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Monday, November 22, 2010

A gift from a bear

It took fortitude to march out into the frigid air this morning. The air temperature hovered around 15°F and snow fluttered through the air. K seemed reticent, walking slowly and deliberately. On our leisurely stroll, she halted for every nuance of scent, at one point sniffing so hard that she sneezed.

Then, she stopped and looked at me imploringly. When she pins her eyes on me like this, I feel like my soul is stripped naked under her gaze.
The sun broke through and reflected off her stunning eye. I'm told that the star-like pattern is a special pigmentation pattern rarely seen in dogs.
Thanks to all of you for your kind comments about K's health situation. Today, I started gathering more information from the experts. They are asking the pathology lab to do another couple of tests so we can assess the risk of the infection spreading. I feel good about the path we're taking.

Today, after our stroll, K seemed happy to curl up with her treat-filled kong while R and I headed out for a short snow bike ride. This was my view during most of my ride with R. The boy is so fast, agile, and graceful! I literally laugh out loud while riding behind him.
After R's whirlwind ride with me, I headed out on my snowbike to continue tracking a bear whose paws I've been following for almost a week now. It all started with the tracks that I showed in a photo two days ago.

On the first day that I saw his tracks, the bear left the tracks of an animal moving fast with a definite goal in mind. His hind paws overstepped the tracks left by the front paws - an indication of a long step length and fast pace. In the photo below, you see, from bottom to top, a right hind track, a left front track, a left hind track, a right front track, a right hind track, etc. This bear was moving with purpose. My guess was that his purpose was to get to his den - it's very late for a bear to out and about.
I isolated one hind paw, and photographed it with my chemical handwarmer in the photo. The handwarmer is 3.25" long. The paw print is about 8" long, making this a big bear. That makes sense because he is doubtless a male bear because the females retire to their dens much earlier than late November!
On that first day of tracking the bear, I discovered that he'd marked several "bear whammy trees", small pine saplings that bears rub their backs on to scent mark territory - telling other bears to steer clear. If you've never seen a bear do this hysterically funny behavior, you might like to check out my videos (here and here) taken by a trail camera.

In the photo below, the bear whammy tree is broken off partway up by many bears leaning backward against it over the years, and the bear trampled the snow at its base when he reared up onto his hind legs to mark it.
Here was another whammy tree that the bear hit. I was exceedingly surprised to see that the bear was marking territory at this time of year. I thought that this energy-burning activity was primarily done during mating season.
The bear left fur on the pine sapling when he marked it.
Over the course of the days following my discovery of the bear tracks, I uncovered more parts of the bear's route. His tracks had degraded but were still obvious as huge caverns in the snow to the right of my snowbike track on this ATV trail. A deer had walked in the bear tracks as well.
I measured out his stride length using my boot prints as measuring sticks. My boots are about 10" long. So his total stride was about 45", indicating a fast walk by a fairly big bear.
Alas, after following his route for days, I became convinced that I'd lost his track and didn't know where his den was. I felt certain that he'd been zooming toward a den because he didn't eat or leave scat. Indeed, he brushed against rose bushes laden with rose hips without even sampling the berries. The lack of eating and defecating indicated that his metabolism was shutting down for hibernation.

After I'd given up on figuring out where his den was, I received a gift - a lead on where the bear might have gone. Today, I re-found his tracks several miles away from where I'd lost him previously. I spent a long time out in the frigid and windy air today, doggedly following bear tracks.
The first tracks that I found were obviously a couple of days old - they had a dusting of snow in them, and their edges were rounded by the wind.

Finally, I hit some tracks that had been left this morning! We had a dusting of snow last night, and his tracks were on top of the dust. The fact that I'd found old tracks, trampled into the snow days ago, plus new tracks made this morning, told me that the bear had a den very nearby.
I followed the tracks some more, and came upon an extremely churned up bear trail. The bear had come and gone many times near a huge boulder outcropping. The heavy use of this path suggested that his den was within spitting distance.
When I found the churned trail, I was running short of time, and I wanted to carefully think about how to proceed before barging in on his den. Bears are rarely bothered by a person near their den when they are settled into a winter sleep. However, this bear clearly wasn't settled yet. So, it seemed to soon to go close to the den.

