Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7, 2014 - Black Bear on the Hunt

Early snow followed by warm weather provided a rare opportunity, something I have not had before:  the chance to track a Black Bear on its travels through the forest in search of food.  Usually bears are fast asleep by the time the snow comes.  The supposed safe-date for putting bird feeders out is December first, but this year put that theory to waste.  On both December first and second I found bear tracks in the snow - right across my ski trail - and I took the opportunity to follow it on its travels.
Bear Tracks across the Trail

The soft, wet snow left beautiful prints.

And an indication as to just how large an animal this is!

It was out taking advantage of the warm weather to add a bit more to its fat stores, as a bear will lose 20 to 30% of its weight during the winter.  And if it's a pregnant female, it needs sufficient stored energy to give birth and nurse its young during this time. 

The first stop on its way was to raid a Red Squirrel's cache of acorns and pine cones, which the squirrel had diligently stashed under a large boulder (though not well enough to hide it from a bear's nose).
Raiding a Squirrel's Food Supply

An Empty Stash

Mister squirrel won't be happy to find its winter food supply depleted.

Next, the bear spent a long time digging up a large area of the forest floor under a stand of mature oak trees in search of acorns.

Foraging for Acorns
As mentioned on October 12, this was a mast year with copious acorn production, so I expect it found an abundance of high energy food at this stop.

Farther along in its journey it came across the remains of deer, killed by a coyote, or perhaps a hunter which had not removed the carcass.  At any rate, the bear picked up a couple of choice pieces of deer remnant and brought them along to a comfortable resting spot under a hemlock tree.

A Quiet Spot for a Meal
Here the signs indicate the bear lay for quite a while, licking the bones clean.
Parts of Deer Spine and Ribs

Bear are opportunistic consumers, eating just about anything they come across.  Remember the hornet's nest back on August 31st?  They eat mostly vegetable matter, but will take any carrion they find, and will kill a fawn or a weak deer if they have they opportunity.

Throughout this bear's feeding voyage it left its calling card - large piles of scat and urine holes in the snow.

Back close to home, it was attracted to the scent of bird feeders and bird houses.  It stood right up and peered into our bird houses.  Had their been anything of substance inside I have no doubt it would have ripped the wooden bird houses to shreds.

Now cold weather has returned, and I haven't seen any more activity for the past few days, so maybe it has finally decided it is time to sleep.  As much as I enjoyed the rare experience of tracking a bear, I must admit it's a little unsettling to think about this animal roaming around the forest where I spend so much time.

The cycling back and forth of warm and cold temperatures has formed, and then melted, ice on Lake Wicwas, but each time the edge of the ice extends farther out into the lake.  Today, I estimated about 80% of the lake is covered, with only the widest part in the center of the lake still open. 
(The White Mountains in the distance are upholding their name)

Winter is steadily increasing its grasp on Lake Wicwas.

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