Alaska Bear and Wildlife Viewing – 2009 Newsletter

 

Bear Drinking Water

Bear glances at bear viewer as it takes a drink

Greetings from Amook Pass.  Our big news this year is our new boat, the Mary Beth, a 43-ft. Delta charter boat with twin engines and plenty of cabin and deck space.  After using it for one summer, we are thrilled with it.  We were also thrilled to have Marcia Messier back again this summer to cook and pamper us.  Marcia has become such an integral part of our operation that we can’t imagine doing this without her.

Last year I dedicated my newsletter to our many returning guests, and while we once again had several returnees this summer, the bulk of our guests were first-time visitors to Kodiak Island and Munsey’s Bear Camp.  Mike and I know we are extremely lucky to live and work in the midst of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, but it is always rewarding to watch the awe and wonder in our guests’ eyes when they first see a Kodiak bear chase a salmon.  Bear viewing in a wild, pristine setting with no manmade platform in sight is what appeals most to our guests.  Each bear sighting is unique, and no two photos look the same.

We began our season July 15th with the arrival of Thomas and Inge Hartke from Switzerland.  This delightful couple set the tone for a summer filled with wonderful guests.  On their first, sunny day, the Hartkes watched several bears, including two that sprawled in the water to cool down.  Thomas and Inge both caught halibut, and from the smile on his face, we could tell how much Thomas enjoyed landing a 36 pounder.  On July 17th, the Hartkes were joined by Eric Baccega, Loic Poidevin, and Yves Couedic, all from France.  One day this group watched 15 bears.  Several caught fish near them, including a sow that shared her catch with her yearling cub.  On their last morning, this group photographed fin whales and sea otters during a wildlife cruise. They also watched a fox and her two kits.

On July 20th, we welcomed Estelle Barnes, Adrian Russell-Smith, Rachel Lambert, Rob Kennelly, Karen Jones, and Ray Stevenson, all from England.  This group saw thirty bears fish on the tidal flats during one of the lowest tides of the year.  They sat on the beach and watched bears on either side and in front of them chase fish, squabble, and mock fight, and they saw two cubs whine when their mother insisted they follow her into the water.  On another day, they were watching a bear, when he jumped into the stream, swam across it, and climbed onto the bank twenty feet from where they sat.

Mike and Chris Sargenti from New Jersey arrived on July 25th.  We enjoyed watching Mike relax during his stay in the wilderness.  The Sargentis watched one bear catch a fish and eat it thirty feet from them, and several other bears caught salmon and walked right past them with the squirming fish hanging from their mouths.  On July 28th, Mike and Chris were joined by John and Dorene McCune and their teenage children, Eric and Kelsey, all from North Carolina.  This group watched a bear catch and eat a salmon in front of them, and then the bear chased another fish to within twenty feet of them.  On July 30th, we waved goodbye to Mike and Chris, and the following day, Mike led the McCune family up a river where they watched several bears.  On their last day with us, the McCunes spent a beautiful, sunny day watching huge fin whales surface beside our boat and saw Stellar sea lions, sea otters, and puffins.

Art and Gay Schroer from Missouri arrived August 4th.  On their first day, they watched several bears, including one that brought a fish in near them to eat it.  Awhile later, a sow and cub walked down the beach in front of them, and under mom’s watchful gaze, the curious cub walked closer to get a better look at the humans.  Dirk Schilder from Germany joined Art and Gay on August 6th.  One day this group had a very cooperative bear walk past them,  plop down on the beach, and roll in the seaweed. Several other bears fished and interacted in front of them as the cameras whirred, and Dirk said it was one of the best days of his life.  On August 8th, Gay, Art, and Dirk were joined by Ann Larner from Massachusetts and her two daughters; Sara, also from Massachusetts, and Rebecca from North Carolina.  On August 9th, Art and Gay departed, and our good friend Dick Zander from Maryland arrived for a 17-day stay.  This group enjoyed beautiful, sunny weather.  They had a great day of bear viewing on the tidal flats, and the next day, they walked upriver, where several bears fished and walked past them.

 

     On August 11th, Johnny and Sue Wright from Texas and Jennifer Crawford from Wyoming joined Dick.  Jennifer caught a 35-lb. halibut the first afternoon, and at the head of the bay, this group watched a sow take a dip in the ocean, while her two cubs wrestled on the beach.  Later, a sow and cub and several single bears walked in front of them while they snapped photos.  On another day, this group watched several bears fish on a small stream.  One bear was so intent on the fish he’d caught that he ran straight toward them, salmon dangling from his mouth, before Mike reminded him of their presence.  On a rainy, windy day, Mike and Jennifer hiked upriver to bear watch, while on the Mary Beth, Sue caught a 20-lb. halibut, and Dick landed a 60 pounder.

