Munsey’s Summer 2017 News

I began our 2017 season in a hospital bed and didn’t know how we would make it through our summer, but I forgot about three things: the toughness of our crew to fill in for me, the magical curative qualities of nature, and our wonderful guests, always there to lend me a helping hand. Once I returned home, I managed to go out on our boat, the Mary Beth, with our guests nearly every day. I appreciated each moment this summer offered and reflected on how lucky I am to have a job guiding wildlife viewers and sport fishermen on Kodiak Island. The best part of this job is sharing our home here in the wilderness with our amazing guests from around the world. 

We and our guests were excited to have Mary Schwarzhans back for her fifth year, performing magical spells in the kitchen and keeping the camp running smoothly. Our camp helper this year was Emily France from Willow, Alaska. 

On July 12th, Craig and Pam Smith from Australia and Zach and Eli Culbertson from New York arrived as our first group of the summer season. I unfortunately never met this group, but Mike reported their adventures to me. They were greeted their first morning by our resident doe and two fawns, and they watched seals and sea otters and saw a red fox, eagles and a bear. Zach and Eli had to leave after only two days, but Craig and Pam watched a sow with two cubs from a distance and got closer to a single bear on the beach. On their last morning, they cruised toward the mouth of the bay where six huge fin whales surfaced near the boat. 

John and Jane Birman, Dave and Sarah Jane Vaux, and Garry and Pauline Hall, all from Australia, arrived  July 16th. Their first afternoon, they saw sea otters and several fin whales; two of which, surfaced beside the boat. I arrived home that evening to a wonderful welcome from Mike, Mary, Emily, and this fun-loving group of Australians. Garry caught a 20-lb. halibut (just in case there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the photo), and John, Pauline, Dave, and Garry had a great time salmon fishing while Jane and Sarah Jane relaxed. This group watched a sow with three, large two-year-old cubs fish, growl, and fight over salmon. 

On July 20th, we greeted Frank and Tracey De Bacco from Pennsylvania. Frank and Tracey enjoyed a sunny day salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon, and kept seven salmon and released six. One day, Frank, Tracey, and Mike watched a sow with two cubs, a sow with one cub, and a single bear, and on another day of fishing, Frank caught a 20 pound halibut and his limit of salmon. On their last morning, the De Baccos saw 12 orcas soon after leaving our mooring. One whale breached several times, and Mike snapped a great photo of her. 

Later in the afternoon on July 25th, the orcas were still frolicking near our lodge to greet the plane carrying Andy Vena, Albert Strydesky, John Mayer, Frank Bialas, Silvio Squieri, and Rob Varvar. Andy, Albert, and John are old friends who have visited us many times, and Rob joined us several years ago for a deer hunt, but this was the first of hopefully many visits for Frank and Sil. After lunch, Mike took the guys out for a closer glimpse of the orcas, and then they cruised north where they saw sea otters and fin whales. This group enjoyed a fun day of salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon when they kept 20 salmon and released 22. On another day, they kept six halibut and released ten, and the following day, Al and Rob became the first inductees of the year into our halibut club (40 lbs. or larger). 

On August 3rd, Christie Lahusen and her boyfriend, Robert Stankovic, both from Oregon, Christie’s father, Larry, from Canada, and her brother, Derek, from Utah arrived for a 3-day stay. One day, this group saw a sow with three newborn cubs, a sow with two newborn cubs, a sow with a yearling, a sow with three 2-year old cubs, and a single bear, and on another day, they watched a large, old sow catch a salmon in front of them on a small stream. On their last morning, they saw foxes, eagles, sea otters, and two fin whales. 

On August 6th, we were excited to welcome back Bill, Judy, Michael, Brian, and Tess Micheli from Illinois. Tess wasted no time proving her fishing skills were still sharp. She was reeling in a 40-lb. halibut when her Uncle Mike hooked a 60 pounder. Awhile later, Bill joined our halibut club by landing a 52-lb. halibut. This group battled wind and rain one day to walk up a small river and watch a sow with three cubs demonstrate her fishing prowess. She fished near them all afternoon. They also saw two single bears, a large male, and a sow with a single cub. 

