After quickly adding layers – long underwear, rain pants, wool socks, thermal undershirt, sweater, coat, hat, and gloves – I grabbed my backpack and hip waders and boarded the skiff for our first trip ashore.  We passed what I first thought was a sea otter. They are so wonderfully ubiquitous in these coastal bays that I’ve taken to identifying any mammal in the water as an otter until proven otherwise.  It had been working well for me until now.  Upon closer look, this otter turned out to be a swimming bear!

Swimming Bear (2)
Not an Otter

Now that’s a proper greeting, swimming out to welcome us.  He was generally heading in the same direction that we were and was apparently concerned about our presence.  Upon noticing us, he made a sharp turn to keep his distance.

Swimming Bear (1)
Swimming Bear

Our captain opted to change our course taking us around the backside of an island to leave the bear to his shorter route without any added stress from us.  That’s how you know you’re on a good trip – the welfare of the wildlife comes first.

 

We arrived at the mouth of the bay at mid-tide.  Wearing our hip waders, we carefully stepped off the bow of the boat into murky, silty waters. Our guide, Buck, led us through the rushing water, between the deep, rocky channels to a gravel bar where we settled in to watch a bear fishing further up the river.   He was having a lot of success splashing into the water from the high bank and retreating a few steps into the willows around the bend to eat his salmon.

Brown Bear Gray Day (2)
Coming out from his successful fishing hole at the curve

That’s when a wolf appeared from slightly behind us to our right.  He poked his head out of the grasses along a side channel and with little regard to us walked up to the water’s edge.

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Wolf!

Wolves are notoriously wary of people.  To have one approach this close was a real gift of nature. He peered into the waters, looking for a fish to grab, took a few steps along the rocky shore and then disappeared back into the cover of the tall, thick grasses.  He was with us a magical minute or two, leaving a deep impression with his presence.

Lone Wolf (3)
Turning up river towards us
Lone Wolf (1)
A quick check for fish

 

The bear continued looking for fish as the gray, rainy afternoon turned to evening and the temperatures dropped.  The massive swimming bear came ashore and explored the edges of the river mouth.

Brown Bear Gray Day (5)
A close encounter on the gravel bar
Brown Bear Gray Day (3)
The Swimming Bear joined us

Harbor seals popped up regularly ion the bay as the tide drew in.   Little gray heads with large soulful eyes on gray water under a gray sky.  They, too, are here for the salmon bounty.  With this first afternoon’s amazing experiences energizing us, we headed back to the boat for a warm, decadent dinner.

Brown Bear Gray Day (1)
A younger bear made a brief appearance