Home Back Forward June 13, 2003: A Disappointing Arrival

Gulls' first egg on nest built on the ice.

Desperate gulls nest on the ice.

Gull's nesting rock under water at Gull Lake.

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My Return to Kamchatka 2003

I arrived in Kamchatka on Magadan Air on a record clear sunny morning. I had flown by or over about 20 volcanoes; one spewing smoke under the plane. Not a cloud or breath of wind. I noticed the runway was full of bumps as in previous years. Upon reaching the customs shed I soon discovered all 3 of my bags were missing - this included my new aluminum art cases and my bag of summer's art supplies. I spotted the pilot and begged him to have the baggage compartment searched before the craft left for Magadan. Losing a bag anywhere in the world is not a good proposition - I was very relieved when they found them behind other luggage still on the plane.

Within 24 hours I had the remainder of our food purchased for the summer. Charlie called on the satellite phone to say he was more than ready for pick-up; having been at Kambalnoye alone in very bad weather for one month. Our plan being for him to return to the city to bring back his airplane. As usual, the helicopter I had hired was also delivering other people to parts of the southern peninsula. Having taken advantage of this free taxi service myself more than once, I smiled as we all headed south. I could not believe the amount of snow covering the landscape. The cover reminded me of the mid-May trip I had done in 1997 with our 3 orphan cubs in the back of the helicopter.

This trip to Kambalnoye Lake held nothing like the sense of that trip of 1997. Charlie spoke again of the signs that he thought likely were hunters that had stayed in our cabin illegally last fall. Velodia Gordienko, a friend of ours who works with the Hunting Department of Kamchatka, was with me on the flight along with Kronotsky State Preserve rangers and the Supervisor of South Kamchatka Sanctuary. All were concerned about the evidence of hunting at Kambalnoye Lake. I felt sick approaching the area thinking about the likely consequences to our bears if it was true.

Charlie was pretty agitated, showing all the evidence of occupation and I could tell he was hoping the object that had been left in our cabin that looked like a gall bladder was not one. But it was identified as a bear's gall bladder and everyone, including Charlie, returned to Petropavlovsk, pretty sure hunters had been here last November.

He hoped to fly back in a day or two. I felt totally comfortable being on my own but sick thinking that Biscuit, with her friendly manner towards humans, was likely a casualty of the fall's hunting expedition. I wondered about Brandy and with hopeful eyes thought I identified her with Lemon and Lime crossing the ice the next day. I am still hoping it was she and her family. Due to all the snow, the lake looks like a bear highway, with several per day crossing and heading west for green feed along the coast. I proceeded to check out every bear that was light blonde. I carefully watched one of her size and color for 3 hours getting really excited thinking I had found her with her babies - but definitely not Biscuit. The let down is hard.

I got 3 days of outstanding sunny weather and hiked everywhere searching the cliff areas for Biscuit. Mothers with spring cubs stay near these areas so their cubs can scamper to safety if a predator male comes hunting. Charlie said he only saw one such predator so far this season. Not too many males in a population of bears catch onto eating other bears, but when they do, they seem to be very aggressive about it. Over the years here, we have seen scats at all times of the year, with the parts of young bears in them. It was the way Rosie died, one of our re-introduced orphans.

It was a welcome sound Thursday morning to hear Charlie's aircraft homing in from the west. He had contacted me by his satellite phone, en route Wednesday, that he had spent the night on the beach waiting out the storm he had thought was over.

I had barely had an opportunity to speak to him 5 days previously when he flew out on the helicopter I arrived on. We sadly spoke of "NO BISCUIT" and began to accept that she was likely shot the previous fall. We have not totally given up. Charlie flew up to a ledge, easily landing on the snow at the top, to see a bear with 3 spring cubs. He returned, with watery eyes, an hour later. Every close look at a bear with cubs brings us to terrible sadness when it isn't our friend. We are going to keep searching. Most of the bears are out of their dens now. One year we saw one emerge June 17th, but we have never seen mothers with spring cubs come out so late. We have decided to intensively look for 2 more weeks and if we don't find her, call an end to our study here. Being friends with her when she had new cubs, was the last of our "peaceful co-existence" questions.(We would move on to more of the application phase of our project back in North America, sooner than planned)

I have two gull friends I check out every year as they build their nest on the same rock on Gull Lake, not far from the cabin. Every year they face unbelievable odds in raising young is such a shallow lake. One year the lake dried up and they had to lead their remaining chick (our cubs ate two!) 200 yards to Kambalnoye Lake. This year their rock is under water and they nested on the near-by ice pack. As I finish this mail, I notice it is sleeting again as the lake continues to rise with melt of so much snow.


- Maureen

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 2003