On August 11th, we greeted Mike and Janna Turpin from Florida and Skip and Susan Parker from Nevada. On their first day, this group watched a bear fish and tend to her three young cubs. On August 13th, they were joined by Hannah Hillebrand and her boyfriend, Logan, both from Oregon. This group watched two, young, sub-adult bears fish and play on a log, and on the next day, they saw a sow with two cubs chase away a single bear and then fish in front of them. Skip and Susan enjoyed the excitement of halibut fishing in shallow water, and Susan joined our halibut club with a 50 pounder. 

On August 16th, we were thrilled to welcome back Andy Erickson from Rhode Island and his grandson, Drew McDonnel, from Seattle. Joining Andy and Drew were Bob and Tami Bancroft from Indiana, and Andrea Schmidt and Bernhard Diemer, both from Austria. This group enjoyed four great days of bear viewing. They sat on the bank of a small stream and watched a sow with a yearling cub fish in front of them. Mom caught several fish and ignored the people, while the cub watched the humans and growled. On another day, a sow with two newborn cubs fished near them. On their last day, this group watched a sow catch and eat fish, while her two cubs wrestled, boxed, and climbed a tree above her.

On August 21st, we were happy to welcome back Bud Coughlin, Lisa Bill, and Jim Bill, and we were pleased to meet first-time members of the group, Bill Mullin, and Yocasta and Joanna Hudson, all from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This group enjoyed great halibut fishing. On their first day, Bill, Joanna, Jim, and Bud joined our halibut club, and they caught their limit of halibut by 2:00pm. Bill caught a 150 pounder, our largest halibut of the year, and Yocasta caught a 70-lb. halibut. This group also had good pink salmon fishing, each person catching his or her limit two days in a row. In addition to fishing, everyone enjoyed excellent whale watching , and one afternoon, they sat on a riverbank and laughed as they watched a young bear play with dead salmon.

On August 26th we greeted Dan Robertson from Nevada, and Gene Fanucchi, Gordy Sexton, Howard Hancock, Mike Saner, and John Mendoza, all from California. These guys have had a standing reservation with us for a decade, and we appreciate them. Over the years, they have become friends, and we always look forward to seeing them. Last year, they enjoyed good weather, but this year they were here for a storm that affected their fishing. Nevertheless, they caught their limit of halibut on their first day of fishing, and Howard and John both joined our halibut club. Once the weather allowed us to get to Greenbanks, the guys caught several salmon, including seven silver salmon. 

On September 5th, we were excited to welcome back Tony and Karin Ross from Pennsylvania for a 12-day stay. Joining Tony and Karin, were Bill, Terrie, and Donny Stone from Canada. This group spent two spectacular days bear viewing on a salmon river. One day, they photographed a tolerant, blonde sow and her two, tiny cubs. After fishing, she stretched out to nurse her cubs, and when one of the cubs bit her, she growled and hit him. On another day, this group photographed a huge, old, male bear as he calmly walked down a stream. Donny proved to be a master salmon fisherman when he landed four silvers, and Karin joined our halibut club with a 60 pounder. 

On Sertember 10th, Jaromir and Jana Jiroudek and Jiri and Jamilla Kalina, all from the Czech Republic joined Tony and Karin. Instead of sitting idly, waiting for the plane carrying our new guests to arrive, Tony caught a 74-lb. halibut! On a gorgeous autumn day, this group watched 25 bears, including several sets of sows and cubs On their second day, they were thrilled to see a huge, old bear. The weather turned ugly on day three, but these hearty souls braved wind and rain to hike two hours to watch bears. On their final full day, they opted for a marine-mammal tour, and we saw sea lions, seals, sea otters, porpoises, and fin and humpback whales. 

Tony and Karin spent the final two days of our season with us, and they wasted no time topping off their fish boxes by catching six silver salmon. Their final day was sunny and beautiful as they sat on a river bank and watched nineteen bears, including two small cubs that played on a log and tried to grab the salmon swimming below them.

