Yesterday afternoon while heading out with the dogs to see if I could relocate a Common Buckeye butterfly that Dan had seen in our back fields (they don’t typically occur up here, so this was a really rare sighting), we startled some wildlife in the tiny patch of trees that the trail passes, no more than a couple dozen feet across and a few dozen feet long but dense enough at the edges to make it hard to see into. The dogs were, of course, intensely interested and my focus was on preventing their pursuit of the thing; so it didn’t immediately register that the sound of departure was not the bounding ba-dump, ba-dump of alarmed deer but something more shuffling. Then when I seemed to hear something climbing a tree I thought it must be a porcupine, which I also did not want the dogs taking off after. But when I got Jack secured and Raven to heel and peered through the foliage, what was looking back at me was not a porcupine. Or a deer.
I was too surprised to move, at first. But the bear seemed more cautious than aggressive, and after a moment I relaxed, a little; enough to pull out my camera and try for a few shots. She was tucked in behind a wall of vegetation through which I had just a small window to see her, but I got a couple of photos that were recognizably of a bear and was content with that. Carrying Jack, and with a firm verbal leash on Raven, I turned and carried on down the trail so she could leave.
I made my way slowly to the field where Dan had seen the butterfly and dawdled around there for a bit (didn’t find it). Then I started to mosey back, pausing a couple of times to take photos of things. By the time we returned to the woods patch the bear had had lots of time to clear out, but I still picked Jack up and approached slowly, just in case. Cautiously I peered through the trees to the spot she’d been, but the patch was empty and silent.
Relieved, I set Jack down. She’d made some marks on the trunk that I wanted to check out, so I started picking my way through the trees toward where she’d been. Halfway there, when I was about twenty-five feet from the target tree, there was a soft grunting growl and the bear sat up on her haunches beside it.
Panic! Panic! Call the dogs back! Jack, come! Raven, heel! Now! Thankfully, both dogs came quickly, and I turned my shoulder to her to show her I was not trying to threaten her (even while keeping her in my sight, just in case!) and started to casually leave the forest patch. She didn’t say another word as she sat back and watched me, alert and uncertain but staying her ground. I paused near the edge of the trees, since she wasn’t moving, and took a couple more (quick!) photos without the obstruction of leafy vegetation, then left.
A couple of times while I was nearby she tried to climb the tree she was beside. This is about as high as she made it before slipping back down to the ground each time. When I’d first glimpsed her, through the small window in the vegetation, I’d thought I’d seen a second little head beside her. I’d definitely heard more than one animal in there, startled by our approach. And given the fact that fifteen minutes later she was still sitting beside the same tree, and inclined to climb it, even, I’m guessing she had at least one cub somewhere up that trunk. (I didn’t think to check, at the time; my focus was more on containing the dogs.)
It wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case. Last fall I found evidence that was very suggestive of a mother bear with a cub. Female bears mate every other year, and take two years to raise each cub. If the second animal of last year’s discovery was in fact a bear cub, it’s possible it was a second-year cub that was weaned before the winter, and this is the same mother bear with a new baby. Female bears tend to have home ranges of 1600 to 6400 acres (2.5 to 10 square miles; which is about 6.5 to 26 square kilometers); certainly not small, but not so large that the same animal wouldn’t pass through an area semi-regularly, especially if she had favourite haunts.
It was exciting to finally get a chance to glimpse our local bear, since in the three years we’ve been here we’ve seen lots of evidence of their presence but no actual bears. I kind of wish it had been at more of a distance… but hey. Luckily, she was calm. It makes me happy to know she’s out there, somewhere, and passing through from time to time.