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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bear Den

As we've waited to find out if my eye will improve enough to let us leave town for vacation, K and I have taken a couple of bike rides. It's finally been springlike, with warm temperatures, baking sun, and blue skies!
We've had relaxed and fun rides, enjoying our taste of springtime.
Most of this post is about the bear den that I discovered last February. Last week, I made a sneak visit to the bear den and found it empty. I wasn't surprised because the sow and her yearling cubs had been so active at the end of March. You've seen their wild play in the videos of the trio in past posts.

With the den empty, I quickly looked around the site. First, I saw that the bears had lined the bottom of the cave-like den with sticks.
Upon looking more closely, I saw that the den floor was soaked in water due to melting snow. Near the back of the den, couple of puddles had formed. The forested area still harbored some snow that was rapidly melting away. This wouldn't be a good den during the snow melt season.
Then, I examined the trees that the bears had climbed. One aspen had fresh claw marks from this year but also had scars from many years ago.
I could tell the age of the claw gauges based on how scarred they were. The dark brown scars on the aspen below were left by bears at least several years ago. Thus, this den has probably been used by bears for many years.
The trio of bears also chewed on the nearby trees.
I looked at those trees closely to learn what bear bite marks look like on a tree. The tree that they chewed the most is shown below. Again, I think that the debarking and biting shown on the tree happened over a number of years.
While I visited the den, I exchanged memory cards for the wildlife camera that I have posted there. To remind you of the characters who denned there, here are couple of photos.
Remember that the sow had mostly brown snout that appeared to be riddled with dermatitis. Moreover, the cubs had light colored spots on their chests. By knowing these details, it is obvious that the bear in the video below is NOT one of the trio.
In the video below, you'll see that another bear visited the den after the trio departed. This bear had a much darker face, two distinctive scars on his forehead, and looked smaller than the sow who hibernated there. I'm guessing that the visiting bear was a male based on the scars that he likely got from fighting. I'm also guessing that he was young based on his size. Also, notice how skinny he was after his winter hibernation. He was probably attracted to the den site by bear scent. Or, alternatively, he might have denned there in a previous year and just wandered over to look around.

It was sad to see an empty den and having no idea where 'my' bears had gone. I also noted the lack of food for them at our elevation, except for a a few aspen and willow catkins that have recently sprouted.
I wonder if the trio wandered to a lower elevation to find more food. In any case, they probably have less than a month left to be a family unit. Then, they'll break up so that the mother bear can mate again.

The break-up can happen in many different ways. Sometimes, although rarely, the yearlings wander away. More often, the mother bear drives them away. If they try to follow her, she charges them and scares them off. In the long run, a female cub will stay near her mother's territory, often taking a section of it for herself. In contrast, a male cub will eventually wander far and wide, searching for a territory without a dominant male bear so that he can settle down.

Finding that bear den was one of the most magical things that has ever happened to me. I'll be forever thankful to the bear family for brightening up my outlook during my recovery from surgery. I still have more footage of the family that I haven't shared, and I'll work on posting it when I return from vacation.

If a bear expert happens to read this post, I have an important question. Will leaving a single wildlife camera posted outside the den make the bears less likely to use the den next winter? I know that statistics say that bears tend not to re-use dens but this one looks like it's been used many times. I do not want to deter the bears from using it again. If any of my readers know a bear expert, I'd be very grateful if you would forward my question to him or her. Thanks!


  1. Why not give a shout-out to the guys tending bears in Ely, MN? I bet they would know.

    Jo,Stella and ZZZZZ

  2. Fascinating! Just incredible - but sad about the mom chasing her kids away - specially bad news on Mom's day heheh! I wish I knew any bear experts, but so far, you are my best bet! Hope your eye is healing up and that you will be able to travel to the desert!
    Happy Day to a wonderful Mom of K and R!
    Hugs xo

  3. I'm no bear expert, but I do hope they come back! It was a lot of fun watching them this winter!

    I am sending good wishes that your eye is better and you have a great trip!

  4. Just about every year, a young male makes the news in York or Harrisburg as he makes a trek through the area trying to find his own territory -

    Sadly, one was killed on the interstate not many miles south of here last year -

    Hope you can make your trip -

    Khyra still wants to play with THAT khytty!

  5. What wonderful pictures to wake up to.

  6. The mother bear chasing off her young really pulled at my heart strings...Nature and it's ways are fascinating...I hope the bears come back and that your eye problem clears quickly!

  7. It has been a magical experience from all the way over here in NY hearing about this bear family. I'm so glad it gave you the joy that it did.

    I hope you feel well enough to take your trip. I'll have to look back in the posts I missed to find out what happened!

  8. The new bear does appear skinny. I, too, wonder if you'll ever see "your" bears again (and if you'll "know" them if you do). It was wonderful to see their den and watch them outside this spring - thanks, KB! Hope the eye is better and you don't get the new spring storm now on the way. It's snow showering today in Breckenridge. We depart tomorrow!

  9. We so hope you can still take your trip. We have truly enjoyed following the saga of these three bears. We sure hope another sow chooses to make this den her winter home next year.

  10. What an amazing blog you have -- with all those spectacular pictures.

    We've shared comments on Wilf and Digby's blog -- and in our sadness wanted to say hello to some of his pals who are also so sad at his passing.

    We're "urban dogs" so your explorations give us thrills!!!

    Wirey woofs,

    Jake and Just Harry -- and Joen

  11. What amazing photos! You are very fortunate to have experienced the Bear Family and I hope that you meet them again, and a new group next Winter! I love bears! And I hope they all find enough food so they get healthy and plump!

    Good luck on your trip!


  12. I hope you get to take your trip to the desert. Maybe enjoy some warmer temps? Someone has to be getting some warmth but I know it's not us yet.

  13. I'm no bear expert, but I'd love to know. I'm also interested to see if you are right - I'll be looking next year to see if the den was recycled - as long as you provide the coverage! :)

  14. Like kids leaving the nest... we've become so attached to those critters through your reports and photos.

    Hope the eye has healed up, that you're enjoying the desert wildflowers now and that there will be plenty more bear (and cat!!!) sightings to come!

  15. We just love coming here and watch your wildlife cam! So cool!
    Thank you for sharing.

  16. Hey there KB!
    You haven't posted for a week and I was wondering if you are okay. Perhaps you've gone on your well deserved holiday...or your eye may be causing problems (?) I really hope you are okay and it is the holiday which has caused your absence.
    Sending lotsaluv to you and your dear doggies.


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