Tag Archives: bear

A salmon by any other name

Artwork by Ray Troll

The news that the chum fishing season had closed on the Yukon brought me a question from the balcony. “What’s a chum?”

Chum Salmon, also known as the Dog Salmon. The least commercially sought after of our Pacific Salmon. Alaska chum mature at 5 years. An adult chum can weigh between 9 – 22 pounds, with an average length of 24″. The record chum salmon weighed in at 42 pounds.

The chum salmon

Pink Salmon, also known as Humpies. One look at a pink in its spawning phase will make it clear how the other name stuck. The back of a pink will grow a large hump, making them the Quasimodo of the salmon world. Humpies are the smallest of our five species, averaging just under 5 pounds as an adult. A usual year sees a harvest of 107 million pounds of pinks in Alaska waters. The record pink weighed 15 pounds. I admit to being a salmon snob, and refuse to keep pinks. Visitors can keep them, but my rule is that they have to take the humpy with them when they leave. Luckily, I can be a bit selective on what goes into my freezer.

The pink salmon

Coho Salmon, also known as Silvers. The coho is probably known more as a game fish than a prize for the commercial fisheries. They amount to only 3.5% of the Alaska catch my numbers, just under 6% by weight. They are fun to catch though, and make up the majority of my cache in most years. On average, the returning salmon weigh 7-11 pounds, with some reaching up to 36 pounds, but that is a big silver. The spawning coho will develop a large kype, or hooked beak.

The coho salmon

Sockeye Salmon, or Reds. The salmon that makes Alaska, the sockeye has a lifespan of 3-7 years, and can weigh 6-16 pounds as an adult. Bristol Bay alone, which is home to the largest (and last) great sockeye fishery, brings in an annual catch of some 30 million sockeye salmon. Statewide, sockeyes are the third most abundant species of salmon.

The sockeye salmon

Saving the biggest for last: The Chinook or King Salmon. An adult king averages 30 pounds and 36″ in length, with the Alaska record being 126 pounds and 58″ in length. The Chinook is the official state fish, and the one everyone wants to catch. Images of the massive Chinook caught out of the Kenai River are all over the internet. Unfortunately, this is the species of Pacific Salmon that seems to have taken the biggest hit, population wise. It is a rare year when a King can be kept from the Yukon River these days, and even the Kenai Peninsula is seeing seasons shortened, if not called off altogether.

The mighty chinook salmon

People talk of keystone species, and the salmon is the keystone for an entire state. The amount of biomass that enters the ecosystem every year with the death of the spawning salmon is simply staggering. Commercial fisheries, subsistence users, sport fishing, lodges, guides, all rely on the salmon.

The Tongass is known as America’s Salmon Forest, with roughly 17,000 miles of salmon streams and rivers. The nutrients that enter the forest every year from the salmon, drive the forest. Every year, salmon offer a smorgasbord to bears, wolves, eagles and the like, throughout the state.

Nothing is more important to Alaska than its salmon.


Bear Cam back online

As the bears of Katmai return to the river, so does the Bear Cam at Brooks Falls. The cam went online Monday, so feel free to head over to Explore.org to see how Otis, Holly and 747 fared over the winter.

Link is below:

https://explore.org/livecams/brown-bears/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls


Bear Cam: Top 10

Katmai National Park and Explore.Org have put together the Top 10 moments from the 2020 Bear Cam.


Denali National Park & Preserve

National Park Week, Final Day; Today’s Park Theme: B.A.R.K. Ranger Day

Denali and the Alaska Range, view from the south

I think it’s safe to say that I have visited Denali National Park more than any of the others. Of course, it’s only a two hour drive away. Denali is a gem of a Park, and its Mountain and namesake is the crown jewel. Discussions for the area to become a National Park started as early as 1906, and by 1915 there was a solid plan and momentum for the idea. The naming of the Park was contentious from the very beginning, and that should be the subject of a future blog post. Alaskans and Park proponents who had actually visited the area wanted to see the Park named Denali, which was the Athabaskan word for the Mountain. The powers in Washington DC, particularly  Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, disagreed. The new park would be named Mount McKinley National Park, a decision that Alaskans would fight for decades until it was finally officially renamed Denali National Park in 1980.

