Little over a year ago, I enrolled in a course titled Black Bear Management. Taught by 2 wonderful people, John Van Niel and Sasha Mackenzie, I began to learn about my favorite wild animal. For years growing up, the black bear was the prize sighting on nature drives while on family vacations in the Adirondacks. I began to become obsessed with the thought of being able to see one live, in person. When I enrolled in BBM, I was so excited. The course is offered over 2 semesters. The first 1 credit course is held over the first half of the semester. We cover natural history, ecology, and population management of the black bear in NY. The second semester is 2 credits, and we focused on a mini research topic, and also got to work with the NY Department of Environmental Conservation biologists in our region. They allowed our class to tag along to do den visits in the winter, and obtain from slumbering bears and cubs.John and Sasha also had learned about this fascinating behavior that bears do. Due to tempermental bears, I never got the opportunity to handle bears during this outing. "Our" bears for that day were wise to our methods, and bolted before they could be chemically immobilized. Below is a picture of John and classmates at a successful den visit. I am extremely jealous of this adorable experience!
From L-R: Michelle, John, Katie, Gina, Bethaney.
Anyway, I could go on and on about these experiences, but that's not the topic of this entry.
In the first semester course, BBM I, we were introduced to this particular behavior that the bears exhibit. Bears although often found to be solitary, are highly social animals. They mark and leave many different types of sign frequently behind. In my region of the world, I don't know of another animals who 'spends' so much energy doing this, besides maybe a white-tailed deer. The behavior is creating a "trail" or "ground marking". It is a set of repetitive, depressed footfalls often found in close proximity to markings on trees (bites, scratches).
Examples of our topic of study.
Many times, to the untrained eye, these types of sign are difficult to find. In our part of NY state, we might not have the population density just yet to actually HAVE these types of markings yet. In the above example, the footfalls are easy to pick out because the substrate is forgiving. I've seen these markings in a thick leaf duff, and it is very difficult to pick out. The tree at the end of the "trail" in each picture is a heavily marked tree. Below are pictures of a few examples of the associated sign we often found in conjunction with these ground markings. Also, allow me to mention that bears mark in two ways: visually and chemically. Many of the types of sign left behind are both. It's difficult to support the theory of chemical sign left behind, because I personally do not have the nose of a bassett hound. BUT, studies do show that bears have scent glands in their feet, and at other points on the body. Many of these following pictures definitely show visual sign.
Bear bite on a utility pole
Naples, NY (Hi Tor WMA)
Bear scratches (different from climbing marks)
Straddle tree, notice hair left behind. Light color reflects oxidation of the hairs. Lighter the hair, older it is.
Credit: Erin Lord, Massachusetts
Types sign studied and not depicted are "whammy trees", bear rubs (on trees and rocks), and urination/defecation. For more information on these, and the study in general, visit my professors John's blog.
Anyway, in the essence of time and length of blog, I will leave out all the data and methodology (that's the boring part right? Well if you are interested, again visit John's blog. :)
Now that we've conducted our preliminary field study, I've had the wonderful opportunities of presenting a MUCH lengthier version of this blog entry. I have presented at the Rochester (NY) Academy of Science Paper Session at Monroe Community College, and then today I presented at the 7th Annual Finger Lakes Research Conference at Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges. I received great feedback, had a great time at both, and am now hooked on getting my study 'out there'. My dream is some scientifically-minded hunter or outdoorsman will see my presentation (or my blog?!) and KNOW of a local set of these markings, call me, and make my bear dreams come true. Are you out there?
Below is the poster I used for today's presentation. The former presentation was a powerpoint presentation, which I can not share via blog.
Presented at the 7th Annual Finger Lakes Research Conference
Geneva, NY 11/19/2011
And so now, where do I go with this? Alot of the preliminary preliminary work has been done, but I still feel I have hours and hours of reading ahead of me. Not to mention to hopefully get my paws on some LOCAL sign and be able to study it. I'm taking Research Methods in Biology course this spring semester, and will hopefully be incorporating this into that course. Why reinvent the wheel, right? Also, FLCC is the administrator of a very large grant through the National Science Foundation, and I *may* have some funding available to me.
To end this very long-winded, yet brief blog entry, I just have to say: How lucky am I, to have these experiences at the community college level? I'm blessed.
Thanks for reading, come back soon! (Hopefully I'll write again soon.)
Myself and a yearling male, chemically immobilized at the East Hill Campus
Naples, NY 10/2010
One last thing, FLCC's Community Outreach Coordinator wrote up a little article about me. You can view it HERE!