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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bear vs. bobcat territory - on video

We started our long weekend with a picnic atop a peak labeled a "Hill" that soars over 10,000'. We slogged through hillsides of spring snow to reach our little hill. The high peaks around us evoked images of deep winter with their sparkling snow.
As we sat on our little hill, the dogs seemed mystified that a picnic didn't include a dog dinner. We're starving, they seemed to say!
We lingered until the sun dropped below the summits to our west, enjoying the breath-taking views and absolute solitude.
As we retraced our steps to the trailhead, the world morphed into a pinkish blue hue around us.
For the past two days, I've ridden my mountain bike with dogs, enjoying their exuberance.
Both halves of the duo streaked around me as I pedaled the trails.
The world seems to become more summerlike by the minute. Just a couple of days ago, this trail was a tunnel through naked aspen branches. Now, tender light green leaves have unfurled. They seem so delicate, like they might not survive in our harsh world. They remind me of my pale skin when it's first exposed to the sun in the summer.
And, new flowers have blossomed - early larkspurs - glorious purple creations.
Alas, there is a downside to the birth of summer in the mountains. Our neighborhood email list is ablaze with reports of illegal shooting, campfires left burning, and trespassers. Most people who live up here endure the long winters for the peace of living in the middle of the forest. We all become shell-shocked when non-locals, some of whom don't value nature for its beauty and quiet, invade at this time of year.

So, my solution is to ride on the most remote and difficult trails that I know of. Very few people even know that these trails exist. Some are very tough riding, like the one shown below.
The reward is that wildlife love these trails. I try to tread softly while reveling in the knowledge that a cat or bear might be nearby at all times.

On my route yesterday, I found some new "Bear trees" - trees that bears have climbed, leaving behind their tell-tale claw marks. The scarred marks on the aspen shown below probably were left by a bear many years ago.
However, nearby, I found fresh claw marks, together with a muddy paw mark, telling me that the cub who climbed this tree did so VERY recently.
I've had a wildlife camera set up next to this trail for months, and NO animals passed it until about a week ago. Since then, numerous bears and one bobcat have ambled by. The video below shows a bear who lumbered past the camera on Friday afternoon and stopped to rub his/her back with a pine sapling. I'd read about this territorial behavior - but I was ecstatic to see it in my own video!

Then, in the evening, a bobcat sauntered past, leaving a scent mark right in front of the camera. I chose this spot due to the many signs of cat dirt scrapings that I'd seen there over the years. Most of the scrapings were left by lions. They were huge compared the scraping done by the bobcat in the video. I wonder if I'll get a lion marking that spot soon?

Intriguingly, after leaving his scent mark, the bobcat strutted up to the pine sapling that the bear marked 7 hours earlier. The bobcat threw himself on the ground and rolled on the spot. He vigorously wriggled on his back for a long time. He was still doing it when my camera stopped recording. Do you think that the bobcat was making an authoritative statement by trying to overshadow the bear's scent with his own? While I knew that bears vie to win the "scent marking contest" by covering each other's scent, I had no idea that a cat would be competitive with a bear. I find this stuff absolutely fascinating. What I love about the wildlife cameras is that I see the animals acting normally, uninfluenced by human presence.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From winter to summer

Time has streaked straight from winter to summer in a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks ago, 18" of snow fell. Today, I rode my mountain bike with abandon, feeling the warm air rush past me. Today, summer stretches out long and beautiful into the future like the long and winding trails waiting for me to explore them.
Although my spine still hurts frequently and I still have a lot of physical therapy ahead of me, I've spontaneously stopped to give thanks at the oddest moments over the past few days. As K and I rode a quiet trail past myriad stumps that a bear had ripped apart last night, I stopped in the middle of the trail to say thank you. Thank you to the entire corps of people who have made my spine strong again and especially to my pillar of strength who never wavers. Thanks to you, I can enjoy our miraculous world.
Here was one spot where I stopped today. It doesn't look special at first glance but the tree in the foreground is an important bear landmark. New bear fur appears in its bark regularly, telling me that black bears have been doing their shimmying back rubbing dances against it to broadcast their scent (the link is to a video of a bear doing this dance). Indeed, it was very close to this spot where K and I saw a bear the other morning.
I stopped to exult in the mountain beauty and the warmth of the wind atop a local peak. K stretched out, tall and proud.
I delighted in the details - the newly blooming low bluebells...
... and the raucously bright yellow banner flowers that just burst into joyful blossom today.
Life isn't perfect. My spine isn't perfect. However, as I recline on my deck writing this post with hummingbirds buzzing past my head and our flycatcher couple feverishly constructing a nest under the deck, I feel happy with where I am right now.

