Coke & Som Smith Photography & Travelogue

Knight Inlet and BC Bear Country!


"Mom" and her young cub piggy-backing along the Knight Inlet

 

 

For more images of Knight Inlet, log on to our Pbase galleries!

Bears of Knight Inlet

Bald Eagles & Other Birds of Knight Inlet

Other Critters of Knight Inlet

Landscapes, People and Plants of Knight Inlet

Vancouver Island Marmots

 

 

The surreal British Columbia landscape seen from Sailcone Lodge.

 

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost 12 years yet I had never made it up in to British Columbia further than Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.  Our time was running short in the region before our big move over to China, so I thought it was time to bite the bullet afnd explore one of the wildest and most spectacular regions on earth – the Knight’s Inlet and the surrounding sounds and islands of the Johnstone Strait.

Sometime in the early spring, I started investigating the options for exploring the region.  As the entire area is fairly remote, there are few choices for quality wildlife viewing launch spots with out heading further north in to Alaska.  I did not have the budget for this.  So we opted to stay much closer to the Olympic Peninsula.

 

The simple, yet extremely comfortable Sailcone Lodge, situated on Minstrel Island.

 

The only way in aside from boat is float plane.  Ours originated in Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

 

 

Cokie being the co-pilot!

 

We contacted several operations but ended up booking and staying with Sailcone Lodge on Minstrel Island that is basically a few miles up and in to the Knight’s Inlet.  Our hosts were John & Catherine Reid and their son, Cam.  They run (although they just sold it!) a quality small lodge located on the southern edge of Minstrel Island.  They offer lodging and activities for ten guests and provide an outstanding itinerary that allows for daily speedboat rides over to Glendale Cove, deep in the Knight’s Inlet, to view numerous grizzlies.  Generally their itinerary offers whale-watching and black bear viewing opportunities as well.  If you stay long enough, you can also be treated to a visit to Trapper Rick’s portion of Thompson Sound and the wild forests and rivers there.  They provide a great experience and feed you some fantastic grub as well!  And the home-brewed wine flows and is quite good!  I highly recommend the Sailcone Lodge, and I am hopeful that the new owner is as gracious and hospitable as John and Cath.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and our experiences far exceeded our expectations.

 

Cokie enjoying his daily jacuzzi at Sailcone Lodge!

 

Som and Cath inspecting dinner!  (Incredible grub!)

 

John Reid dishing out one of the amazing meals at Sailcone Lodge!

 

 

 

My little ninja!

 

Cokie and his pirate friend Clint!

 

My family!

 

 

The Bears!

"Bella" seen grazing along the shores of Glendale Cove.

 

We stayed in the Knight’s Inlet region for four full days and four nights.  During that time, we were able to visit Glendale Cove for two full days of outstanding Grizzly viewing.  During our visits, we had close encounters with three females with cubs as well as one additional bear that was perhaps a small male.  The cubs ranged in age from right around one month old to perhaps one to two years in age.  We spent literally hours watching the bears graze the grasses of the estuary in Glendale.  There were times in fact that I thought we were basically watching cows with claws!

We also were lucky to observe the playful antics of the young cubs for many hours.  The youngest cubs were the most fun to watch by far.  At one point we had a chance to watch them play fight and romp around a gravel bar near the mouth the inlet while mom flipped massive boulders with one arm in order to slurp up the invertebrates beneath.  The cubs delighted in slap-fighting each other for hours while mom munched nearby.  After a couples hours of watching these amazing animals frolic, some hidden signal from mom that was way below our radar signaled it was time to head back in to the forest.  This was our cue to head back for our picnic lunch as well!

 

"Mom" and her cubs scouring the beaches for invertebrates.

 

The playful cubs practicing their fighting skills on a gravel bar along the Knight Inlet.

 

 Cub fight!

 

Hello!

 

 

 "Bella"

 

We spent more time with other bears that had names such as “Bella” and “Roll” (due to her propensity to roll massive boulders with great ease…).  Bella had four cubs, one of which was extremely blonde and quite spectacular.  Roll was losing her hair for some unknown reason.  Perhaps she had a serious tapeworm problem which is evidently an issue for many of the bears in the region.

