Sunday, February 26, 2012

My first investigation of a real, in-use bear den!

When I say, in the title, 'in-use' I don't mean literally at that moment, because Washington was sleeping off the effects of the tranquilizer in the culvert trap. If you're new to my blog, scroll back an entry or two, and get caught up on who Washington is, why I got to meet him, and what we did when we met him!

When I left off last time, Washington had been placed back in the culvert trap to sleep off the effects of the tranquilizer. This can take an hour or two, so in the mean time...the team and I went to check out his den that he had been using.

Perhaps 'den' is the wrong word to use, because it makes people think of the wrong things. I don't want to get all "science-y" and technical, partly because I don't want to misspeak, and partly because that's not what my blog is all about. BUT, bears are not 'true' hibernators. So...bears don't hibernate. One more time? American black bears, the only bear found in NYS, can not/does not hibernate. Also- in the combined experience of many of the biologists and researchers and people with field experience that I was with the other day, they had not seen a bear den in an actual cave. Many people get in their mind's eye that bears hibernate in a cave with a bouldered entrance, it's roomy, sandy, dark and cozy. Not the typical case.

So Washington's 'den', or more appropriately called a 'day bed' WAS partially under ground level. It was hypothesized by some that perhaps he had found an old coyote or red fox den and scooped it out to fit his massive body inside. That's pure speculation though. This bear hasn't been using this den for long lengths of time, because he hasn't needed to! Typically at this time of year, bears aren't feeding. There's supposed to be feet of snow and cold, frigid temperatures. But this day we went to see him, it was sunny, mild, and there were 20 bird feeders/bear buffet right across the road.

In this picture, JVN is checking out the den. I like this picture because some scale is given of the entrance size as compared to average human size.

I took this picture as I crawled in when it was my turn. The den was in a multi-flora rose patch- dense and very prickly. For a bear with a thick coat and skin, this is not an issue. For us though, it was a struggle to maneuver into position to check out the den.

This is a picture I snapped when I reach my camera in a took a blind shot. I couldn't lean into the den easily because of the angle, and because I was trying to avoid...

SCAT. Large, massive, piles of it were at the entrance to the den, as well as the area immediately outside of the den. It was full of bird seed, as that's what this bear's main diet staple has been for some time.

Photo credit: JVN
Thank goodness for those coveralls! I did get a bit muddy and...scatty...but I just peeled them off and I was good to go post bear den! I have to mention a few of my thoughts while examining the den. It was stinky: earthy, mud, scat, and bear. This bear smelled like a perpetual wet dog x's 10. I was looking for foot pads, which I've read the bears shed in winter. I've also read that sometimes they eat them? For many reasons, perhaps that's why I didn't find them. And also, I noticed the landscaping that this bear had done. In the photo above, of the blind shot into the den, you can see roots hanging that the bear had perhaps chewed off to make entrance and exit easier? Or maybe he just didn't like roots hanging in his face?

Outside the den, this large scat was found. Perhaps more than one episode, piled on top of each other. Notice my pencil for scale.

Here's another pic of the same, better color representation but with out pencil for scale.

Here are some of the bear team members: Matt (Cornell researcher), Scott (Region 8 fur bearer biologist), Jeb (Region 8 wildlife technician), Art (Region 8 Sr. wildlife biologist), Marty (Region 8 wildlife technician and unoffical photographer). They are standing in this large, widely trampled and flattened of area. I'm standing at the bear den looking back the way we came. Below is a closer look at that log.

Sign of much use. Worn wood and scratches, not from marking, but probably just from traffic over the log.

On the way in to the den site, we all had noticed this very cool tree that had been heavily marked. We determined this was a marked tree, rather than just a tree that had been climbed and incidental scratches were made. At the bottom of the photo, you can see some scratches. This is about eye-level for me (I'm 5'7"). Then another 5-6' up, another episode of heavy scratches. Above that, another 5-6', another episode of heavy scratches.

This is the marked area at eye-level.

A few swipe of the claws, below eye-level.

And then on our way out of the thicket/wooded area, there was a barbwire fence that was pushed down. The bear had been snagged, and probably more than once!

My final shot of the day. The bear team checking on Washington, making sure he's ok! He wasn't ready to be released the FLCC team decided to head  home for the day and leave the biologists to it.

And that concludes THIS bear adventure!


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