Friday, 25 October 2019

Spirit Bears of The Great Bear Rainforest 15 September 2019

Spirit, or Kermode bears are a rare subspecies of the black bear, found only on a few islands in Northern British Columbia, Canada. It's believed there may be as few as 200 individuals in existence. My dream to view these beautiful creatures was finally realised this September, after a decade's wait. You need to be pretty determined: opportunities are (rightly) restricted in number, and as a result pretty pricey. If you share my fascination, I know of three options:

1) Join a small boat tour to the Great Bear Rain Forest: this may well be a wonderful experience, but be aware that even if you join a week long tour, you may get only a day or two's opportunity to spend time in sprit bear habitat. As I was so focused on the spirit bear aspect of the trip, this was too great a risk for me.
2) Stay in the Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu: this has the most comfortable accommodation, if this is important to you.
3) Join an excursion from Hartley Bay: this was the option I chose, since it offered the longest time in spirit bear territory, and hence the greatest chance of coming across one. I can't stress how important this is: on the first day of my seven day trip, the weather was too severe to get out of the boat and walk to the salmon stream, and the second day brought a fleeting, two second glimpse of the elusive white bear. I traveled with Tim Irvin, and highly recommend his company Wildlife Journeys, not least because of they are ethical, and low impact. Tim's passion for wilderness is evident throughout, and the week I spent with him and the Gitga-at guides stands alongside the brown bears at McNeil River as the most memorable bear viewing I've experienced to date. If you've followed this blog since 2010, you'll realise that I have more than a few points of comparison.

Be aware that luck is a key part of any wildlife viewing: I'm told that the trip I joined was probably the most fortunate of the season, so be aware that whilst most of Tim's trips encounter a spirit bear, it's unusual to see as many individuals as I did, and spend so much time with them.

As I write this I'm days away from departing from my tenth trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see the other great white bears. Such was the unique magic of my trip with Tim, that I'm happy that 2020 will see me embarking on two very different wildlife photograph trips in the Southern Hemisphere, to view completely different species. It would be a mistake to try to recreate such a unique experience as my time this autumn with Boss, Warrior, Strawberry, and especially the so gentle and accepting 20 year old Ma'ah.

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