It is difficult to explain our bear-viewing experience to people when they first inquire about our trips. Guests who have been bear viewing elsewhere tell us they much prefer the experience we offer because here, they see bears that have not been habituated to humans. One guest described it as, “Stepping into the bears’ parlor and seeing how they live.” To get to these “wild bears,” though, requires effort because If they were easy to access, they would be surrounded by humans. On our trips, you must take a 1 ½-hour ride in our big boat, followed by a ½-hour boat ride in our whaler through shallow, tidal waters. Then, you must hike for 2-hours over a rocky beach and narrow, uneven bear trails. It is a wonderful but rugged experience, and it is not for everyone.

Thanks to our wonderful guests this summer, and a special thanks to all of you for putting up with my physical limitations. I plan to be 100% by next summer!  Thank you, Mary, for being wonderful, creative, and always funny, and thanks, Emily, for doing a great job. I’m already looking forward to next summer!

If you would like to read my weekly blog on Kodiak wildlife and life in the wilderness on Kodiak Island, you can find it at http://robinbarefield.com/blog.  I post every Sunday and would love your input. 

 

Summer 2016 at Munsey’s Bear Camp

Each summer, nearly 50% of our guests are returnees, and some have been visiting our lodge for many years.  These folks become our friends, and after spending many hours together in the field and on the back deck of our boat, we know each other well.  This year it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to four of our guests.  Jim Clay only first visited our lodge last summer, but he and his buddies, including Tom Bradley, a long-time friend of ours, were scheduled to visit us from July 20th to the 25th.  When Jim passed away suddenly a few weeks before their planned trip, the rest of the group canceled their plans.  Andy Vena Sr. has been to our lodge many times with his son, Andy Jr., and their friends.  His son hoped to bring him back up here next summer, but Andy Sr. passed away after suffering a stroke this summer.  Jean Matusik and her husband, Ed, have been visiting our lodge since the 1980s, and I know how much they both enjoyed watching and photographing bears.  Jean passed away suddenly this summer just before her scheduled trip to see us, and Ed sent her ashes to us to scatter in the spot where she spent so many wonderful hours watching bears.  Gene and Diane Fantini and their friends have also made many trips to our lodge, and Diane and I frequently correspond via e-mail.  Sadly, Gene passed away in August after a difficult battle with cancer.  The loss of each of these friends felt like a blow, and we will never forget the great times we had with them.

I’ll follow up that sad news with the happy news that Mary Schwarzhans returned this year once again to dazzle us with her amazing meals and wonderful personality.  Mary’s friend, Katie Keaveny, assisted her this summer.

 On July 10th, we were excited to welcome back Mary L., Mary T., Lida, Doug, and Katherine Hihn, all from South Carolina, and we enjoyed meeting their friend, Erik Beard, from Colorado.  The Hihns have visited our lodge many times over the years, and we were happy to begin our season in the company of friends.  On our first afternoon cruise, we saw a humpback whale, two fin whales, seals, sea otters, eagles, puffins, foxes, and deer.  On a day of bear viewing, this group enjoyed “family day” when they saw a mother bear (sow) with three newborn cubs, a sow with two two-year-old cubs, and two groups of a sow with three one-year-old cubs. The Hihns and Erik started off our summer of good halibut fishing when Erik caught a 65 pounder, and Mary L. caught a 55-pound halibut. 

Duane Goldman and his son Garret, from Indiana, arrived on July 15th.  These guys enjoyed a gorgeous, sunny day salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon.  After a grilled-salmon lunch, they continued to fish and ended the day with nine salmon.  On July 17th,  Yariv and Ronit Gilboa from California joined the Goldmans.  On the Gilboas’ first afternoon, they saw a sow with three cubs and a single bear. On another day, this group watched a bear catch a fish on the tidal flats and followed another bear as he walked down a small stream. They snapped photos of a baby eagle sitting in its nest and marveled at large rafts of sea otters and huge fin whales.

