Munsey’s 2012 Summer News

Munsey's Bear Camp

Photo by Mike Munsey

A bear stands nearly motionless on the tidal flat, only her head swivels as she studies the water and listens for the sound of a salmon wriggling through the thick eelgrass. Suddenly, she races twenty feet to her right, she slaps the water twice with her front paws, submerges her face, struggles for a moment, and then lifts her head high, her silvery prize wiggling in her jaws, the salmon garnished with several, thin strands of grass. On shore, her two tiny cubs cry and yell for their mother who has moved further away from them in pursuit of her lunch. She gulps down the fish, bones and all, issues a low, rumbling growl to silence her cubs and returns her attention to the fishing grounds. You, your five companions, and your guide watch this action while sitting on the bank behind the cubs. At first you eagerly snap photos, but when the cubs begin to whine, you set aside your camera and watch the drama unfold. The bears don’t know you are there, and it occurs to you how lucky you are to experience something few other humans will ever see. You are in the bears’ home watching them interact in a truly natural setting. There are no man-made structures here, and except for your group, there are no other humans within miles. Welcome to the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and welcome to Munsey’s Bear Camp.

Our season began July 14th with the arrival of Eric and Danielle Bizet from France and Terry and Cynthia Douglas from Virginia. As we cruised to the head of Uyak Bay the first day, a humpback whale lifted his tail near our boat, foreshadowing a summer of fantastic whale watching. Later that day, a bear seemed to pose for this group as he rested his head on a rock and played with a strand of seaweed. On July 16th, Peter and Maria Kruegel from Austria joined the group, and they spent the following two days watching bears on the tidal flats. They enjoyed seeing a sow with her three newborn cubs, and they photographed bears catching salmon in the bright, July sunshine. This group saw whales each day during their stay and topped off their trip the last morning by watching six fin whales.

On July 19th, we welcomed Balisa Johnson from Nevada and a couple from Connecticut. The first afternoon, three fin whales circled our boat and surfaced beside us. This group watched twelve bears on the tidal flats, including a sow with a yearling cub that fished in front of them.  Another bear walked down the beach near them, saw them, hesitated, and then continued on his way. The next day, they encountered a large bear on a wooded trail that patiently stood still while they snapped photos. The sow and yearling cub once again fished in front of them, and while the sow realized they were there, she seemed unconcerned by their presence.

On July 22nd, Balisa was joined by Elchanan and Mira Noy and David and Haia Blum, all from Israel. On the first afternoon, this group watched puffins and sea otters and were thrilled when several fin whales surfaced next to us. One day they watched eight bears fish on the tidal flats and enjoyed seeing two bears relax and play on the beach. One of the bears rolled onto his back and stuck all four legs in the air. The following day, a very large bear walked near them. This group of course ended their stay the last morning with another close whale encounter.

On July 25th, we greeted Buddy Jones from Florida and Margaret, Megan, Evan, and Jan Ancker, all from California. We were also pleased to welcome back good friend Andy Erickson from Rhode Island. On their first morning, this group photographed a humpback whale that raised his tail in the air as he dove near our boat. Later that day, a young bear walked to within 30 ft. of them as he searched for salmon on the tide flats. We cruised north on a beautiful day and enjoyed the spectacular panorama of the Alaska Peninsula, while three huge fin whales surfaced several times beside the boat. This group enjoyed a great day of salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon, and on their last morning they watched bears catch fish and interact on the low tide.

On July 30th, we welcomed back Paul Kludt from Florida and greeted Saundra Gwaltney and Guy Golden and Saundra’s daughter and son-in-law, Cheryl and Kevin Wilson, all from Texas.  On their first afternoon, we saw three humpback whales, including one that breached right in front of us! We cruised north one day and saw foxes, puffins, eagles, sea otters, and approximately a dozen fin whales. We then went into Brown’s Lagoon and enjoyed a fantastic afternoon of salmon fishing. Paul, Kevin, and Cheryl all caught their limits. On another day, this group watched ten bears on the tidal flats, including a sow with a newborn cub and a sow with a yearling
cub. One bear caught a fish and when a second bear chased him, the first bear brought his salmon to the beach and ate it near them.

On August 4th, we welcomed Jochen Renz and Stefanie Hinz from Germany. They were treated their first afternoon to one of the most incredible whale experiences we’ve had in 30 years. We sat in the middle of Uyak Bay on a calm, rainy afternoon and watched approximately one-hundred whales (mostly fin and a few humpback) surface and spout as they fed on plankton and small fish. The whales were all around us as far as we could see. Whales surfaced near us several times and a few even circled the boat, nearly brushing the hull. I don’t think any of us stopped smiling for the hour we sat there and watched them. On a day of bear viewing, Stefanie and Jochen watched several bears on the tidal flats, including a sow with two newborn cubs that fished in front of them.

Thomáš Snízěk, Danuše Heřtová, Stanislav Slaviček, Jiři Janota, Pavel Neumann, and Rostislav Stach, all from the Czech Republic arrived August 10th. This group sat on a riverbank and photographed several bears, including a very large male. A sow with two small cubs fished near them, but when she saw the humans, she called her cubs to the opposite side of the river and calmly continued on her way. On another day, while Stanislav, Jiŕi and Thomáš caught halibut (and Danuše phtographed and cheered them on), Mike led Rostislav and Pavel up a river where they had bears in sight all day, including a sow with two yearling cubs and a single bear that fished 30 ft. from them. Rostislav, a professional wildlife photographer, took some fantastic photos during his stay with us.

