and wreaked a little havoc on him. Boog released him, backed away, turned his back on the challenger (a show of dominance) as he walked away. With a Cowboy Walk. The young challenger remained motionless (on all fours), looking down, for several minutes, then set off in another direction, casually grazing, with noticeable blood in his neck fur.
We sat transfixed, silent until a near simultaneous "phew!" kind of a sigh of relief (I think we were probably all holding our breath, apprehensive about what might come next). Five minutes later, we continued our journey, boldly enough walking by the site of the altercation, viewing the strewn sedges (Carex spp).
The next day, the young challenger is just another bear, this time having just crossed the creek to cool off (unusually warm weather while we were there, returned Saturday to Anchorage to 80 degree temps!)
The next day, the young challenger is just another bear, this time having just crossed the creek to cool off (unusually warm weather while we were there, returned Saturday to Anchorage to 80 degree temps!)
dbhguru wrote:Don,

Splendid shot. That's the natural world on a whole different scale. Brown bears are magnificent animals. It is a toss up between them and polar bears as to which is the most awesome. Polar bears, brown bears, and siberian tigers are the planet's three largest land predators. Love'um all - at a distance.

Bob
Attachments
The young challenger, surprisingly non-plussed grazes his way towards an eventual creek crossing...
The young challenger, surprisingly non-plussed grazes his way towards an eventual creek crossing...
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
jamesrobertsmith
Posts: 906
Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:32 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:52 pm

Don wrote:JR-
How dicey, at McNeil? We had some apprehensive moments (dicey-lite?) but had developed full-faith in our guides.
How did your friend like Katmai? We have friends interested in going there (us too), but haven't talked to anybody who has.
Don
He and his wife were walking back from the river to the campground. They got cornered by a mother bear with two huge cubs (all but grown). They had to back into the trees (shrubs, really, from the way he described them) to get out of their way (cubs coming down one side of the trail, momma the other. It was a nervous moment for them but the bears met up and passed them by without paying much attention to them.

Later, in Katmai they had an even more frightening encounter with a bear which also turned out okay.

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by Don » Wed Jun 19, 2013 3:09 pm

Part of the McNeil River Bear experience is the journey, and taking a float plane ride (Cessna 206) is a tried and true Alaskan adventure. The plane is sitting on water when you get into it, it takes off on it, flies above it for an hour or more, and lands on it.
During that experience, there might be views of interest, such as the one below, taken by my better half (Rhonda) in the back seat (best for viewing, taking photos):
Augustine Volcano, here not active, but upon our return displaying a column of steam...most recentlyactive four years ago...pilot aimed at it from Homer, then turned SW while along side of it, towards the Bear Camp...
Augustine Volcano, here not active, but upon our return displaying a column of steam...most recentlyactive four years ago...pilot aimed at it from Homer, then turned SW while along side of it, towards the Bear Camp...
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
Don
Posts: 1569
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:42 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by Don » Wed Jun 19, 2013 3:44 pm

JR-
Wise decision by your friends! And one that works both at McNeil and with bears in general. Heck, animals in general.

We came to a different way of viewing bears while at McNeil...these are different bears. What I mean to say is that they behave differently than bears in other locations. The McNeil bears have had a consistent human behavior to deal with for the almost 40 years they've been in the sanctuary. Through one man's consistent behavioral philosophy (Larry Aumiller), these bears haven't come to associate humans with food (their words are more like, not food-conditioned). They don't raid the camp, although to the uninitiated camper's horror, their footprints occasionally do appear within the camp per se. The outhouses (brand spanking new after 40 years) are about 50 yards out of camp, and unless you're in a hurry, one usually takes a good long look at the immediate vicinity. The bears I'm told are liking the new edges on the new outhouses and like to rub their backs on them.

Thursday, we ventured out further and stationed ourselves on this 'driftwood island', about 100' from a cliff that ran for several miles along the far side of Mikfik Creek. We'd seen "following behavior" for several days, and were getting good at identifying it. Boy follows girl. Girl plays hard to get. Boy follows girl more ardently. Girl plays harder to get, and actually gives him a piece of her mind. Boy is non-plussed, definitely gonna stay close to her as he can.

So after one complete circle of the immediate geography (some several square miles) in the morning, we're watching a younger girl taking a nap, halfway down the cliff/bluff, when boy and girl bear burst upon the scene, dropping from top of cliff to base of cliff a small distance before us, and the younger girl bear...she see's the advantage of exiting stage left, climbs up and over the cliff/bluff and is outta there. Another bear enters the driftwood island from the Southeast, all three now in front of us about 100 yards out. Girl Bear in the lead heads away from them, and towards us at a rapid clip. There are five of us, rotating on large driftwood logs trying to take all of this in...I sensed the wrongness of my position, turned to face the girl bear, our guide (Dru) behind me and slightly to the side. Dru simply stood tall, opened up his arms and pointedly stared at the girl bear who promptly zagged to the right of us, the new boy bear returned from where he came, and the pursuing boy bear continued his 'following behavior', and off they went.

At the point of nearest proximity, all three were briefly within 50 feet of us. I would have liked to have had the wherewithall to have set my camera on video and captured this scenario. But I found that having jaw dropped interferred with my photo shooting! I did take a photo of the younger girl bear, in her siesta not long before all the action, and it follows:
DSC01775.JPG
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

BJCP Apprentice Beer Judge

View my Alaska Big Tree List Webpage at:
http://www.akbigtreelist.org

User avatar
pattyjenkins1
Posts: 128
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:57 am

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by pattyjenkins1 » Wed Jul 03, 2013 4:43 pm

I was at McNeil River in 1978 and had an "encounter" with a grizzly. I was out by myself after dinner walking a path to see a tepee, which was preserved/protected by log cabin. Having seen it, I came out the door, started to walk back, and advanced several feet. Because I'm on crutches, I tend to watch the ground when I walk instead of looking straight ahead of me. Well, fortunately I did look up, because there was a grizzly on the same trail coming toward me. It was probably 20 feet away, at most. Took a deep breath, said to myself, "I know who's boss," backed up into the cabin, and watched the bear through the window as it walked by. I've loved grizzlies ever since.
Patty Jenkins
Executive Director
Tree Climbers International, Inc.
Get High / Climb Trees

User avatar
edfrank
Posts: 4217
Joined: Sun Mar 07, 2010 5:46 pm

Re: McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, South Central Alaska

Post by edfrank » Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:05 pm

1045018_10201489119374507_1578113702_n.jpg
1045018_10201489119374507_1578113702_n.jpg (63.84 KiB) Viewed 3178 times
You all are such good friends that if chased by bears, I would still trip you, but I would think of you often after your funeral.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

Post Reply

Return to “Alaska”