On July 25th, we greeted Bob, Sandy, and Susan Comstock and Eileen Birmingham, all from California, and Holly Adams and Claire Hesselin from New Zealand.  Holly was our guide on our New Zealand trip last winter, and Claire is also a guide for Active Adventures in New Zealand.  On their first afternoon, this group enjoyed watching two fin whales swim past our boat, and on a day of fishing, they kept 12 salmon and released 12 more.  We took a mid-day break in the fishing action to eat grilled salmon and sip Sauvignon Blanc from the Comstock Winery.  Thank you, Bob and Sandy!! Everyone in this group caught halibut, and Holly and Sandy joined our halibut club!  This group enjoyed some great bear viewing, but one of the highlights was when they watched three yearling cubs play while their mother caught salmon.

On August 6th, we greeted Bjorn and Ava Karlssen and Stephan and Ingrid Sigold, all from Sweden.  On the first afternoon, we saw a cow and calf killer whale soon after we left our mooring.  One afternoon, this group watched a bear catch and eat fish, and awhile later, a sow with two newborn cubs fished near them.  On another day, they watched a very cooperative bear fish on a river.  He walked over to the group, stood on his hind legs to look at them, and then continued to fish and perform for them.  One day, this group opted to spend the day on the boat, so we cruised to the mouth of the bay, where we saw Stellar sea lions, sea otters, puffins, and fin whales.  Then, to our delight, six Dall’s porpoises swam in our bow wake for several minutes, darting in and out and over and under the wake.

Michael Acela

On August 11th, we welcomed back our good friend Andy Erickson.  Andy was accompanied by his granddaughter, Christina Ulrich, and her boyfriend, Michael Acela, both from Pennsylvania. Joining Andy, Christina, and Michael were Jim and Mary Hill from Colorado.  This group watched a sow interact with her two newborn cubs and photographed another bear as it walked up a small stream.  They enjoyed two exciting days of halibut fishing.  Christina started things off by catching a halibut soon after we anchored, and later that day, Michael caught a 128 pounder, our largest of the summer.  The following afternoon belonged to Andy, though, when he caught and released a 40 pounder and kept a 77-lb. halibut. 

On August 16th, we were thrilled to welcome back Jerry Burblis from Alaska and Bill and Brian Micheli from Illinois, and we were pleased to meet Steve and Mark Stewart from Colorado.  On their first afternoon, we sat in the midst of approximately eight fin whales while they surfaced around us.  On another day, this group saw 20 bears, including a sow with three newborn cubs, and a sow with two large, two-year-old cubs.  They saw a bear sleeping on the trail, and when he heard them, he stood on his hind legs to get a closer look before wandering into the brush.  Bill caught the first silver salmon of the summer, and on an afternoon of halibut fishing, Jerry caught a 30 pounder, Mark caught a 70 pounder, and Bill landed a 50-lb. halibut.

On August 21st, we greeted Phillip and Gabriela Strub from Switzerland and Kevin and Christine McCullen from England.  On their first day of bear viewing, they photographed a sleepy bear and watched several bears fish near them.  The next day, a sow with two yearling cubs saw them, came over and sat on her haunches while she studied them, and then apparently after deciding the humans were no threat, she continued fishing.  Kevin videotaped an altercation between a mother bear and her cub. Mom caught a salmon, and when the cub tried to wrestle it away from her, she whacked him in the side of the head and growled at him.  In the end, though, the cub still managed to steal her fish.

We welcomed back our fishing buddies on August 26th.  Dan Robertson from Nevada was joined by his friends, Gordy Sexton, Howard Hancock, Gene Fanucchi, John Mendoza, and Michael Saner, all from California.  Silver salmon were in short supply this year, but these guys enjoyed fantastic halibut fishing, and this was Gordy’s year.  He caught three club halibut:  an 87 pounder, a 62 pounder, and a 42 pounder.  Plus, he caught the most silver salmon of the group.  Dan caught an 82-lb. halibut, Mike landed a 55 pounder, John caught a 48 pounder, and Gene caught and released a 40 pounder (always the sportsman!).  They caught all those fish and enjoyed the most gorgeous stretch of weather of the summer!