On August 16th, we greeted Barbara and Tom Hicks from Montana, Katherine Ferriss from Oregon, and Jo and Craig Albright from Arizona. On their first afternoon, we cruised to the mouth of Uyak Bay where we fished for halibut and silver salmon while we watched yet another spectacular whale show. While bear viewing on the tide flats, a sow with two newborn cubs walked the beach past this group twice, and on another day, they sat on a riverbank and had bears fishing within sight of them all afternoon. While Kathy and Jo claimed bragging rights for landing the two largest halibut of the group, Tom and Craig caught our first two silver salmon of the summer.

On August 21st, we were pleased to welcome back Bud Coughlin from Pennsylvania, Gene and Diane Fantini from Delaware, and Greg Reinbott from Pennsylvania, and we greeted first-time members of this group, Lisa Bill from New Jersey and Diane Bergmaier from Pennsylvania. One afternoon, Mike took Bud, Lisa, Greg, and Diane B. into a small stream where they watched three bears chase fish and wrestle, while on the Mary Beth, Gene and Diane F. enjoyed the thrill of catching halibut in shallow water. On their last full day, this group enjoyed a beautiful, sunny, calm day of fishing. The snow-capped mountains of the Alaska Peninsula loomed across Shelikof Straight, and fin whales fed and spouted. They kept 10 halibut and 10 sliver salmon. Diane B. caught her limit of silvers, and Diane F. caught a king salmon! We topped off the day in perfect fashion when Mike spotted a pod of eight Orcas, and the whales cruised by our boat while the video cameras rolled.

On August 26th, we were happy to greet returnees Dan Robertson from Nevada and Gene Fanucchi, Gordy Sexton, Howard Hancock, and Mike Saner, all from California. These guys were here to fish, and I can sum up their success by reporting that at the end of their stay, each one left with a forty-pound box of fish fillets. On a beautiful, sunny day, this group caught 16 silver salmon, 2 king salmon and kept 10 halibut, and Gordy caught his limit of silvers. We of course watched fin whales the entire time they were fishing and saw a volcano spewing smoke on the Alaska Peninsula. On another day, these guys caught their limit of halibut plus 9 salmon, including a king salmon caught by Gene and 4 silvers caught by Dan.

On September 5th, we welcomed back Tom Patrick from California, Mike McWherter from Mississippi, and Jean Matusik from Pennsylvania. We were happy to have Jean with us for a ten-day stay. On their first day, this group sat on a riverbank and watched eight bears, including a sow with two young cubs. One of the bears got so close to them that Mike had to remind him they were there. On another day, Jean, Mike and Tom watched two young bears fish and play on a small stream. This group enjoyed great silver salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon. Mike and Tom each caught his limit of five, and between the two of them, they released ten more salmon. Jean also caught salmon, and everyone caught halibut.

Harald and Margarete Moos and Helmut and Sonja Schreiner, all from Austria, joined Jean on September 10th. This group spent two days watching bears fish on the main river, including several single bears, a sow with two cubs, and a large male. On a small stream, they watched two bears fish and frolic, and on their last day, they sat on another stream and watched ten bears, including a sow with two cubs, a large boar, and an old sow with long, ivory-colored claws. One young bear was so intent on climbing the hill to take a nap beside them that they were forced to move to give him space.

We greeted Will Walker and Trudy Willetts from England and welcomed back René Bär from Switzerland on September 15th. This group witnessed the fury of a fall Kodiak storm. On their first day, the wind blew 50 mph, and all we could do was stay indoors and watch the waves roll past. The wind abated the next day, and they watched four bears fish in front of them on a river.  On the following day, they saw three sets of sows and cubs. One sow with a very young cub that sported a bright white natal collar walked 20 ft. in front of them, crossed the stream and walked past them again. On another day, they were entertained by a young bear that fished near them all afternoon. I was beginning to think our whale show was over for the summer, but then on one of our last mornings, we were greeted by a humpback soon after we left our mooring.

We expect to see bears on our summer trips; after all, that is what we do. We live and operate in the midst of one of the highest brown bear populations in the world. We also know we are certain to see eagles, seals, and sea otters, and we are likely to see puffins, deer and fox . We also usually see whales, sometimes up close and other times from a distance, but the number of whales we saw and the variety of great whale encounters we had this season went beyond our wildest expectations and topped off a fantastic summer of wildlife viewing.

We had wonderful guests from around the world this summer. We had a couple of late cancellations but were otherwise booked full, and as I write this newsletter in November, we have few openings left for next summer. If you would like to book a trip with us, I encourage you to make your reservations several months in advance. We limit our groups to six guests, so our trips fill up quickly.

Thanks to Toni Blakely, our cook this summer, for doing a great job. I also want to thank Marcia Messier, who after eight years as our camp cook decided it was time to retire. We miss you, Marcia. Thanks again to all of our summer guests for another fun, wonderful summer.