It was a beautiful fall morning in early October as we left the dock in Campbell River. After idling in the inner harbor in order not to create a wake the powerful twin engines on the open ridged hulled Zodiac boat came to life with a distinctive roar once we had cleared the breakwater, which sheltered the harbor from the open water. The boat the guide would usually use, a cabin cruiser, had broken down several days earlier and was still in the shop for maintenance. Personally I prefer the open boat to a cabin cruiser as a photo platform because it offers an instant 270 degrees unobstructed view of the surroundings and works fairly well for shooting out toward the stern if need be. The boat had a full complement of eager passengers, ready to experience grizzlies and anything else to cross our way up close.
As we passed a small outcropping along our way while rounding Quadra Island we spotted a small group of Stellar Sea Lions resting on the backside of the rocks, their deafening barks filling the air. This was our first photo opportunity of the day. After a brief stopover and a number of photos we happened on to the next point of interest along the way, which happened to be a fishing trawler. Chum Salmon fishing season was in full swing and the crew was about to harvest the bounty of the sea. They had just begun to winch the net slowly out of the water as the, scooping the fish with smaller nets onto the fishing trawler and into its holding tank. Another photo opportunity, this time of hardworking commercial fishermen, who only have a limited time to fill their boat before the Chum salmon fishing season would close.
The remainder of the journey to our destination was rather uneventful as the Zodiac slices through the smooth, dark blue water between Vancouver Island and the mainland revealing the breathtaking land and seascapes along the way. As the mainland drew near close to our final destination we were greeted by some Sea Gulls who were perched on a log near the dock. After ditching our survival suits, (we were getting hot), we were introduced to our First Nations guide who had arrived to take us by bus to the viewing areas.
Upon arrival at our first viewing area we spotted the first grizzly slowly making its way upstream on the opposite shore of the river. The bear, a big female, stopped to look back occasionally as she passed by some salmon carcasses which littered the gravelly river banks along her way.
Another photo opportunity, some more pictures, then she disappeared into some bushes only to reappear further upstream. She stopped suddenly and stared with great interest upstream. The subject of her curiosity, another grizzly, was making its way downstream. Upon noticing the first bear it stopped, stared at it and then proceeded cautiously forward, going out of its way not to come too close to the first bear which by that time had started upstream again giving the second bear a lot of room to pass by without incident until she vanished in the forest.
The second grizzly, also a female, retracing the first bear’s steps in the opposite direction, made her way downstream, stopping occasionally to sniff and to check out the surroundings. As she drew closer one could see that her face was somewhat misshaped, perhaps the result from a fight she had been in at some point of her life. Along her way she stopped at a log, which had fallen into the river, and after a short while caught a salmon. She dragged it to shore and started to feed on it. I watched in amazement as the bear stripped the fatty skin from the fish with great dexterity with her teeth and ate it, discarded the rest of the fish and went on her way downstream.
Right on cue it was not long after that that the next bear appeared. Moving past the spot where the previous grizzly had its meal it checked out the discarded fish carcass. It then entered the river and tried to cross, but eventually decided to turn back and get back to the shore.
While all this was happening I caught a glimpse of an old friend, a blue heron, flying downstream. Low above the water he was gliding graciously until the reached a logjam. Flapping his wings he gained altitude, landed on a log, flapped his wings some more to gain balance, and rested at that spot.
By now the bear was about to disappear into the bush and our guide asked us to board the bus again so we could check out some more spots for bears. Along the way we stopped and were shown some day beds, which had been used recently by bears.
The new spot did not produce any bears but there were a number of young eagles, probably from this year’s brood, which were taking advantage of the onshore breeze and soared to new heights. Seagulls were also present, looking for food in the river.
Our First Nation’s guide, pointing at the mountain closest to us, informed us that at one time mountain goats had been living there.
After a short while we boarded the bus again and headed back to the original observation spot. We arrived just in time to spot grizzly number four slowly approaching from downstream. It was just beyond the logjam where the blue heron had landed earlier. A raven, which was sitting on a branch in the logjam, watched as the bear started climbing over the logs with ease. As the bear got too close to him, the raven flew away.
Shortly thereafter our guide informed us that it was time to head back to the Zodiac and start our return trip. Everybody donned their red survival suits and climbed on board. Where had the time gone? I was smiling. I had gotten some incredible bear shots and I was happy.
On the journey back we came across some more Stellar Sea Lions which were out looking for food, namely the afore mentioned chum salmons which were returning to their spawning ground this time of year.
Further on I spotted some splashes and spouts off in the distance, which I pointed out to the captain. He immediately changed course in order to investigate. As it turned out some porpoises looking for food, namely Chum salmon, created the splashes. Upon spotting our craft they proceeded to circle the boat but not really jumping out of the water. Then I noticed that they were swimming under the boat and past the boat submerged. Seeing that it was impossible to get a shot of them jumping out of the water I turned to the next best thing, photographing them submerged. A tall order, but, in the end the mission was accomplished.
Leaving the porpoises behind we passed past another fishing boat laying out its net in the chase for the salmon.
As it was getting late we kept going when we spotted some Pacific White Sided Dolphins not too distant from our route. Amongst them we saw a couple of Stellar Sea Lions trying to keep up to the dolphins. Suddenly there was dolphin action all around the boat: jumping, summersaulting, under the boat and beside the boat, all in all a “target rich” environment. It was there where I got the “money shot”, a dolphin jumping out of the water with a big splash. Two frames and then the dolphin was gone. But all good things must come to an end and as the boat sped up we left the dolphins behind.
Passing by Quadra Island again I noticed a domestic cat sitting in the tall grass above the rocks surveying the approaching sunset. At this very moment the captain pointed out some Harbor Seals, which were resting on the cobbles below. Click, click, click: the shutter of my camera worked overtime for the last time on this glorious day. The remainder of the trip was quite uneventful. We pulled into Campbell River Harbor just as the sun started to set over Mount Washington.
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