I'm afraid that I must digress from the desert again. Today was pretty exciting.
It didn't start out as a special day. Shyla and I were out for sunrise, both of us sleepy. She broke into a huge yawn just as the sun peeked over the eastern hills.
Then she woke up, alert to the world around her, and glowing in the sunrise light that I love so much.
After she and I had a great snow bike ride together and lots of good training, I left Shyla at home while I went out on my own. I had a special mission today - to check to see if a bear den had any ursine residents this winter.
I hid my bike, and I hiked to the den. I was so pessimistic that I didn't even bring a trail camera just in case there was a bear in the den. I had a little trouble finding the den - it's very well hidden. In fact, I didn't even know that I was standing right in front of the entrance until I turned around and found myself eye-to-eye with a sleepy bear.
Here's what the scene looks like. That's why I didn't know I was in front of the den. The den is in the right-middle of this photo, just to the right of the chewed fallen tree trunk. It is well hidden.
After I saw the bear so close, I may have set a personal best for how high I jumped and how fast I got the heck out of there. I would have never knowingly gone so close.
I went and picked up 2 trail cameras from other sites in the forest, one that shoots video and one that shoots still photos. I loaded them with new batteries and huge memory cards. Then, I very warily went to the den again.
I was nervous. The last bear and yearling cubs who used the den were very passive. The mother never did anything more than "moan" when K and I accidentally found the den for the first time and went too close. However, I know that bear personalities are as varied as human ones are so this bear might be very different from the first mother bear who I saw in the den back in 2010 (see the video at the end of that post that shows the bears playing).
All went well as I mounted the two cameras, aiming them as well as I could without walking near the den. They are both now functioning, waiting for the bear(s) to come outside the den. The last time the den was used, the mother bear came out about once every 3 weeks to eat snow and pee. Then, in the spring, she and her cubs laid out in front of the den entrance and played incredibly cutely!
Here was what the adult bear looked like when I first saw the den in 2010. I didn't take any photos today but today was almost identical. The bear today was oriented exactly the same way, with one eye on me, just like 6 years ago.
At one point today after I finished setting up the trail cameras and was about to depart, the bear did lift his/her head and snorted. I took that as my signal to go far away as fast as I could. I did that, and the bear didn't make any more sounds as I retreated. I then sat silently at a viewpoint far away to see if the bear stirred. It did not. Thank goodness I didn't scare him/her too much.
Back in 2010, I saw ONLY one bear, the mother, all winter long. She was always at the front of the den blocking a view of anything behind her. It's a deep rock den with lots of room. In March, I learned that she'd had two yearling cubs behind her all winter long! Here was a first glimpse of one of them.
And here was the whole family out in front of the den in March 2010. The cubs (on the left) were frisky but the mom looked stern a lot of the time.
The play of the two cubs was hilarious. In this photo, one was lying on his back with his paw pad up in front of the other cub's nose.
Based on the one warning snort I got today, I don't think I'll be peeking in the den, even from a distance, again. However the trail cameras will tell us what is going on whenever a bear comes out of the den!!!