03 Oct Bears and Huckleberries
It’s a far cry from this time two years ago.
Back then one of our guests, who had travelled all the way from the UK to see the great Rocky Mountain grizzly bear and was clearly getting frustrated at its elusiveness, wrote in the dust on the back of one our trucks “Wot – no Bears?”
Eventually we found the lady a bear or two but it was certainly a time of slim pickings.
This year, if anything, has been the diametric opposite. Not since the year we moved in have we seen so many grizzlies, and as each successive group of guests counts up their tally, they are notching up ever new records.
The eight delightful guests that went on their way yesterday saw at least 15 different bears during their time here – three blacks and 12 or more grizzlies, many of them cubs.
One of the viewings was among our best ever – an encounter with a grizzly bear on foot on one of the corners of our river.
Such meetings are what our guides are trained for, but nevertheless coming face-to-face with a grizzly in the bush while on foot is still a relatively rare experience.
If that was not enough our guests also saw a grey wolf, an animal we only see two or three times a year.
Of course, bear-viewing in the wild is not always quite this easy. On the coast the big commercial operations view bears around man-made spawning channels that are habituated to humans.
Each group stands on a platform and can watch and photograph bears that have grown used to their presence over the years.
Viewing wild bears in the own natural habitat is a little more challenging.
For one, predicting where the bears will feed is far more difficult. Their behaviour is also less easy to anticipate.
Our guides are used to meeting bears on foot, in vehicles and even on the raft we use to float down our river, and each encounter requires a different response.
The trick to being a bear guide is partly following a set of established protocols, and that you can train for, but it is also interpreting the bear’s body language, and that takes practice.
As to the abundance of bears this year, we have speculated much. The smart money argues that last year’s relative famine was the making of this year’s plenty.
As bear aficionados and former guests among you know, our bears’ favourite summer food is huckleberries, a sweet purple berry similar and superior to a blueberry. According to one source, a grizzly can eat up to 200,000 huckleberries a day.
Last year we had an absolute bumper crop of huckleberries, nurtured by the just the right amount of sun and rain at just the right times.
Even after the salmon arrived in our river, many bears chose to remain up high munching on huckleberries that lasted well into the first snows.
Those bears that did come down, our treasured Apple among them, were so fat they could barely chase fish or climb fruit trees. Most of them left early for their long winter sleep.
Happy and fat, the grizzly mums carried more cubs than usual giving us a plethora of cubs-of-the-year this autumn. And with them, some fantastic viewing.
Of course lots of bears this year does not mean lots of bears next. If the bears don’t come down to the river they can prove extremely difficult to see.
But a good stock of cubs, each of which will stay with their mum for two to three years, is a great boost for our local grizzly population and suggests, at least, good viewing for years to come.
Nothing is sure, as ever, with nature, but we are raising a quiet glass to a healthy grizzly population for some time to come in our small little-known valley.