To catch up on my other black bear den experiences from this year and in the past, check out those entries here.
My first entry this season focused on the protocol of handling bear cubs, and what data is taken from them. My next entry was all about Mama Bear. Every piece of information that can be taken, seems to be written down. And why not? We have the time and the access to the bears while the mother is chemically immobilized. In this entry, I'll show you what this den actually looks like. Not all bear dens are created equal, keep that in mind.
|The township of den visit #3 was in Cameron, NY.|
Click to enlarge the image.
I think it's safe to say that all of them have some sort of protection from vegetation. In a couple of cases, it was thick, dense thorny branches. In one case, it was dead Christmas trees in a brush pile. In another, the den was underneath a blown-down dead tree. The bears seem to be way more exposed to the elements than is preconceived they would be.
|Region 8 Wildlife Biologist Art Kirsch (left), |
and Fish and Wildlife Technician Ron Newell (right).
We drove down a road (dirt, seasonal, 2-track) for a few miles and ended at a dead end which had one house at the end, and was surrounded by agricultural fields. The den was down a bit of a hill, and about 50 yards into the woods at the edge of the field. Standing at the edge of the field, I could see the den, once I knew what I was looking for, so it really wasn't far from the field.
The whole process went smoothly- the team went in a successfully and safely chemically immobilized the mother, and the rest of us came in to handle cubs and take data down from them.
|There were triplets at this den, but I could only get my hands on 2 at a time!|
Photo credit: Marty DeLong
|Meanwhile, the mother was under the case of the veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Wyatt, and vet tech Robin English.|
When I was a student at Finger Lakes Community College, during my first full time semester, John (my professor) tasked me with revamping the "den data sheet". It's not in my nature to turn something down, so I started working on it. Looking back, in the fall of 2010, I had never USED a data sheet and had actually never even seen one. I hadn't experienced a den visit, or met any of the biologists. I really had no idea what I was doing. I had the old, out of date data sheet to guide me, as well as a 3" binder stuffed full of journal articles related to bear dens. "Have at it" I was told.
I distinctly remember sitting at a computer in the Conservation Department equipment room at FLCC in tears because I had been asked to do this, and I didn't want to disappoint, but I was lost. It seems so trivial and silly now, since I've created that new data sheet, and used many, many of them since for various projects. But at the time, it was very overwhelming.
So, to be able to take "my baby" into a bear den, alone, and use the protocol I wrote and take down the measurements, and read my own phrasing...it was a "moment". Nothing too profound, but cool.
|Here's the den!|
|This is the view from laying inside the den looking straight up. As you can see, there isn't a whole lot of cover. |
Precipitation comes right in...
|Don't judge me! I'm in a BEAR DEN, people! You'd take a picture like this too!|
Below are a few snippets from the data sheet, so you can get an idea of what types of information FLCC students are interested in. A current student of the Black Bear Management class at FLCC, just presented the class's findings of bear dens in the Finger Lakes at a national conference. It was really well received, and very interesting to see all of the data collected!
And so, another fantastic experience was coming to a close. Envious classmates of mine, current and past, keep telling me how lucky I am. I am a lot of things: grateful, appreciative and fortunate mostly, but not lucky. Luck would have been if I woke up that morning snuggled in with the bears in the den! The opportunities I've been presented were made with forged relationships (with generous, patient people), and persistence on my part. It's been number one on my bucket list to visit a bear den and handle a cub. And by the time I was at the 3rd den, handling cubs was not old news by any means, but I was comfortable enough to meander around the scene, taking in different aspects of the science taking place, and enjoying the wonder on everyone's faces.
After everything was wrapped up, the cubs were placed back with their mother. There are 3 in there, although just one little guy, probably only 6-7 weeks old, peeked back at me.
I lingered JUST long enough to get this shot of this bear family.