Yesterday I got a chance to observe some mothering and sibling rivalry. Bears in the Anchorage area have emerged, and mothers with new cubs are welcoming in the warm temps. Jonathan is filming bear behavior in the region for the BBC and needed a second man for that ‘just in case’ scenario that a bear became aggressive. Incredibly, Jonathan was able to find this sow bear and her two new cubs. Although you’ll see tags in the ears of this female, she has no tracking device – it was very lucky to find where she called home!
As we came up to the tree area it was very important that Mom knew we were there. We talked and walked up to the site, pausing to ensure she had seen us. Once we were settled in she paid little attention to us.
There was lots of opportunity to shoot video of some very classic and cute bear behavior. Check it out! 🙂
The cubs were a constant source of entertainment. The would scramble along logs and tumble off them, fight each other in miniature mock battles, and pester their mother who would sometimes pester them back. The bond between the bear cubs and the mother was evident – there certainly is some truth to that old adage!
Through all of the cuteness there was still a stark reminder of the fragility of life as a small bear cub. These two were meant to have one more sibling. One cub was laying dead outside of the den, and Jonathan had seen it earlier. We experienced the mother eating the dead cub. I can assume this is for two reasons, the first is that she can use the protein. At this time the mother cannot leave the den and feeds little. Second, the rotting body may attract predators or another bear and put her surviving cubs at risk. The mother ate the cub by tearing small chunks of flesh, even though it seems she could have swallowed it in one bite.
Overall I do not know if I could experience more joy in watching wildlife. Watching these two cubs enjoy the spring weather, and the tenderness of the mother was endearing. I feel privileged to have experienced it!
This last week I have been attending the North American Moose conference in Anchorage. The opportunity has been top notch, and has really offered me a great to chance to meet area biologists as well as present/develop my thesis ideas. At this time I am developing my research proposal and defend the proposal 1 week from today. These things come up fast!
One of the venues for the conference were a selection of field trips. I elected for a hike in the Chugach Mountains State Park. There were two hikes in the Chugach (pronounced “choo-gatch”). The one which intrigued me was jokingly described as a “death march” up Rainbow Peak. This peak climbs 3500 feet to the summit overlooking Turnagain Fjord. It lies south of Anchorage, but north of Girdwood. For more information check out the peak profile http://www.summitpost.org/rainbow-peak/618183. In some parts of it the death march is an apt description. The trail up forces you to crawl in many locations due to slope, and loose scree fields (broken rock) absorb your steps on the way up and cause small landslides on the way down. It’s a challenging but rewarding hike.
The Rainbow Peak is one of the first peaks to thaw out after winter and on this day we were nearing leaf-up. The buds of the aspens were swelling quickly, fueled by up to 60 degree temps! On the way up we did get to see some great wildlife. Dall sheep were feeding on the hillsides, and a large group of about 10 ewes and young rams milled ab. They should be dropping lambs any day now. We saw one bull moose feeding and overhead two golden eagles circled the peak. I think they are waiting for new lambs – a potentially easy meal! The most colorful bird of the day was this Stellar’s Jay. My first encounter of them was in California last summer, but this was my first chance to get a good photo. They’re a beautiful and curious bird!
I was the only person who actually completely summited the mountain. There were still some small snow fields at the top that kept some of the less adventurous from going the last 1/5 mile. My philosophy on mountains is you are THAT close you have to finish it! I had to take this selfie of laying out on the peak.
The views around were stunning. This panorama looks towards Girdwood (left) and Anchorage (right). On the opposite shore is the town of Hope.
The Chuagach Mountains have many opportunities that I hope to take advantage of in the future!