While in the Knight’s Inlet, we were lucky enough to see at least eleven Grizzlies.  Late May and June are evidently great times to watch the bears as they are busy feeding on the grasses on the estuary and beach edges or feeding on the invertebrates of the rocky shores.  We did well.  We were also lucky enough to see at least 13 Black Bears!  Seriously good luck, especially considering the dismal weather we had for the entirety of the expedition!  Many of the bears were viewed near dusk so the photography was tough but at least two or three were viewed in very close proximity allowing for some great images. The drizzly weather and flat light made high quality photography a bit challenging but the views made up for this.

 

 One of the many Black Bears seen along the inlet.

 

 

 

 

Other wildlife included Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Dall’s & Harbor Porpoises and tons of Black-tailed Deer.  There seems to be some confusion as to the exact subspecies of the deer, but the region would appear to be in the transition zone between the Columbia Black-tailed Deer and the Sitka Black-tailed Deer.  As I have been living with the Columbia subspecies for some time, I was able to see some fairly pronounced morphological differences between those we saw along the Knight’s Inlet and those we saw on Vancouver Island (Island/Columbia Black-tailed Deer) and those populating the Olympic Peninsula.  We also viewed two Pine or American Martens, which was very exciting for me and Som!  We came across Douglas Squirrels, River Otters and even a ???? Vole!  Well at least Cokie had a good glimpse of the vole…  We did fairly well with the birds as well with a list topping sixty species by the end of the trip.

 

 One of the numerous Harbor Seals seen along the Knight Inlet and surrounding areas.

 

Our only Steller's Sea Lion seen during the trip.  A nice big bull!

 

Pacific White-sided Dolphins were seen sometimes in the hundreds while cruising the various inlets of the region.

 

Sitka Black-tailed Deer (at least I think that is the subspecies) were commonly seen throughout the region.

 

Douglas Squirrels were seen only on a couple occassions while there.  This one was on Mount Washington, Vancouver Island is supposedly a unique island subspecies.

 

During low tides, we had some chances to inspect the marine intertidal community!

 

Well, at least this was once part of the marine community...

 

Trapper Rick's

Our leisure time was spent eating, relaxing in the lodge and trekking the forests of Minstrel Island.  We spent an entire day exploring Thompson’s Sound with Trapper Rick and his son, Jake.  Cokie got to get some fishing time in although he did not actually land any of the numerous cutthroat trout or steelhead that were populating the rivers around Rick’s cabin.  Rick saw a Rainforest Wolf the day before but we were only lucky enough to see tracks.  But that most have been one big dog as those tracks were massive!  Rick maintains a cabin in the remote wilderness of Thompson Sound and offers ecotours and fishing trips himself during the off season.  He traps pine martens during the winter months.  He’s a great guy and we very much enjoyed our day exploring the flora and fauna of his section of paradise.

 

Trapper Rick!

 

The view of Thompson sound from Trapper Rick's remote cabin.

 

Cokie fishing for cutthroat with trapper Rick.

 

Som fishing at Rick's!

 

Getting to Rick's remote cabin involves many modes of transport!

 

Cokie and his ATV!

 

Vancouver Island Marmots

Our trip to Knight’s Inlet being far better than we could have ever expected, the rest of our expedition was spent slowly exploring the east coast and central mountains of Vancouver Island.  Our main goal was to spot the elusive and highly endangered Vancouver Marmot.  I contacted Victoria Jackson at the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Center, and she was kind enough to give me some hints as to where we could find the marmots.  I was not very hopeful as the winter was lingering deep in to June and there was still tons of snow in the habitat of the marmots.  But we decided to give it a try anyway. 

