It had been a beautiful July morning as we set out from the remote community of Telegraph Cove on the north end of Vancouver Island. The drive from Courtenay had been uneventful and I was looking forward to the trip with great anticipation. I had heard of the great grizzly viewing opportunities in Knight’s Inlet before but this was my first trip to the area.
After everybody had boarded the vessel its engines came to life with a low rumble as the boat made its way out of the harbor and into the open water. The first photo opportunity came after only a few minutes of travel when we spotted the spout of a lone Humpback Whale some distance away in the calm water. It slowly dove away as it waved goodbye with its fluke and disappeared beneath the water’s surface not to be seen again.
Our next stop was “The Point”, an area where a large quantity of eagles soared in the breeze. It was nice to watch but, with the majestic birds scattered over a large area, I decided that this was not a great opportunity for photos. Even with a long lens the birds were too far away to get great detail on individual ones and with a wide-angle shot they would be only specs in the blue sky. So I passed on it and after a short while we moved on.
We arrived at a rocky beach a short time later and our guide asked us to use our binoculars to scan it for “moving rocks”. It was low tide and it did not take very long to spot a mother grizzly and her two cubs foraging for food amongst the rocks. I am still amazed every time I watch bears turn over huge boulders with ease. The power is just incredible and the swiftness with which they can turn and react to the smallest noise is almost beyond belief. While mom was looking for tasty morsels under the scattered rocks the cubs took it upon themselves to explore the immediate surroundings at their leisure, knowing that at the slightest sign of trouble mother would be there in no time to make things right. It was great fun to watch the cubs disappear behind rocks and into the trees, just to see them reappear in the most unlikely places. Besides turning over rocks mother also enjoyed some of the mussels, which grew in abundance on the rocks as she was moving along the beach. After a while she decided that it was time for her and the little ones to disappear into the forest and that was the cue for us to move on.
The engines of the boat came to life once more and our little flotilla of three boats moved on to the next viewing opportunity. Two juvenile grizzlies, who seemed to have just been kicked out by their mother, were hanging out on the north shore of Knight’s Inlet. Feeding on the abundant mussels they ignored our presence, giving us an occasional glimpse only to return to the tasty morsels in front of them. Eventually, by season’s end, they will separate and go their own way, but for now they were content with each other’s company. Not far from this particular spot was a rather large patch of sedge grass which is the main food source for bears earlier in the season when other food sources are not as readily available. Low in nutrients, bears will have to eat vast quantities of the sedge grass to keep their energy level up. After drifting past the two juveniles grizzlies several times our guides decided that it was time to strike out for the next point of interest.
After everybody was safely inside the boat we headed across Knight’s Inlet again. It did not take very long to locate a mother and her cub on the south shore. The mother’s scarred, misshaped face told the story of the roughness of life out here and the tale of battles in previous years. Like the previous bears mother was feeding on the bounty on hand while the cub was exploring the beach on his own, staying closer to its mother than the cubs we observed earlier.
After a while it was once again time to move on to our next and final destination at Glendale Cove. As we turned the corner into the calm waters of the inlet we spotted a young grizzly out for its morning walk. The moment he spotted us as the boat was slowing down to take in the sight he became nervous and soon disappeared into the dense coastal forest. It happened so fast that I do not have a photo of the occasion.
Further up the short inlet an osprey caught our attention. A skilled hunter, he hovered in place for a short while, only to dive into the brackish water from a great height. He emerged with a small fish in his claws and flew off to feed his growing family.
Further on we reached the dock where we exchanged the cabin boats for some flat-bottomed observation skiffs, equipped with an upper level observation platform. We followed the shallow shoreline where we observed two more grizzlies. According to our guides one was the mother while the other was her cub, which she had just sent off to fend for itself. He still hung around and watched his mother forage for food from a distance. We observed both bears for a while. Then it was time to return to our boats and get ready for the journey back.
While travelling to Glendale Cove the wind had steadily picked up and the waves had gotten bigger. Now, as we entered Knight’s Inlet for our return trip, the waves had grown quite large and the trip had now turned into somewhat of a rollercoaster ride until we reached calmer waters. We stopped for a late lunch at a marina along the way. The lunch was quite delicious and after ample time we boarded our boats again for the return trip to Telegraph Cove. I decided to sit outside the cabin and enjoy the landscape as we were passing it by. Looking out the back I noticed several spouts, a telltale sign that whales are present, off in the distance. I was somewhat disappointed that we had not stopped to watch them, but we were on a grizzly tour and whale watching is somebody else’s livelihood. And it had been a great day so far: ten bears in a single day by any standards is quite good. So my disappointment did not last very long.
Just then we spotted some eagles fishing for herring. A school of herring had risen to the surface and eagles were lining up like aircraft on a runway. Slowed by the headwind they showed their skill of fishing. Eagle after eagle approached slowly, picking a spot and making the grab. If unsuccessful they just went to the back of the lineup and came in again for another try. It was incredible to watch and photograph and I ended up with some spectacular eagle shots.
But all good things have to come to an end and we headed back to Telegraph Cove. The day had been incredible. A whale fluke, lots of grizzlies and the fishing eagles to top it all off! I was smiling on my long drive all the way back to Courtenay.
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