Home Back Forward September 15, 1999: Fattening Up

Biscuit extracting nuts. You can see the ones which have fallen into her fur.

Chico and Biscuit together. They were eating nuts after it was getting dark about two kilometers from the cabin so these are flash photos. They are ranging out far and I saw them from the air on the way home from looking for whales along the coast. Landed on a small lake to see what was going on, and then just getting home with the last light.

Chico patrolling the lake shore looking for fish on her own.

Aerial with Kambalnoe Lake in back and tundra starting to change to reds that get much brighter than this soon.

(Click on any Image to see a higher resolution version)


Things never seem to happen anywhere near how you plan they might, here in the wilds of Russia. For instance, we have been informed about a visit from various officials from Moscow all summer and for various reasons they have been canceled. Dr. Pahzetnov injured his eye and his MD would not let him come until it healed and then later when he was set to come again his doctor again vetoed the trip. He is 70. Mr. Stepaninsky, the head of all preserves in Russia was scheduled to come this week but was put off by the weather. We decided that I would go to Petropavlosk to meet with him but I can't get there because of the weather. I have had everything packed and waiting for a helicopter for three days and there is no sign of a letup. Meeting close schedules is not very often possible.

The cubs have to put up with uncertainty as well. The timing of their food sources are very different from last year and one can see their puzzlement at this. For instance, last year there was a run of pink salmon in the creek that comes into the lake by the cabin. This was a wonderful place for them to gorge themselves and they didn't have much competition. This year they keep hunting their favorite spots but there hasn't been a fish. They started looking almost to the day in exactly the same place where they caught their first ones last year. They have a good memory about what they think should be happening. The older, more experienced bears also look but accept the obvious with less difficulty. There are lot of sockeye in the lake but they came much later than we have ever seen. The few that were in the spring run are long dead and eaten. I don't know if they realize it or not that every salmon spawns and then dies, eventually they will have lots to eat. What is there now is a big run with many thousands of fish that average about 5 pounds.

These days they eat pine nuts even though the cones are still green. This makes it a bit harder to extract the nuts but they are able to get lots anyway, such is their dexterity. They sit in the middle of a good patch where they can reach many cones without moving. When they pluck it off the bush with their teeth, they hook the claws of one paw over a branch and place the cone in the little pocket that is formed on in the top side of the paw. Biting into the side of it releases the nuts out from under the scales which they sort with their tongue and spit out the scales. Some nuts fall into their fur and are licked up. They rotate it about four times to get all the nuts, discarding the core. They process about four cones a minute. Judging from the few cones there are around the cabin and other places I looked , I thought that it was a poor year for nuts, but after going with Chico and Biscuit I realized that they know where to look. There are many very productive patches of bush.

Interestingly, they are together much of the time while eating berries and nuts but don't like fishing together anymore. Watching them, I can see that there is competition while fishing because of the lack of quarry and the linear layout of a lakeshore or river. It now is quite obvious to me why bears are solitary animals most of the time: there just is simply no advantage for them to be together once they get to be a good size. By being separate they can spread out to find different things that they learn about over their life time. When there is abundance they do get together and are quite sociable. Food is so important: every bear's best strategy is being on their own to take advantage of the whole countryside and every possible source without crowding each other. Because cubs do like one another they stay together doing the things which are the least competitive until it just doesn't make good sense for them to do so. I suppose that there is the same question regarding denning together. When is it a disadvantage to do this for survival reasons? I have to think about this. Maybe you, followers of this web page, can as well.

As they say, I'm outa here as soon as the weather breaks. I always have mixed feelings about this each year. Maureen and I have grown fond of our solitude living in such a remote place, cut off from the hectic pace of the "real would". I believe she is going to write about this next but don't take my word for it.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999