A view along the Park Road

At first the new national park was accessed by the Alaska Railroad, which ran between Seward on the southern coast and Fairbanks. The Denali Highway was opened in 1957, giving road access to the Park from the Richardson Highway, which runs between Valdez on the coast and Fairbanks. It wasn’t until 1971 for Anchorage to have direct access to Denali with the building of the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The Denali Park Road starts at the George Parks Highway, and travels west into the Park for 92 miles. The road ends at the historic mining community of Kantishna.

Teklanika River

There are several trails for hiking in Denali NP, but like the Wrangell-St Elias, this is wilderness, and most hiking is off trail and across country. River crossings are common, and seeing wildlife is (practically) guaranteed. I have one friend who is so wildlife viewing challenged, that other than rabbits and ravens, nothing will show for him. I add the “practically” for those in that exclusive club with my friend in NY.

Caribou in Denali

For the rest of us, wildlife viewing in Denali NP&P is a smorgasbord. I have never been in the Park without seeing caribou and moose, and always grizzly in the summer months. I once took my Dad to Denali and we rode the school bus to the end of the Park Road. While stretching our legs at a rest area, I spotted a wolf sauntering along a river bed, and pointed it out to my Dad and another gentleman who was on the bus with us, and they watched it through my binoculars until we had to board again. I ended up getting scolded by everyone else who was on the bus, because I didn’t hunt them all down and show them the wolf too. Beware of the bus etiquette.

Alaskan Standoff: Grizzly Bear vs Bull Caribou

Denali is a special place in the winter, and I’ve enjoyed snowshoeing the trails and even the roads with the crowds of summer a very distant memory. Dog mushing is a very common activity in the winter, either with your own team, or riding along with a guide. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping are the most common wintertime activities. It is a very beautiful, and quiet, winter wonderland. I searched and searched for winter pictures, and I could not find where I stashed them so that I could easily find them again. I will have to go back to create some more.

Denali Park Kennels

Dog mushing teams have been a part of Denali Park since 1922. The Park still maintains and works a team of sled dogs. In non-Covid years, the kennels can be visited, and the rangers give some pretty cool demonstrations. Plus, these dogs are just a lot of fun to hang around; Alaskan sled dogs have developed their own unique personalities, and they love to show them off. Driving the Park Road, you will often see the dog handlers walking the sled dogs, so watch for the signs.

The Replacements: Denali Park Puppies

Denali National Park & Preserve covers 4,740,911 acres and received 594,660 visitors in 2018.

Find your Park! And pet a Puppy!

Images of the Denali Park Dog Team and Puppy Patrol courtesy of NPS/Denali Dog Ranger Division


Kenai Fjords National Park

National Park Week, Day IV; Today’s Park Theme: Transformation Tuesday

Map of Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords: Where Mountains, Ice and Ocean meet.

Kenai Fjords was first designated a National Monument in 1978. With the passage of ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, Kenai Fjords officially became a National Park.

Exit Glacier

Kenai Fjords encompasses 669,984 acres, which includes the massive Harding Icefield, which is the source of at least 38 glaciers.

Climbing up to Exit Glacier; Camera: Leica M3, Film: TMax100

Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield can be reached from the community of Seward. It’s a short drive from town to the visitor center and trail head. The short and relatively easy trail takes one to the foot of the glacier. Exit is retreating at a pretty good clip, and is now losing ice during all seasons.

The Harding Icefield

The Harding Icefield covers over 700 square miles, and that does NOT include the 38-40 glaciers that spawn from it. The hike past Exit Glacier to the icefield can be described as strenuous, but the view, when clear, is absolutely amazing.

An emergency shelter surrounded by the Harding Icefield

Harding Icefield is one of four remaining in the United States, and the largest that is contained completely within the country. It receives, on average, 400 inches of snow each year.

Bear Glacier as seen from Resurrection Bay

Much of the Park is only accessible by water, and sea kayaking is a very popular activity. There are many tidewater glaciers that can be reached from Seward.

Kayakers dwarfed by Aialik Glacier

Two glaciers that I have visited from Seward are: Bear, which is the longest glacier in the Park, and Aialik Glacier, which is a bit more impressive from the water. Bear has receded to the point, that a lake now exists between the ocean and the glacier. The lake is often filled with small icebergs, which makes kayaking interesting. Aialik is a giant ice wall from the water’s surface.

