Follow by Email

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Black bear den in Addison, NY

Black bear hair on barbed wire fence
(Addison, NY 2/12)
In my previous post I wrote about our first black bear for the 2012 season. Students from FLCC and I joined NYS DEC personnel and a Cornell graduate student to change a radio collar on a 380 pound make black bear. When the processing was over, we closed the bear back inside the culvert trap to allow the immobilizing chemicals to wear off completely. While the bear was waking, we took the opportunity to examine his den. There was a well-worn trail to the den as this bear had been repeatedly visiting bird feeders. Although the home owners were thrilled to have the bear in their yard, rewarding a bear with food is never a good idea. There were literally 20 bird feeders in this particular backyard and the home owners were not trying to attract bears. However, once the bear started showing up, they made no attempt to stop putting out feed. The law is clear in NY: It is illegal to intentionally or unintentionally feed bears. This is for the bear's safety as well as the people. It is difficult to tell people that the best way to show their love for an animal is to not see it anymore, but in this case, that was the best advice.

Black bear den
(Addison, NY 2/12)
As we got closer to the bear's den, the undergrowth got thicker and pricklier. We were surrounded by rose. This bear had selected an excellent location in order to maintain his privacy. You can see the entrance to the den to the left of the person in this photo. This is an excavated den. Not all dens are. Some are in brush piles or even in hollow trees. Many people think all bears den in caves but I have yet to see that in person. Regardless, this bear had done some digging to make this den his own. Perhaps this had started as the den of another animal, say a fox or coyote. We may never know (nor was there any evidence for or against this theory that I could see). The den itself made an immediate left turn from the entrance making it hard to photograph (well, that and the giant piles of scat that I had to work around). I ended up just reaching in and taking a blind photo. Much of the den was without a roof. I wondered if the den was like that from the beginning or if it had slowly collapsed from repeated entry and egress.

Inside a black bear den
(Addison, NY 2/12)
Look at the back of the den and see the area where the soil is darker. That is approximately the area that was roofed. The rest is all skylight :)

On the right side of the photo, you can see where the bear had bitten through a large root in order to clear the way. This particular den had little or no vegetation or "nest" material brought in. Other dens we have been to show large amounts of sticks, etc. that have been purposely collected.

We had some clues that this den was here. First, the area was well matted from repeated use. Second, there were large and relatively fresh piles of bear scat around. All the scats contained sunflower seed shells.

Large black bear scat
(Addison, NY 2/12)
Here is a particularly large scat. I wasn't even sure this was a single episode at first. I did not place anything down for scale, but you should be able to make out some sunflower husks and other items in the photo to give it some scale. Normally, bears are not feeding in February and therefore are not producing scat. But it has been so mild here and this bear had found a very reliable source of food.

Bear scratches on ash tree
(Addison, NY 2/12)
Our final visual marker indicating the presence of bear was a marked tree. This ash tree (green ash maybe?) was well scratched in three distinct places. One at about eye level, a second mark about 10 feet up and a third heavy scratch about 15 feet off the ground. I found no evidence of biting, just scratches.

We found no other evidence of markings on any other tree. Why this tree? Why ONLY this tree? Why mark so high? Why mark at all? Why no biting? This semester, the class is exploring the relationship of bears and biting of trees and utility poles. Perhaps we will have some ideas to report as the weeks progress...

Inspecting the height of bear scratches
(Addison, NY 2/12)

1 comment:

Thank you for your comment! It will appear shortly...