On August 17th, Dick was joined by Paul Kludt from Florida and Eric, Carolyn, and Chris Gustafson from New Mexico.  On their first day, a bear ran up to them and then stood on his hind legs to take a better look at the humans.  Another day, they photographed a bear sleeping on a rock, and on their third day of bear viewing, a bear ate a salmon near them and then walked to within thirty feet of them.  Awhile later, two sub-adult bears relaxed on the beach near them.  At Greenbanks, we saw fin whales and sea otters and enjoyed a sunny afternoon of fishing, and on their final morning, Chris decided it was time to join our halibut club (40 lbs. and over) and landed a 46 pounder.

Albrecht Seitel from Germany and David and Pam Slaughter from Colorado joined Dick on August 21st.  On their first day, this group enjoyed a spectacular show by a young sow.  She chased fish the traditional way and also jumped in the deep water and snorkeled for salmon.  At one point, she was playing on a log in front of them, then dashed into the river, caught a salmon, and turned toward them with the wiggling fish in her mouth, posing for photos.  At the mouth of the bay, this group watched fin whales, saw sea otters and Stellar sea lions, and each caught a silver salmon.

On August 26th, we welcomed back Dan Robertson from Nevada, Gordy Sexton, Gene Fanucchi, and Howard Hancock, all  from California and met the two newest members of this party: John Mendoza and Chris Ratfield, also from California.  These guys were here to catch fish, and Gordy wasted no time, landing a 55-lb. halibut the first afternoon.  On a stormy day, these guys caught eight halibut to fill their boxes, and at Greenbanks, they landed 17 silver salmon and two halibut.  By the time they left, each guy in this group had a fifty-pound box full of halibut and salmon fillets.

On August 31st, we greeted good friends, Ed and Jean Matusik from Pennsylvania and Andy Erickson from Rhode Island.  Ed and Jean were here for a ten-day stay, while Andy was here for five days.  Andy had his usual first-day fishing luck, landing a 75-lb. halibut on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.  At Greenbanks, Ed hauled in one fish after another and ended up keeping four silver salmon and two halibut.  Two days later, Ed caught a 50-lb. halibut.  This group watched several bears, including one that walked in front of where they sat and then caught a fish and ate it on a rock.

On September 5th, Ed and Jean were joined by Carl Pirro from Minnesota, Sheila Gauthier from Washington, and Petr and Barbora Slavik from the Czech Republic.  This group watched several bears on a river, including one that performed in front of them for twenty minutes.  Another day, they saw 22 bears on two small streams.  They hid in the tall grass where they could hear the bears fishing and interacting near them on the stream.  When the bears caught salmon, they’d climb up on the bank and eat their fish within view of the group.  Mike says one of his favorite memories of the summer was the look of wonder on Sheila’s face as she watched this incredible spectacle of nature.  Petr is a professional photographer, and he will almost certainly include some of the wonderful photos he took with us in his next book.

Mirjam and Ulrich Wiede, Peter Wiede, Michael Schnapp, Friedel Papmeyer, and Babo Graf Von Harrach, all from Germany, arrived September 11th.  This group watched several bears catch salmon.  After filling his belly with fish, one bear crawled up on a log near them and draped his paws over it, as if posing for photos.  They also watched two large cubs play under the watchful gaze of their mother.  The cubs sat on a log over the river and attempted to reach down into the river to grasp salmon as they swam past.  Not only was this fishing method unsuccessful, but one of the cubs lost his balance and fell into the river.  On a day at the mouth of the bay, we saw a dozen fin whales, and awhile later, Mike spotted a pod of orcas that swam past us.

On September 15th, we welcomed back good friend Jerry Burblis from Alaska and greeted Ed and Tom DeGraan from Massachusetts.  This group watched bears on a side stream one day.  One bear walked out beside them, wandered over to the stream, slowly backed into it, and swam to the other side.  On the main river, a young bear seemed to want to hang out with these guys.  Twice he walked up very close to them, and Mike had to talk to him to remind him they were there.  The last day of our summer season couldn’t have been more perfect.  We cruised out the bay on a calm, sunny day and enjoyed the spectacular view of the snowy peaks of the Alaska Peninsula, a plume of smoke rising from one of the volcanoes.  After watching fin whales, we anchored, and between Jerry, Tom, and Ed, they kept 4 halibut and released 36.  Ed and Tom also each caught a beautiful silver salmon in Brown’s Lagoon.

One of the things we love about this business is watching our guests arrive as strangers and depart as friends.  The first afternoon on our boat is fairly quiet as the new guests take in their surroundings and get to know each other.  By the last afternoon, though, the boat is alive with laughter and chatter as the guests recall shared adventures, review each other’s photos, and exchange e-mail addresses.  When we see a guest depart looking much more relaxed than he did when he arrived, we feel we’ve done our job.

Thanks again to all of our guests this summer.  We’re proud to say that many have already re-booked for next summer!  Also, a big thanks to Marcia for another job well done.

Robin Munsey