I love tracking our animals! What a day!

Frequently in my life, when other things are dragging me down, nature and wildlife give me a gift. Today was undoubtedly a priceless gift from a bear!


  1. Wow! K's eye is so beautiful! It does look like a star!


  2. Finding and tracking a bear makes our squirrel chasing seem kind of tame by comparison. Stay warm, and when you are out, look over your shoulder, often.

    Mogley G. Retriever

  3. What an amazing adventure, I can't even image tracking a bear's steps, even in my wildest dreams, but reading your post made me feel like I was right there with you:)
    How fascinating.

    (I need to get some of those handwarmers:)

  4. What an amazing gift from a very remarkable creature!

    You have very amazing dogs, keeping my paws crossed for K's full speedy recovery!


  5. Keep on having your kind of fun, KB, and keep telling us about it.

    I'm sure I am burning off calories just reading this wonderful stuff.

    Cheers and hugs,


  6. That's really magical, and I can feel your excitement through the words alone. I hope you'll return in a few weeks when that bear is undoubtedly in hibernation!

  7. Of course K has special eyes! She's a one of a kind girl!

    Maybe your bear forgot to reset his internal clock this year. I'm curious to see where this tracking will lead!

  8. We have some black bears that should be sleeping too, but they are not.
    Your journey on tracking the steps of the bear is awsome.
    I would like to go with you,,,, my mommy won't let me,,, when she goes exploring,, maybe I can go with you.
    We love your world
    thank you for sharing

  9. Wow - what an exciting find! I get really excited when I find coyote tracks or scat near my home, but a bear is such an amazing creature to live near and follow. Of course, I'd be pretty nervous, as bears are one of the only animals that really frighten me. As I learn more about them, though, I'm becoming more intrigued than fearful.
    K is a special girl, eyes and all! I spoke briefly with my vet today about the infection, naming it for her - she didn't seem surprised...She didn't give me the impression this would be insurmountable. I can't wait to hear more from the lab.

  10. Talk about having stars in one's eyes! We've never seen that before.

    Well, you're a better woman than mama, Gunga Din. Track a bear to its den! Not for all the tea in China.

    Jed & Abby

  11. KB, you're a loon. tracking bears and mt. lions. (but my type of loon.) still, not sure I'd want to go on a hike with you (no offense)... I don't think I have that kind of sprint in my legs! tee-hee...

    seriously, your blog gives me inspiration and energy. i don't know how you do it all: walking dogs, riding with them then heading out again for bear tracking... i won't even ride my bike now and it's not even snowing here yet! your constitution amazes me. and hopefully will inspire me to get out no matter what the weather (other than for dog walking)...

    wild dingo

    ps. continued wishes for k's good health!

  12. The star in K's eye is just magical, as is your tracking of the bear!

  13. You are ~BRAVE~ ...Last winter I tracked a skunk's prints in the snow to it's denfersisrc, but a ~BEAR~ that large would have me going the other way!

  14. We are in agreement with Wild Dingo - But we still love you. We can't wait to share your bear trek with the oldest grandgirl - she will love it.

    That star in K's eye is shining brightly - just another sign of how special she is!

  15. Wonderful. I was looking for an excuse to have a purely restorative glass of Medoc and you've provided it in the opening paragraph. 15F ! That's cold.

  16. Wow, that's pretty cool that you found his tracks a few miles away. Hopefully, that bear settles in for the winter soon.

    Your pal, Pip

  17. That last photo of the mountains with all the blue light is beautiful, KB. I might have known you'd be out tracking Big Foot! Be careful! I like the pic with the bear fur stuck to the sapling. Happy Thanksgiving to your pack.

  18. I've never noticed a star-like pattern in anyone's eyes. How beautiful! I'm SO pulling for her to kick this infection!!

    Your bear tracking chronicles are so intriguing. I'm glad you took a step back to think and prepare for your next move though. I'm way too chicken to track any wild animal. Be careful out there.

  19. What an adventure indeed! I love it when you track the animals.

  20. Lovin the K's eye! And in it, I see great hope!

    wif love from the Luke

  21. Just stopping by to send you and all of your family wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. We will be keeping all of you in our thoughts and prayers.

    Woos ~ the OP Pack and Mom


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