On September 5th, we were happy to welcome back Tony and Karin Ross from Pennsylvania and were pleased to have them with us for a ten-day stay.  Joining Karin and Tony were Bill and Sue Boon from Nevada and Nino and Celine Veronese from Switzerland.  This trip was Nino’s 75th birthday gift from his daughter, Celine.  This group of great hikers was rewarded with excellent bear viewing. They watched sows with newborn cubs and sows with yearlings. Several bears fished next to them while they sat on a riverbank, and two young bears entertained them by climbing on a log and diving into the river.  One of the bears timed his dive perfectly and surfaced with a salmon in his mouth.  Another tolerant bear amused everyone with her technique of snorkeling for salmon.  On their last evening, we celebrated Nino’s birthday with a delicious cake prepared by Mary and fantastic entertainment provided by Tony.

On September 15th, Tony and Karin were joined by Fred and Paula Hooper from Rhode Island and John and Leslie Murphy from Massachusetts.  This group braved wind and rain one day to experience great bear viewing.  Several bears fished close to them, and one was so comfortable with their presence she took a nap near them.  The sun shined the following day, and Tony and Karin enjoyed a beautiful afternoon halibut fishing, while the rest of the group walked up a side stream where they watched several sets of sows and cubs.  On the last full day of our summer season, this group had the best bear viewing of the summer.  They weren’t sure how many bears they saw, but at one time, six bears fished close to them.  When I picked them up at the end of the day and asked how their day was, they said, “Incredible!”

We had another wonderful summer here at Munsey’s Bear Camp.  We endured a few rainy days, but overall, we had great weather.  Whales have become so commonplace the last several years that I forget to mention them, but we saw whales nearly every day this summer, and we saw hundreds of sea otters as we cruised around the bay.  I love watching the looks of joy on the faces of our guests when we cruise past a sleeping sea otter or see a pup sitting on its mother’s stomach.

Mike and I want to express our condolences to the families and friends of Jim Clay, Andy Vena Sr., Jean Matusik, and Gene Fantini.  They will live in our hearts forever.

Thanks to Mary for her wonderful meals and Katie for her help.  Thanks to all of our guests for making our summer special.  If you would like to read my weekly blog on Kodiak wildlife and living in the wilderness on Kodiak Island, you can find it at http://robinbarefield.com/blog.  I post every Sunday and would love your input.

Robin

 

Mid-Summer 2016

As fireweed transforms the mountains into a Christmas quilt of red and green, and the cottonwood leaves fade to yellow, I realize summer is nearly over, and autumn is about to begin.  Our summer trips run until mid-September, and by then, the morning air bites, and the wind can rage.  Some days are wet, and other days are wetter.  Last year we had snow on the final day of our “summer” season. 

Why do we run our summer trips so late? Why do we continue to take guests at least two weeks after most tourism businesses in Alaska shut down for the year? Why do we fight autumn storms and endure the sometimes unpleasant September weather?  It’s all about bears.  No matter how preoccupied Kodiak bears may be with eating berries in July and August, they turn their attention to salmon in September as they begin to add inches of fat for winter hibernation. 

We see more bears chasing salmon in September than we do any other time of the summer.  Not only are bears more plentiful and more visible in September, but they are also more photogenic.  Gone is the ratty, rubbed fur of July, and in its place, a full, dark coat gleams in the autumn sunshine, and yes, we also have some gorgeous, sunny days in September. By September, cubs are learning to fish, and it’s fun to watch their mothers teach them the finer points of chasing down a salmon. 

I think September is magical, and I look forward to it with equal parts anticipation and dread.  No matter what happens or what the weather brings, September is always exciting. 

We’ve had a great summer so far.  We’ve seen several family groups of bears (sows and cubs).  The deer population has exploded due to mild winters the last few years, and we always see does and fawns wandering the beach at low tide.  We’ve also enjoyed watching red foxes that range in color from red to black, and of course, we’ve seen bald eagles everywhere.  On the ocean, we’ve watched fin whales nearly every day, and while we haven’t seen as many humpbacks as we did last year, we were thrilled the other day when one breached in front of us.  We saw killer whales once this summer and had Dall’s porpoises play in our bow wake.  We’ve laughed at the antics of sea otters nearly every day and have photographed harbor seals hauled out on rocks.  One day while we were fishing, a young seal swam up to the boat and curiously watched us.  Everyone grabbed cameras, and the little guy stayed there and posed for photos. 

