Monday, July 26, 2010

Visitors to Penguq

The swampy tundra of the Alaska Peninsula may have felt inhospitable to us, but bears, moose, caribou, wolves, sandhill cranes, and many other birds call this place home. At about the end of our first week there we had our first bruin visitor to our camp. We had an electric fence around our camp, but we were working so close to it that we didn't think it was necessary to turn the fence on during the day. When we came back for lunch one day, Catherine found that our latrine bucket had been knocked over and there were bear prints all around it. A few minutes later we noticed that a part of the electric fence had been pushed up. The bear had walked right up to our camp while we were working nearby! We had probably scared it off when we came back for lunch, even though we didn't see it. We kept the fence on after that! That evening just before we went to bed, Catherine nearly bumped into the bear on her way to the outhouse! We all went out yelling at the bear (and taking photos) while Mark shot two crackers at it and Patrick threw rocks. These didn't quite have the effect we hoped on the poor little bear, but he did eventually lumber into the bushes where he bedded down for the night. We saw his little prints around the river for two days after and then he seemed to disappear. Shortly after that at night just after we had gone to bed, we heard splashing in the river. The first time only Mary heard it and the second time several of us heard it. It sounded just as you would expect a bear fishing in the river to sound like. I even heard it grunt a few times and I heard a "whoof." It sounded like a bear to me, but it could have been a wolf I suppose. I didn't think I would feel so afraid hearing something like that, but when you're in your tent alone, can't see anything, and don't know if anyone else it awake, it's a bit disconcerting.

Throughout our four weeks we saw a few bears off in the distance in the tundra. We also saw two lone caribou wandering around. There were a plethora of wolf, bear, and moose tracks along the river including fresh moose tracks right near our camp one morning. We never caught a glimpse of a wolf although Patrick may have hear them howling in the night once. Mary, Catherine, and I got up at 6am one morning with the telescope to look for wolves but didn't have any luck. It was an amazing morning though with clear views of the mountains. The day that our resupply plane arrived we noticed a sow and two cubs on the tundra near our camp - although not too close. We never saw them after that and figured they had gone on their way. A couple of nights later we had a beautiful view of Mt. Chiginagak and several of us were snapping away with our cameras. It wasn't until I downloaded the photos at home that I noticed the sow and cubs are in the foreground of all my photos of the mountain! It is pretty funny that none of us noticed the bears, we were all so excited about seeing the volcano.

We had a resupply plane scheduled for the last week of the excavation. The resupply brought some new food as well as Ryan, Catherine's husband Andrew, and my cousin Ann Marie to replace Mary to had to return home for a family wedding. The end of the third week of our expedition was a perfect time for some fresh blood and food. Unfortunately the day the plane was supposed to come we had nasty weather and the flight had to be postponed until the next day. It was a bit demoralizing, but we all brightened up the next morning when the plane arrived at 10am! Bringing new people out to help us finish up the excavations and back fill was definitely a good call on Patrick's part. Without Andrew, Ryan, and Ann Marie's hard work we would have been VERY tired and sore. I could get used to having my husband come in the field with me!

We also had two BIA archaeologists visit the site during the last week to see how our excavations were going. They were very impressed with how much dirt we had moved and it was exciting for us to see some new people.

The BIA archaeologists visit Penguq.
Ryan backfilling with Mt. Chiginagak in the background.
Me at 6am going to look for wolves.
Mark shooting a cracker at a curious little bear.
Big bear track meets big wolf track.

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