 

 

 

 

By the time we reached the Mount Washington Sky Resort located just southwest of Campbell River, we were in some foggy, rainy weather and there was so much snow still on the ground that I had a feeling we were going to be skunked.  When I was looking at the snow-bound mountainsides and the closed ski lifts (that were supposed to take us up to the best known location for the marmots…), Som screamed, “Coke, look!  A marmot!”  Sure enough, there was a colony of at least five marmots situated just a few feet from where I had parked my car!  And if she had not been there, I would have missed them for sure!  Well, I can say that same statement for many of the species she and I have viewed together.

 

 

We spent a couple hours viewing these crazy cute critters.  They were living in a scree/log pile along the side of the road near the lower lifts of the resort.  When we got too cold, we ventured in to the lodge for some cappuccinos and warmth…Then back out for more time with the marmots!  This is my kind of mammal watching!  After lecturing about these seriously rare and endangered species for so many years, I was thrilled to finally see them in the wild before I left the continent for good!  These will rank as one of my favorite critter spotting events ever!

 

 Views of the Inlet region from our float plain ride!

 

 The Knight Inlet

 

The nine-day expedition to British Columbia’s Knight’s Inlet, Johnstone Strait and Vancouver Island was a sublime way to conclude our 12-year stay in the Pacific Northwest.  I am really happy that Cokie and Som (and myself, of course) were able to experience some of the best wilderness and wildlife of North America before our next adventure to China!  Now, our next bears WILL be Pandas!

 

 

We saw literally dozens, if not hundreds of bald eagles!

 

 

 

Victoria

Our first and last days were spent in Victoria, BC.  Here is the Parliament Building.

 

 

Knight Inlet Mammal List

 

1. Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)                                              11

2. Vancouver Black Bear (Ursus americanus vancouveri)*                     13

3. Sitka Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis*)                   20+

4. Island Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglassii vancouverensis)    2                                 

5. Steller’s Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)                                          1

6. Harbor Seals                                                                               50++

7. Dall’s Porpoise                                                                              1

8. Harbor Porpoise                                                                            3

9. Pacific White-sided Dolphin                                                            100+

10. Western Heather Vole (Phenacomys intermedius)*                            1

11. Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouveri)*                             5

12. Columbia/Vancouver Island Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianaus)

13. American/Pine Marten (Martes americana)*                                     2

14. River Otter                                                                                 1  

 

Bird List

 

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mute Swan
  3. Mallard
  4. Surf Scoter
  5. Harlequin Duck
  6. Barrow’s Goldeneye
  7. Common Merganser
  8. Hooded Merganser
  9. Ruffed Grouse
  10. Red-throated Loon
  11. Pelagic Cormorant
  12. Great Blue Heron
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Red-tailed Hawk
  15. Bald Eagle
  16. Killdeer
  17. Black Oystercatcher
  18. Bonaparte’s Gull
  19. Western Gull
  20. Glaucous-winged Gull
  21. Ring-billed Gull
  22. Mew Gull
  23. Common Murre
  24. Marbled Murrelet
  25. Rhinoceros Auklet
  26. Rock Pigeon
  27. Belted Kingfisher
  28. Hairy Woodpecker
  29. Northern Flicker
  30. Steller’s Jay
  31. American Crow
  32. Common Raven
  33. Tree Swallow
  34. Violet Green Swallow
  35. Barn Swallow
  36. Black-capped Chickadee
  37. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  38. Bushtit
  39. American Dipper
  40. Varied Thrush
  41. American Robin
  42. European Starling
  43. Cedar Waxwing
  44. Black-throated Gray Warbler *
  45. Yellow Warbler
  46. Spotted Towhee
  47. Fox Sparrow
  48. Savannah Sparrow
  49. Song Sparrow
  50. White-crowned Sparrow
  51. Dark-eyed Junco
  52. House Sparrow
  53. Red-winged Blackbird
  54. Brewer’s Blackbird
  55. Brown-headed Cowbird
  56. Red Crossbill
  57. Pine Siskin
  58. House Finch

 

For more images of Knight Inlet, log on to our Pbase galleries!

 

Bears of Knight Inlet

Bald Eagles & Other Birds of Knight Inlet

Other Critters of Knight Inlet

Landscapes, People and Plants of Knight Inlet

Vancouver Island Marmots