Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bear Necessities

There's bears in the woods around our family lodge. More precisely, American Black Bears, Ursus americanus. Which, I'm guessing you know, are often not black, but rather are brown, cinnamon or even near-blond, and are not to be confused with Brown Bears, such as Grizzlies, which are a lot bigger and meaner. Did you also know there are only 8 species of bears in the world, and their nearest living relatives are walruses, seals and sea lions?

Back to the topic at hand. After a year with my Moultrie motion-sensing camera trap, and a year of regularly surveying the property on foot for tracks, scat, dens and such, I think there's a few interesting bits of info I can pass on about our local Osos Negros (or "Ysy-mati" in Miwok, who use bear stories to teach courage, strength & wisdom). For starters, a quick look at the pics shows that we have more than one bear that visits.

Small bear by bench behind house on 11/16:
lil black bear

Medium bear on manzanita hill on 11/3:
fuzzy black bear

Big bear by outhouse on 9/9:
our black bear shuffles in

My educated guess - at a minimum we have a small female that frequents and a larger male that comes around every so often (nudge, nudge).

These pics also suggest the bears probably aren't black (surprise). Looks like all are brownish. Compare the bear fur color on the first pic to the color of the black iron bench behind it. That fur ain't black.

Looking once again at size, the one on manzanita hill might be the same as the one by the bench. The one by the bench has pretty short legs though. Almost looks cub-like, but the timing is weird for that since bears have their cubs in the winter while hibernating. That would make that cub almost a year old. Possible though - cubs stay with ma for about 16 months.

The following earlier 3 pics seem to be the same bear with spots on the butt. However, Spotty looks kinda big to be the small bear and kinda small to be the big bear. Could be the same bear as the one on manzanita trail. Does all this mean there's 3 bears? A mamma, a poppa and a baby? Better hide the porridge.

Bear on big flat rock by falls on 8/8:
black bear stare at 11:20pm

Geek on rock on 8/8 for size comparison:
still life w/ wifi

Butt of bear on rock on 8/6:
bear butt

Butt of bear on lakeside trail on 7/24:
black bear on lakeside at 9:14 pm

I can also tell ya the bears don't live on the property. I comb every corner and there's no large animal dens. They may sleep over once in a while as they forage their large territories (perhaps in/around the fort near the arrastre), but their den is elsewhere. Based on what I've gleaned of their movements, it's probably up beyond the property to the north. It is not in the space above the dining room (although the mice up there are often as loud as bears).

Bear track (5 toes across):
recent black bear track by falls

More bear tracks:
bear tracks in fresh mud

In fact, from the hits I've gotten with the camera trap, and the frequency of tracks and bear poo (no - I do not weigh it), I would surmise that the bears only visit every few weeks for a day or three, especially in the late summer and fall when the berries ripen (manzanita, coffeeberry, bitter cherry, toyon) and acorns drop. That's what their poop is full of - berries and acorns. Haven't seen any bear poo yet with fur or bones.

Bear poo (all acorn mush & berry seeds):
yes, bears poop in the woods
(also note coyote poop on top saying "this is our territory too!")

An oasis of berries & acorns:
manz berries IIbitter cherry - prunus emarginatablue elderberries are ripe
acorns o' plentysierra coffeeberry - rhamnus rubra

BTW - they've never gotten into the garbage, nor bothered the neighbors or their pets or livestock. Everyone I've talked to from the area considers themselves lucky if they ever happen to see one. These are shy, benign, bug n berry bears that mostly forage at night.

Even still, if you happen to see one, be careful and respectful. Don't play dead. Back away slowly while talking to it calmly. Don't act like prey - act big & confident. Bears are very smart and may either look at you with curiosity, or run like crazy. They'll only attack in defense if provoked. Probably you'll never see them though - their sense of smell is better than a dog's and they have good ears, so they'll know you're around and go elsewhere.

They'll be going into their light hibernation soon. They don't eat or poop, but they are semi-alert and can groggily wake up. Keep your eyes open for dug out areas under stumps or large rocks. It's much more likely they're up the ridge miles away though.

I'll close with some wisdom from Baloo (and Disney & Rudyard Kipling):

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!




  1. I love your idea of blogging about the Lodge. Great writing -- great content -- interesting stuff. Go, Ken!

  2. So awesome to learn more about the little critters that swoop my nectarines, overturn my neighbors' garbage, and startle our other neighbor in his hot tub....I love bears. (Ours always act sheepish and skedaddle when you shine the flashlight on 'em.) Great stuff...keep it comin'!

  3. Good story, RT, and those Moultries take some good night pictures.

  4. Thanks all.

    Plantgirl: we hope ours are sheepish too - no one has seen one yet though! (which may be an answer in itself)

    Codger: the Moultrie's night time IR mode is pretty solid. The only reason the animals see the camera is because the shutter is kinda loud. They don't have an auto-focus like your custom cams though, so it can be a bit hit and miss on sharpness sometimes.


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