Seasonal Bear Activity
Post denning period. Localized bear movement may be observed in the proximity of the dens and on the snow covered upper slopes. Breeding season begins with large males exhibiting dominance antics. Bears can be observed feeding on certain roots and following the coastal tide line in search of sporadic food sources. Lower coastal general bear movement is erratic and at times, lethargic. Sedge grass and goose tongue grasses are not yet available. We do not recommend the time period from April to May 15 as a time to see bears on a regular basis in easy to access areas.
Mid-May to Mid-July
The sweet sedge grass meadows are attracting bears at this time. Normally, salmon runs have not yet occurred in this time frame. Bears will be seen aggressively digging clams on the low tide periods. The breeding season is winding down with fewer male to male confrontations and more mother bears with spring cubs can be observed. The fur of the bears is still very attractive at this point in time, but rubbing is beginning to be observed. This is an excellent time to view bears and observe a variety of interactions for reasonable periods of time.
Mid-July to Mid-August
Now the salmon runs are starting (chum & pink species) and the bears are starting to change their diet from roots and grasses to that of salmon. The bears spread out along the rivers with the most dominant taking the best fishing spots and the lesser bears, areas above and below them. Since there are no water falls to cause a temporary trap of sorts in the Hallo Bay rivers as there are at Brooks or McNeil, the bears catch salmon as the schools of fish cross shallow gravel bars. This fishing method is awesome to behold as the power and agility of the brown bear is at its finest during this time. Coastal flowers and fireweed blooms can be heavy during this time period. The bears are now rubbing off the past winters fur aggressively. Wolves can also be observed in the area if one is lucky enough.
Mid-August to Mid-September
The chum and pink salmon spawning runs are completing and the Coho salmon run is just beginning. The Coho salmon is the largest run of salmon in our coastal area with the run continuing into October. The Coho salmon averages much larger in weight than the pink and chum and usually has more fat, which the bears seems to prefer. In late August the bears are starting to show their beginning coats of new winter fur and as the days get shorter in length, the fur seems to grow even faster. There also seems to now be urgency for the bears to eat as much as possible, perhaps in anticipation of the coming winter. The bears are now supplementing their fish diet with a large variety of mushrooms and wild berries, which are ripening. Excellent bear viewing.
Mid-September to Mid-October
Coho salmon may still be entering rivers. Bears can be observed feeding on fish that have spawned out and died. Fall colors are beautiful and the days are shorter. Weather can be pleasant with short duration fast moving storms passing through the area. Bears are gorgeous with their winter fur and guard hairs. Bears are spending long periods of time resting/sleeping near the rivers or on the beaches. Berries are also a very important part of their diet at this time.
Life slows down at Hallo Bay, bears prepare and den for the winter months. Local weather conditions predict when this happens as large winter storms now become common, lasting for many days.
Most bears are in the state of hibernation. Mother bears give birth in the den during this time period.
As you can see, there is always good bear viewing opportunities in a natural habitat such as Hallo Bay. It is more a matter of choosing the time and what you would like to see the bears doing. Unlike other areas, which only have a heavy two week salmon run and then the bears leave the area almost entirely, because there is no other food source or the habitat is poor at best. Then there are areas such as the interior of Alaska (Denali) where bear densities are much lower and bears are normally observed at great distances or from a bus.
A food and habitat rich area such as Hallo Bay also provides the visitor the ability to see other wildlife in a natural setting such as the wolf, moose, fox, beaver, land otter and a large variety of birds and eagles. Additionally our coastal setting allows one to observe sea otters, seals, tidal pool wildlife and a wealth of marine birds and ducks. Then there are the glaciers, volcanoes and did we mention the beach combing.
Additional Information About Bears
Many people assume that all the brown bears everywhere in Alaska are all doing the same thing at the same time. Example, if it was a known fact that the bears are fishing for sockeye salmon June 15th at Brooks Camp, many people would automatically assume bears everywhere in Alaska rivers are fishing for sockeye salmon on June 15th. An assumption such as this is far removed from the facts and something a few minutes of research can easily overcome.
One should consider that there are two kinds of information available about Alaska brown bears, “general information” and “area specific information”. Visitors to Alaska seriously desiring to see the Alaska brown bear should brush up on some of the general information, which is easily available from our Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and who we might add, do a wonderful job making this general information available to the public.
Area specific information is another matter and it is this information, which is vital to the visitor’s successful observation of brown bears. ADF&G does not have the manpower or resources to provide reporting on specific brown bear population areas, instead visitors must rely on what we call “local knowledge” or “area specific information”. This is information known only by wilderness guides living and working in a specific area.
Habitat and food sources throughout Alaska can vary dramatically from year to year. Salmon runs of the same species in two rivers located a few miles apart may normally vary weeks or even a month difference in timing. Very few rivers support all five species of Pacific salmon and then there is the “even year, odd year” thing to contend with regarding some species of salmon in certain areas. With so many remote rivers in Alaska, only a few are monitored in the fish distribution database and physical weir counts called escapements. The knowledge regarding fisheries in many remote rivers of Alaska is solely based on “local knowledge” meaning information gathered by naturalists operating in a specific area.
In addition to salmon, wild berry crops will vary from area to area in maturity and fruit success. A late frost could destroy a particular berry plant from bearing fruit in any given season, thus taking that particular fruit out of the food chain. These are just to a few natural changes that can occur without any prior notice. Bears deal with these types of habitat and food source changes all the time, which is why we still have bears today.
We have observed bears fishing a river at the peak of a salmon run, only to leave that river in number to feed on a dead whale which washed ashore 5 miles away. Why? Because the whale was an easier food source to obtain than the salmon, thus better insuring survival. Things change in the bears environment every day and the observant wilderness guide must be intimately familiar and in tune with these changes in order to provide opportunities to his guests. Be wary of so called bear experts who do not have a vested interest in a particular area, but attempt to provide information on that area. Knowledge of bears in a particular area is earned in a first hand manner, anything less is hardly acceptable.
We are always fond of pointing out that “every new day a bear wakes to, is a new exercise in his survival”.
The bears of Hallo Bay are unique in their habits as that of their environment. The Pacific Coast of the Alaska Peninsula contains a natural bounty of food sources for the large brown bear and other wildlife populations. In this regard one has the answer to why there are so many bears at Hallo Bay all the time. The reason is the large variety of food sources. If one or more of the food sources would collapse, nature provides alternatives in the Hallo Bay habitat and the bears do not need to leave the area. The sheer size of the Hallo Bay area also allows the bears “personal space” as bears are solitary animals for the most part, in this regard very little overcrowding stress type behavior is observed.
Another important thing the traveler must consider is if the bears are hunted for sport in the viewing area considered. On Kodiak Island for example which supports a good brown bear population, the bears are hunted for sport both in the spring and again in the fall on the entire Island. Katmai National Park on the other hand has not allowed sport hunting for bears in the Park since 1917. There is a big difference in attempting to observe bears that are hunted versus those which have not been hunted.
For more information feel free to contact us.