Kenai Fjords National Park received 321,596 visitors in 2018. It is the fourth most visited Park in Alaska, and the closest to the city of Anchorage.

Find your Park!

USCGC Healy to sail Northwest Passage

USCG Cutter Healy 700 miles north of Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Public domain photo: Credit USCG

The largest icebreaker of the three in the service of the United States Coast Guard, will sail through the Northwest Passage at the end of this summer. The sailing will be a joint venture with the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Cutter Healy is named after Captain “Hell-Roaring” Mike Healy, who was captain of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. The Bear sailed the Alaskan coast for decades. The icebreaker Healy has accommodations for the entire crew, as well as for up to 50 scientists. The Healy can continuously break through ice up to 4-1/2 feet thick at 3 knots, and up to 10 feet thick, when “backing & ramming”. The Healy is designed to operate at temperatures down to -50F, and was the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied.

The upcoming mission through the Northwest Passage is officially a joint research and educational collaboration. That may very well be true, but it’s hard to ignore the geopolitical message that will be sent along with the research.

As the sea ice in the Arctic diminishes, clearly transport through the Northwest Passage will increase.

Currently, plans have the Cutter Healy leaving Dutch Harbor in mid-August for the Northwest Passage. By mid-September the icebreaker expects to do exercises out of Nuuk, Greenland around Baffin Bay.


Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh and the Chugach Mountains

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is a 564 acre fresh water marsh, located at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

The marsh was created in 1917 when the embankment for the Alaska Railroad was built up, effectively separating the fresh water from the Chugach Mountains, and the salt water from Turnagain Arm.

Potter Marsh is often called the most accessible wildlife viewing location in Alaska. The marsh is easily reached by the Seward Highway, and it contains a 1550 foot long boardwalk to keep your feet dry.

This wetland maze sees roughly 130 species of migratory and nesting birds calling it home, for at least part of the year. Moose, beavers, muskrats, eagles and hawks all can be viewed at Potter Marsh. Spawning salmon are often seen swimming up Rabbit Creek from Turnagain Arm in season.

Both brown bear and black bear use the marsh, but they are very rarely seen here. Consider yourself very lucky if you spot a bruin moving through the wetland.


Katmai Bear Close ups of 2020

… and miscellaneous housekeeping.

It appears that the “Happiness Engineers” here at wordpress have figured out which behind the scenes gremlin has been messing with life between The Circles. This site is not exactly fixed, but the offending “plug in” has been deactivated, and I hope that action does not cause any unforeseen issues. We shall see. For the moment, at least, the site has returned to it’s somewhat normal state.

Due to the hiatus, I am no longer in the habit of collecting post ideas, let alone building posts, so we will go the easy route and bring you bears. After all, with every movie out of Hollywood on Alaska, they always throw in a bear, whether it fits the story line or not. Here between The Circles, we are going all out by bringing you top of the line, Katmai bears.

The application deadline for permits to head to McNeil River to view the Katmai bears was yesterday. I’m late in relaying this information, but it does increase my odds at getting a permit. Camping within the Last Frontier also appears to be loosening up for 2021, as several National Parks and State Parks are either open for reservations, or are about to open. That is good news for most of us in-state.

Due to Canada continuing the ban on cruise ships larger than 250 capacity, there looks to be no cruise ship visits to Alaska until 2022. Cruise ships below that 250 passenger mark will be visiting both Alaska and Canadian ports. This would be a great year to visit Skagway, assuming Canada allows us to drive through Haines Junction.

As promised in the headline, explore.org, the fine folks that bring the Katmai Bear Cam to the world, has a 2020 Bear Close Up video for your bruin viewing pleasure:

Video and photo credit: explore.org


Tundra Travel

Film Friday:

Newtok, Alaska

We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.

Camera: Widelux FVI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Tri-X400


One Year on a Beaver Dam

From Voyaguers Wolf Project; Voyaguers National Park

Voyaguers Wolf Project placed a camera trap on one end of a beaver dam near Voyaguers National Park in Northern Minnesota. This six minute video shows the variety of wildlife that made use of the beaver’s bridge to cross the pond.