Happy Summer to all of you from me and my pack.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Springtime bear travels

K and I had a fabulous ride this morning, navigating our favorite trails while both of us seemed to be bursting with energy. K led the way through a grove of aspens that haven't yet unfurled their spring green leaves.
Some aspen trees have dared to open their leaves - making a bet that our heavy springtime snows are over.
I love the contrast between green leaves and the snowy mountains behind them.
We headed to a lookout point with fabulous mountain views. However, K was extremely obsessed with a scent emanating from a huge rock outcropping about 50 yards away. She's staring at it in this photo. I decided not to investigate. We've had enough excitement in the last few days.
Sun and warmth are transforming our world a tiny bit each day. Although the snow shined white on the towering mountain, the meadow below has turned from brown to green in last few days.
I didn't meet any bears during mountain biking today so my streak ended at three days (unless I see one this evening). Someone asked whether I don't feel a tinge of fear when I see a bear when I'm out solo on my bike. I usually don't have time to feel afraid because the bear flees so rapidly. I've had many encounters over the past decade, and no bear has ever shown even the slightest bit of aggression. A few have acted as if they pretended not to see me and didn't flee... forcing me to radically change my route to avoid them. However, my impression, and the view of researchers, is that most black bears are very timid and work hard to avoid human contact.

No doubt, the bear traffic in our forest has been congested lately. After a long period of no bear sightings, we had one visit our house on 5/24, and then I saw bears in the forest during my bike rides on the following two days.
A wildlife camera showed a bear ambling by at about 11 PM on 5/24, heading vaguely in the direction of where I saw a bear on a trail the next morning.
Then, at almost 6 AM the next morning, a brownish bear passed the same wildlife camera as the bear from the night before.
There was almost a bear-jam that day on the wildlife corridor where I have my wildlife camera. Yet another bear passed by a little before noon. I believe that this bulky bear was not the same as the smaller black bear who walked this path the night before.
He or she sauntered slowly so the camera got a second photo...And, a third photo before he/she moved out of range.
Zooming in on the second photo a great view of the sole of a bear's paw. It's eerie how much a bear hind paw resembles a human foot. And, look how glossy the bear's fur is.
I believe that none of these bears were members of the trio whose den I monitored this winter. Here's a reminder of the distinctive brown snouts and eye rings that those bears sported. Also, notice the white spots on the chests of the yearling cubs. Those two are probably traveling without their mom now. Their mom is probably trolling solo for a mate.
I also haven't seen any bears who have the same facial scars or are as skinny as the visitor to the empty den in April.
That tells us that even more bears live in our territory than I've seen in the past few days. How cool is that?

I hope to get even more wildlife camera photos over the next month that probably is the peak of the breeding season. During this season, the bears tend to travel long distances, leaving scent markers to advertise their availability. They rub their backs on trees, rub their undersides on fallen logs, walk over saplings while urinating on them, and do many other antics to leave their scent markers. A bear might travel many miles in a day trying to mark as much territory as possible. That's why I think that my cameras are most likely to get bear photos in the coming month.

Happy Days!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lion video, springtime, and more bears!

I've put together the footage of the mountain lions at the mule deer carcass. As you'll see, a mother and at least one kitten shared the carcass and ate almost the entire full-sized deer in one night.

The carcass was cached in an unfortunate spot that receives more traffic than almost anyplace else in our forest. Consequently, a few dogs (not ours) and people stumbled upon the scene. By the second morning, I was told by a runner that her dogs had shown her that the carcass had been moved and little meat remained. In fact, all that remained was bones. The speed at which this full sized deer was devoured made me think that the mother lion might have had more than one kitten with her.

Kittens stay with their mothers for about 18 months. I suspect that the kitten in the photos is almost a year old.

Unfortunately, I didn't get great footage for several reasons. It was an extremely windy time, and the cameras were repeatedly triggered by branches buffeted by the wind. One memory card filled too soon with photos of a waving pine bough, and the other camera malfunctioned. But, I did get SOME footage, and I hope that you enjoy it.

