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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Black Bear Den Season 2013 Part II

Black bear cub
(Almond, NY 3/13)
What do I love most about bear dens? It is hard to say. Most people would think it is the cubs. I certainly enjoy them. But I think I enjoy everything about bear dens. I have two dens to report on and each was different and each was special and I am glad I was at both. These were the third and fourth dens of the season for my students and I. I had half of my class at the other two (see previous post) and the other half was with me at these two dens. Here is our story:

Gathering for a den visit
(Canisteo, NY 3/13)
DEN #3: We traveled to the Steuben County of Canisteo and gathered at a beautiful farm. The landowners were gracious and curious. We even had a news crew from a Buffalo TV station tagging along. This bear was part of a study being conducted by Cornell University. We were just happy to be a part of the experience. Our hike was going to be all uphill. Can you make out the large pine tree on the hillside in the photo to the left? Well, that is the approximate location of the den. We headed up, single file and waited on a fairly flat spot until the advance crew gave us permission to come forward. Typically, we are not called in until the bear is immobilized. When we arrived at the den, the biologist were already removing the cubs.... all FOUR of them. That's right, quadruplets. I will have to borrow a photo for you all to look at, because I didn't get a single photo of a single cub at this den. I was busy! I was in charge of processing the cubs and securing what data we could get from the den. In this instance, they never removed the female from the den. The cubs needed to be kept warm so they were removed but mom was only getting a new collar so she stayed right in place.

Chemically immobilized black bear
(Canisteo, NY 3/13)
As I mentioned, this was a bear originally captured and collared as part of a study at Cornell University. Here, the bear wears a nice covering over her eyes in official Cornell red. :) But let's focus on the den. She had dug into the punky root mass left behind from a fallen tree. The tree itself was still there and the projecting trunk made for a roof over her head. When the tree fell, it opened up the canopy and allowed light to penetrate the forest. This in turn allowed a thick thorny growth of shrubs to add further protection to this den site. As exposed as she looks here, she WAS sheltered from the wind and rain, her cubs had an even more secure spot under the trunk and the thorns provided a very thick wall against potential predators. Some of the thorns were cut away in order to access her, but we are close to the date when she will be leaving the den anyway.... In this photo, Robin from the Seneca Park Zoo is taking vital signs. The chemically immobilized bears are constantly monitored. Finally, have a look at the built up "nest" this bear created. Go back and look at Den #1 for this season and see how similar this is to that creation. Since we were unable to take measurements of the entire den, we did our best and I did manage a measurement of the diameter of her "bowl". Forty-three inches across.

Check out the same den, but from the "back" side:
Black bear den in thorny brush
(Canisteo, NY 3/13)
Black bear den
(Almond, NY 3/13)
DEN #4: We made a brief stop for bathrooms and food before heading to our next den. This time, we were headed to State land, so in essence WE were the landowners :) I put the College Suburban in 4WD as we headed up a seasonal road to the correct location. Snowmobile tracks had beaten down the road and its shoulders. Again we waited while the advance team went in. We got the word rather quickly to head on in. This bear, another female, had excavated under some white pine blow downs. This made for a rather snug and secluded location despite being within 80 yards of buzzing snowmobile traffic. The man in the blue hat to the right is Matt. He is the grad student at Cornell conducting this research. I was glad things were working so smoothly for him. This time we found ourselves processing triplets, two males and a female. And just like they did with the last den, they only pulled the female out far enough to access her collar and monitor her health. We would again take limited data regarding the den.

Once mom and the cubs were back inside, I took some measurements of the actual opening. This is not the first excavated den we have been to and I am interested to check for a correlation between these types of dens and certain soil types. Notice how I have to squeeze in between some tree trunks in order to access the den site (not sure which of my students to give photo credit to):
Here is the photo I took. Notice how a strong horizontal root becomes the lintel of the doorway.

The biologists estimated that the den extended eight feet back. How they managed to get a dart in her is a question I still need to ask. Here I am dictating measurements for the data sheet.

FLCC student Eric Gullo holds bear cub
(Almond, NY 3/13)
What do I love most about the den visits? I cannot say. I believe it is that each one is different. Each time I go, I see something new. No two den visits are alike. Heck, no two dens are alike. The people react differently. The conversations with the public visitors are just as intriguing and educational as the discussions with the professionals. Maybe its the chance to catch up with former students that now work for our state agency. Maybe its the look in my current students' eyes as they glimpse a potential future for themselves. I think the real question is: What WOULDN'T I love?

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