From the Field - Finding a Bear Toilet in Crab Bay
From Expedition Guide Taylor aboard Wilderness Adventurer
Until today, I had never seen a proper bear toilet. I had come across plenty of scat, sure—bushwhacking with groups of guests through the dense forests of the ABC islands (Admiralty, Baranoff, and Chichagoff) means romping along the highways (and rest stops) of many a grizzly bear.
A bear highway is more formally known as a game trail, and is a small trail created by bears. Deer, moose, and/or other animals following the same path through the woods over time also make and use game trails. We often find them once we’ve whacked our way through the thick alder brush that separates the shoreline from the forest, and they make maneuvering the old growth forests of Southeast Alaska much easier. Usually they wind endlessly through the woods, some looping back on themselves and some dropping into rivers and creeks.
Today, though, in the moss-dense woods that border Crab Bay, a bear highway led us to a dead end. Just to the left of the trail’s end was more bear scat than I had ever seen in one place, a shin-high pile as wide as the tables in the boat’s dining room. We glanced around and everyone agreed that it made sense why the bear would frequent this spot for its potty breaks; the view of the shore and bay through the Sitka Spruce and Hemlock trees was astounding, the water blue below, and thick clouds blanketing the distant peaks.
The forest and its creatures tell a story if we know how to read it. Bear scat, for example, reveals with candid precision what the bear has most recently been chowing on. Their diet changes with the season depending largely on which foods are most abundant at the time, and the scat we saw today was thick with the fibrous strands of plant matter. Having seen many a skunk cabbage dug up by its roots along the trail, it was no surprise to see what must have been the underground, tender parts of the skunk cabbage in this partially digested form. (Bear digestion is notoriously poor, so what it eats doesn’t change form all that much before it’s left behind in the woods again.)
The leaves of skunk cabbage along our path had been nibbled at their tips, too, some browning at jagged edges, telling of Sitka black-tail deer having also moved along these paths. There at the end of the trail, we listened to the silence of the moss growing slowly and imagined the bears, deer, and other big creatures moving around us in that forest. Then we hollered a “Hey-ohhh” as we headed back the way we came, away from the grizzly bear bathroom and toward the boat, where one might appreciate anew a system of proper plumbing.