In addition to the lion excitement, K and I have had some amazing rides in our burgeoning spring season.
The woods are bustling with activity, and K has been signaling many animal scents. I've stopped many times to keep her focus on me. She seems to stare straight into my soul when we're out in the forest.
The hills have finally begun to green and more flowers are blooming. Look at that luscious singletrack trail along the ridge with the snowy mountains in the distance. I feel so fortunate that I'm physically capable of riding my bike!
And, today, after I dropped K at home, I saw another bear. I didn't manage to get a photo because it all happened so fast. As I silently climbed a hill, I saw the shiny fur of a black bear's hind end. Like yesterday, he loped easily away from me through dense forest and almost immediately disappeared over some boulders. Since I didn't have K to worry about, I tried to get a better look at him but he had vanished without a sound or trace.

I checked a wildlife camera that I've had set up on a major bear corridor for months with NO visitors. This time, multiple bears had ambled past. Here's one photo. I'll share more of them tomorrow. I think that it's bear mating season when all the adults (except females with new cubs) are on the move looking for potential partners.
I arrived home, exhilarated by my streak of seeing bears THREE days in a row! And, I found that a visitor to our house had unknowingly let R out of his crate and left him loose with no one home for the first time in his life. He was a model citizen. I found him snuggled on the bed with his head resting on my running shoe. What a good dog!
Here's to spring time and dogs growing up!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday teaser

Busy day - and not much time to post. So, I'll post one photo. The mule deer whose body I found yesterday was shared by at least two and maybe three lions. I believe that it is a mother with young. Our exciting day started with an ethereal experience. K and I floated along our favorite trail through chilly air. The bite in the air seemed out of place with the green leaves just unfurling on the aspen trees.

As K trotted by my side on a pine needle carpeted trail, a jet black bear appeared ahead of us on the trail as we crested a small rise. I told K to sit and stay. To my astonishment, she sat still but with a frenzied whine. Meanwhile, the bear turned on a dime and loped away with a grace that belied his bulky frame. He turned uphill, off the trail, and silently disappeared into the forest. How does an animal so huge navigate brush and deadfall without a sound?

Because I was focused on keeping K by my side, I never even reached for my camera. However, the magical moment will be forever etched in my memory. These past two days encompass why I love living here - I'm in the midst of real wild animals.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ursine visit and fresh lion kill

At about 2 AM, I woke up for no particular reason that I could perceive. I decided to crack a window open and let in some fresh air. Just as I arrived at the window, a large black bear form padded past it. He continued silently to our birdfeeder area where he carefully examined our set up.

As I watched silently from the window, he stood on his hind legs and grasped the metal pole that forms the trunk of our tree of birdfeeders. This metal pole is sunk in concrete and unclimbable, at least by any bear who has yet challenged it. Our wildlife camera documented his actions.
Still bipedal, he circled the pole.
He showed us his impressive rump.
Then, he returned to the "standard" pose that we have of many bears. Based on comparisons, this bear is young and not too big. I am slightly taller than he is when he stands on two feet.
Next, as I watched from the window, he climbed a small pine tree near the birdfeeders, and its pointy top shook wildly from side-to-side. The camera didn't capture his image in the tree. Then, he descended and proceeded to do a little dance, still on two legs.
Gotta love the dance moves!
He decided that he couldn't reach the agonizingly nearby food and ambled toward our front porch. I thought that he might drink from our bird bath - but instead, he glided by like an apparition in the night.

Through all this activity, I was the only one who woke up. Even the ferocious Labraduo slept through it.

This morning, K and I headed out onto the trails, with me vigilantly watching for any body language from K indicating that a bear was nearby. Early in the ride, she became violently excited, and I leashed her while I scanned the area. OMD, what I saw!

At first, this scene looked benign, until I noticed a massively disturbed area near the middle of it.
A mountain lion had killed a mule deer overnight, and mostly covered her body. I suspect that it was a deer who has been hanging around this spot in the forest acting oddly for the past few days. I'd guessed that she had a fawn nearby. I hope not.
We did an about-face, and headed in a different direction for our ride. After that start, it was a truly idyllic ride. We rode through dense pine forests that still harbored snow banks for K to imbibe snowcones.
And, best of all, we made it to a meadow that we haven't visited as a pair since last October due to snow-choked trails. K's nose was in the air, always scanning for trouble.
I'll continue with my desert vacation story soon... but the action around home today was too exciting to delay telling you about it. Oh, and I put a wildlife camera by the deer cache so I might have some interesting footage of a mountain lion to share in the near future.