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Friday, June 12, 2009

Be Bearful

Half awake, I sleepily sipped my coffee, watching the bird feeders. A large brown form emerged from the aspen grove behind our house, ambling lazily toward our bird feeding station. He shuffled in front of our wildlife camera, triggering it to take a photo. He was so close that you can see the texture of his thick and downy fur. He's also fat, very fat, and looks incredibly healthy for a bear in early summer. Bears keep losing weight until July, according to my books. The berries and nuts aren't out yet, and the bears don't have the overwhelming urge to gorge themselves like they have in late summer.
I noticed him shortly after the camera took his photo. I wasn't worried about him getting anything to eat. Our bear-proof bird feeding station has withstood five years of bears trying many ingenious techniques to reach the seed and suet.

He lumbered directly to the base of the feeders, and made a half-hearted attempt to reach the good-smelling food. In the photo below which I took through the window, the feeders hang from horizontal bars that tower 6' higher than the bear's paws. He is a tall bear. I'm 5'2", and he can reach slightly higher than I can. He stayed less than 30 seconds today. I know how brief his visit was because the wildlife camera takes a photo every 30 seconds while there's movement in its field. It took only one photo.
Based on how easily he gave up, I think that he's visited here before. In fact, I wonder if he isn't the same bear that visited on exactly the same date in 2005.
The bear who visited in 2005 was much smaller. Perhaps he was a yearling then. He spent more than five minutes exploring every option to reach our feeders, including climbing a nearby tree. He was unsuccessful.
You also can see that the 2005 bear didn't have an ear tag. The ear tag in today's bear was very bad news to me. It means that he has one strike against him for behaving badly around humans - probably getting into garbage or breaking into a car containing food. I believe that the tag means that he'll be destroyed if he gets another strike. Please, if you live in bear country, don't leave garbage unsecured, bird feeders accessible, or your car doors unlocked. That last one might seem odd but almost every vehicle that contains at least faint food odors. Bears learn to open car doors but, if the door closes behind them, they freak out and destroy the inside of the vehicle.

The bear put a crimp in my plans for the day because I didn't want to take the dogs onto the trails knowing that the bear was nearby. So, I delayed for quite a while before venturing out. When we finally went out, the dogs initially freaked out, snarling and barking while starting to follow the bear's trail. But, they both returned, on a dime, when I called them. We practiced more recalls next to the bear's trail to teach them that they should heed me even when strong bear scent permeates the area. We didn't see the bear on our ride.

To avoid the bear, I headed away from our trail system right away, and we stopped at a different vista from usual, atop a boulder outcropping. It gives a unique view of our peaks.
K looked dainty as she hopped from boulder to boulder.
R looked stunningly handsome with the snowy peaks behind his jet black fur.
After dropping off the Lab pair, I visited our earliest blooming Columbine patch, and the delicate beauty that I noticed yesterday had opened to the sun. I love Columbines!
Although it felt like I was dodging storm cells throughout the whole ride, the mountains were shining by the end of my ride.
It's only mid-June, and I've already seen as many bears as I usually encounter over an entire season. I find each sighting to be amazing and captivating. I love living in the midst of wildlife, even if I have to delay my bike ride to accommodate them:). But, I have to admit that I was disturbed by the ear tag on today's ursine visitor because it's usually the fault of people who inadvertently leave accessible food outside, thereby making the bear associate human habitat with available food. I hope that we humans can help keep him safe so he lives a long life. So, be careful around bears ('bearful')!


  1. Amen on your bear comments. We constantly warn the tourists around here to keep their garbage, food, etc. secured. Our population of bears is very strong - good news - but that means the park service must deal with a human oriented bear. And we do not have the same amount of undeveloped space, so relocating bears is of questionable success (because they still have to roam to find a bear-free feeding area.)

  2. Is there habitat destruction due to building in your area? I always feel bad when animals infringe on people because they have no where else to go. They don't know that they're doing anything wrong. BTW, that is amazing about the car doors.. never knew they could do that.

    Looks like you had a nice ride, though, regardless.

  3. I love your bear pics! That Columbine is a stunner too!

  4. Wow, he's a big fellow! We have black bears here, but they don't seem interested in getting close to human inhabited areas. No one around here secures trash cans or bird feeders, and I've never heard of a bear causing trouble for anyone.

  5. Yeowza! That bear is about twice as big as the one we saw at our house last Weds.

    Aren't columbines the coolest? We have tiny, dark, wild ones that are blooming, but the bigger ones that someone planted at some point aren't yet.

  6. We have a neighbor who laughs about her "friendly" black bear visitor. The neighbor refuses to bear proof the birdfeeders and doesn't bring them in at night. She called me over one morning to view the latest damage. I looked down the hill and saw POPCORN scattered all over. When I questioned her about it, she said she puts it on the ground every evening for the birds. I dared not make a comment, except to say she left a Hansel and Gretel trail right up to her house. I also added it was against our local regulations to feed the bears which is exactly what she is doing, intentionally or not.

  7. ThunderingHerd and NCmountainwoman: It is shocking what people do in bear country. I know that neighbors leave out their bird feeders in accessible places because "they like to see the bears". It makes me very mad - but I don't think that it's illegal. I should check on that.

    Sam: We live on the fringe of a huge area of wilderness, but lots of small roads go into the wild area. I'm guessing that some bears learn that it's easier to get lots of calories from people than from real foraging. But, even though we do live on the fringe of a big wild area, I do think of our small roads as 'habitat destruction'. Basically, we're placing houses next to where wildlife lives. The good news is that we have extremely restrictive zoning laws so there's not a ton of new building.

    Roxanne and DogGeek: I agree. He was a huge bear especially in comparison to our 2005 bear visitor.

    Roxanne and Carol: I love the columbines. The next month or so is heaven.


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