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Friday, January 16, 2009

Solitude on the trails and bear adventures

What an absolutely crackling clear bluebird day here in Colorado! My dogs and I got out on the trails while they were still hard enough for my mountain bike to float over the snow. I felt very lucky to be alive, with my wonderful dogs, and out in the woods that I love so much.

Today, after dropping the pups off at home, I tried to mountain bike through 'Lion Gulch' but it was tough. No one had packed the snow. Indeed, it appeared that I was the first human to venture into the gulch since the last snow. An elk had been there and had left tracks. I kept thinking that the lone elk and I were the only adventurers who'd been here in a few days. In the right photo, the elk tracks are on the left, my tire tracks are in the middle, and my footprints are on the right.

Then, while I was taking photos, something dislodged a rock from the steep south-facing hillside on one side of the gulch and it clattered down toward me (left photo). My adrenaline surged as I realized that the elk and I weren't the only ones in the gulch. I stopped snapping photos and started moving and scanning for lions.

Further up the gulch, a bobcat had walked up the gulch, staying on the road and then diverging to follow a rabbit. So, I was right that the elk and I weren't alone in the gulch but I didn't see lion signs.

Yesterday, I promised a story about the cinnamon-colored black bear shown in a photo taken on my property.
We've had lots of bear encounters. The dogs and I occasionally see one during an early morning jaunt in the woods. The bears crash noisily into the woods almost instantaneously. Fortunately, my dogs will 'leave it' or do a recall when we see a fleeing bear. We get our closest views of bears near our house as they search for food. When we first moved here, we had a bear-proof garbage can. When he couldn't immediately open it, the bear rolled it about 100 yds away from our house to spend some 'private' time trying to get it open. He didn't succeed. However, we later observed another bear experimenting with the locking mechanism and getting very close to figuring out how to open it. Now, we keep the garbage inside.

My closest interaction with a bear occurred while I ate breakfast outside one spring morning. My elderly dog was recovering from spinal surgery and could barely walk. I'd helped her outside with me, and she was lying next to me. As I read the paper, my dog growled. I looked up and a bear was within 15 yds of us, looking at us curiously. My first concern was my disabled dog. The bear didn't seem aggressive so I picked up the dog's support harness. Leaving my breakfast outside, she and I backed away from the bear and into the house.

I went back out and the bear was still standing rooted in the same spot.
I didn't want him to get my breakfast since it would draw him back to our house in the future. So, from a position close to the door, I told him in a low and threatening tone "I think that it's time for you to leave". And, to my utter amazement, he did!

We love feeding the birds but we don't w
ant to corrupt bears by giving them access to birdfood. The amazing climbing abilities of bears make this difficult. When we first moved here, we hung the feeders on a metal line that ran between two trees about 20 yds apart. We used a pulley system with a rope tied to a tree to raise and lower the feeders. This system worked for a number of years. The first bear to beat the system did it by climbing one of the trees that the metal line was attached to. He then made a flying leap, grabbing the metal line as he fell toward the ground. It was at night but we heard a big 'whoomph' as he hit the ground. It sounded like the wind was knocked out of him. He was shaken up sufficiently that he left without taking the feeders that were now on the ground along with the metal line. The bear's sharp claws gouged the aspen tree that he climbed that night, and it died.

We thought that he'd be too scared to try that tactic again, and we were right.
However, his next visit was during daylight, and we saw that he had figured out the system. He walked directly to where the rope for raising and lowering the feeders was tied to the tree. He swatted at it with his huge claws, and the feeders dropped to the ground. We went out and chased him away before he was rewarded with food. Bears are darn smart. My husband took it as a personal challenge to his ingenuity to defeat the bear. He built a new system shown below. It's ugly but it works.

We use a long pole with a hook to reach the feeders to refill them. A key element is that the metal 'tree' holding the feeders is surrounded by electric fence so the bear can't tear the metal pole out of its concrete base. To get zapped, the bear has to simultaneously touch two wires that are about 2' apart and well off the ground. As we've observed our bears, each one needs only one zap to learn to stay away.
The good news is that we now can feed and watch birds without corrupting bears.


  1. What a frightening story. I love the electrical protection. Bears are very smart and not likely to try that again.

    We have bears in the area but none so far near our home. We do bring in the bird feeders at night, but that wouldn't help a daytime encounter.

  2. I should add that I've never felt like a bear was considering attacking me. The only time that I've been scared was when the bear snuck up on me during breakfast. However, he looked plain curious and not aggressive. I've read that bear vision is terrible so he might have been trying to figure out what my dog and I were.

    Our bears do tend to come around more at night but daytime visits aren't uncommon. Perhaps we have a higher density of bears than you do - which would explain why we see them more often.

  3. Yikes! We have black bears here, but no close encounters, thank goodness!


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