We’re on the prowl for bears.
It’s an obsession, really. I talk to coworkers and monitor Facebook pages, looking for the best places to see bears. We drive unpaved roads and rural neighborhoods at a crawl, perhaps slower than we should, considering that Alaska is a place where people value their privacy. We scrutinize creeks where the salmon are starting to run and peer into the forest that lines the roads, hoping to glimpse the round, dark shape of a bear.
Last week I got a tip from a coworker: we might find a black bear family near the prison. She said that a mama and her two cubs had been hanging out in the woods near the entrance.
The prison sits across the bay from the main part of Seward. There’s not much to that side of town in the way of civilization–just the prison, a shipyard, and a network of short, unpaved roads that cut through dense brush. Beyond that, it’s wilderness: a lovely stretch of beach, mountains, and forest.
We drove the dusty roads methodically and found large mounds of bear scat. We also saw a moose with what looked like scars on her belly, but no bears.
Next we headed to the prison. Spring Creek Correctional Center is a large, fenced-off compound with a backdrop of mountains. The road to its entrance cuts through forest, and we inched our way along, nearing the prison gate, and startled a baby bear that had been resting in the grass. It hopped up with a spring that was comical but didn’t seem alarmed. It casually made its way toward the tree line, nibbled on a bush, and then, as if remembering that it had somewhere to be, bounded into the woods.
The next night we returned to the prison road and got lucky again. Both cubs were in view this time, playing at the edge of the trees. Like I talked about in our recent sea otter post, it’s hard not to compare animals to humans, and those baby bears reminded us of happy children. But maybe we were just projecting onto these young creatures the joy we felt at seeing them.
One of the babies scurried into the woods as we drew closer, but the second one stayed in view long enough for us to get pictures and admire his blonde muzzle.
Yesterday I thanked my coworker for the bear tip, and she responded by telling me that not only did she and her boyfriend see our bear family the night before, but they also came across several more emerging from the brush along those dusty roads.
So guess what we’ll be doing tonight? Prowling.
Update, 6/29/2017: We did indeed go out again last night, and this time we saw mama bear. She heard us coming, stood up to get a good view of us, and then shooed her babies into the woods.