Grizzlies - Bute Inlet
The whole holiday had been based around seeing Grizzly Bears in the wilds of the salmon rivers, hopefully seeing them catching the fish in fast flowing rivers. The original plan to drive the 3 plus hours to Telegraph Cove was scrapped in favour of Campbell River, since the latter offered a small platter of companies organising boat trips to the BC mainland in search of the designated prey, landing at Bute Inlet rather than the better known Knight's Inlet. The final experience of the day would suggest that the extra money and time invested in Knight's Inlet was perhaps unnecessary, since we had excellent encounters with bears in close up and more.
After arriving at the departure point a little early, I wandered along the top of the marina for a short while, where a couple of Sparrows (Song & Savannah) were flitting between bushes, with a female McGilvray's Warbler a little more obliging.
The two of us were accompanied by nine others on the boat, which was not the usual one used by Gary of Aboriginal Journeys, since his own was in the repair dock after having run into a log a few days earlier. Nevertheless, Bjorn and his trusty, and nifty, boat was an adequate replacement. The journey to the dock at the Orford River took about 2 hours, with some titbits of birds on the way. A separate brace of Bald Eagles represented a poor showing for these magnificent birds. Seabirds were difficult to identify from the speeding boat, although a pair of Marbled Murrelets obliged when we stopped to play with some Pacific White-sided Dolphins. Near to our goal, rafts of hundreds of Surf Scoters were passed.
Just as we were about to manoeuvre for docking, the first Grizzly was spotted on the shore, ambling along between discarded logs, one of which sported a Bald Eagle. A Belted Kingfisher flew overhead as we boarded the bus.
Some hours were spent flitting between 3 of the 5 observation towers provided for safe viewing of the bears. Each of the towers had at least one bear to observe, and this was generally at very close quarters. The salmon had apparently come late to the rivers following a dry summer, but numbers were now up on last year. Conversely, the numbers of bears seems to be down. Yet they performed well for us, with one obliging by taking a huge salmon from the shore.
One or two species of birds were also seen from the platforms. Pick was perhaps the brace of female Harlequin Ducks feeding contentedly directly in front of platform 5, while 2 Goosanders were passed by. A Belted Kingfisher used a large dead log in the centre of the river for its dining lookout. A pair of American Dippers were a further resident of this particular stretch of water.
The return journey added a small number of Western Grebes (in Winter plumage) and a Great Northern Diver, but these were topped by a small posse of Dall's Porpoises playing around the boat, looking for all the world like mini Orcas due to their pied markings.
Lying just behind the grizzlies as the focal point of the planned holiday was a trip out to see Killer Whales. Thus it was that we had a trip booked for the second day at Campbell River to hunt down Orcas, which didn't start quite as planned. We had booked with Campbell River Whale Watching tours in March, and I had just happened to check emails from the previous evening to find that this had been cancelled. The apparent reason was that they had had a better offer from a larger group who insisted on a private trip, so we had been "bumped". This may have been a blessing in disguise, since we were rebooked on a covered boat, as opposed to the open Zodiacs, and the day started with constant rain.
This continued on our journey up the Inner Passage, where a pair of Rhinoceros Auklets were the only auks out of a small offering to be positively identified. Such is the problem of picking out characters from a speeding boat. The flocks of Surf Scoter were somewhat smaller than yesterday, but did contain one or two lines of Velvet Scoter. Searching through the many Gulls also revealed the presence of good numbers of Glaucous.
Cetaceans were again regularly chanced upon, but not of the main quarry. A small group of Dall's Porpoises followed an obliging posse of Pacific White-sided Dolphins, but it was the finding of a single Humpback Whale which caused us to pause in our pursuit of Orcas for some time. This whale characteristically made 3-4 short surface breaths before a prolonged dive.
The quest seemed to be fruitless, since the boat powered on far up the Johnson Straight, beyond the sightings of previous days. Then a rather large collection of White-sided Dolphins was spotted in front of the opposite shore, and this throng of at least 50 animals playfully danced between the 3 boats in attendance. During the show, I spotted what looked to be a large dorsal fin next to the distant shore, and this proved to be one of the resident A30 family, which was said to consist of 11 Killer Whales. This group entertained us for over an hour, content to generally stay within a few hundred metre length of shoreline waters (although at least one of the larger males broke off to the Vancouver Island shoreline). It was also here that we downed lunches, with the boat bobbing along to the cetacean entertainment.