We enjoyed excellent pink-salmon fishing in July and had great halibut fishing in August.  The largest halibut so far was a 128 pounder caught in mid-August.  We are still waiting for the silver salmon to arrive, but they should be here soon. 

All of our guests would tell you that one of their favorite things about their stay at Munsey’s Bear Camp was the food. One guest said, “I never dreamed we’d eat so well at a lodge in the middle of the wilderness.”  When another guest stepped off the float plane, and Mary introduced herself, the guest said, “I’ve been reading about your wonderful meals and was hoping you’d still be here.”  Yes, Mary Schwarzhans is again dazzling us with her wonderful, creative meals. It doesn’t take long for our guests to fall in love with Mary and wait expectantly for her next culinary delight.  We love Mary not only for her wonderful food but also for her quirky sense of humor, and boundless energy. 

I know in most areas in the U.S., autumn is still a few weeks away, but the season is already upon us here on Kodiak Island, and we are ready for whatever it brings.  Our September trips may be sunny and beautiful, but more than likely, we will battle a few storms.  No matter what the weather does, though, the bears will be chasing salmon, and they will make our September spectacular. 

Robin

 

Mid-Summer 2015

I love watching our guests relax as they transition from their stress-filled lives into our peaceful, wild world.  When they first step off the floatplane, they are often quiet and perhaps even a little wary.  They’ve just flown forty-five minutes into the heart of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and there are no roads or stores here.  There’s just a small lodge and a few boats.

We feed them lunch, Mike explains what they will be doing for the next few days, and we tell them to meet us at the dock in twenty minutes for their first-afternoon cruise on our 43-ft. boat.  They laugh at the sea otters and harbor seals and snap photos of bald eagles and other wildlife, but most remain quiet, and separate groups keep to themselves.

On the first full day, we go either bear viewing or fishing, and by that evening, I begin to see the first signs of relaxation, as our guests step out of their lives for a few days and into a world that revolves around tides and wild animals.  They ask us questions about the wildlife they’ve seen, tell us about their families, and describe other travel adventures they have had.  They linger for a few minutes after dinner, discussing the day’s events with their fellow adventures.

By the fourth day, the mood on the boat is often raucous.  These strangers, who on day one traded only polite comments, are now teasing each other and sharing photos and e-mail addresses. They sigh the last morning when they step off our boat for the final time.  They complain that the week flew by too quickly and vow to return again soon.

We’ve had beautiful weather so far this summer, and we’ve enjoyed great whale watching.  At times, we’ve been surrounded by fin whales, and one of the highlights of the summer was when a humpback breached several times right in front of us!  Halibut fishing has been very good, and we’ve had some of the best salmon fishing we can remember.  Pink salmon swarmed into Brown’s Lagoon in July, and we had non-stop action.  Meanwhile, large schools of silver salmon filled the bay.  The run was a month early, and it is likely that the early salmon were headed elsewhere and just stopped in Uyak Bay to feast on the large schools of herring and other small fish that have been so abundant this summer.  The rich food base of krill and small schooling fish is also undoubtedly why we’ve had so many whales in the bay.

Due to our warm weather, we’ve had another bumper crop of berries this summer, and the bears are torn between catching salmon and feeding on berries.  Bears are much more plentiful than they were the first half of last summer, but we are sometimes frustrated as we wait for them to lose interest in berries and concentrate on salmon.  The rich and plentiful food source of berries and salmon the last few summers has provided great nutrition for the bears, and we’ve seen numerous groups of sows and cubs this summer.

On the home front, Mary Schwarzhans is again wowing our guests with her creative and delicious meals, and we are thrilled that Mary’s sister, Emma, is also working for us this summer.  The two of them make our lives much easier and more pleasant, and our guests tell us that even if we didn’t have spectacular wildlife and fishing here, they would return to Munsey’s Bear Camp just for the food.  I suspect that stepping out of their lives and truly relaxing for a few days might be another reason to return.