A few weeks ago I noticed that a couple of the large rocks that sit beside the trail in our back fields had been shifted out of the ground. These are not small rocks, as Jack demonstrates, and there’s only one animal that would have done this: a Black Bear. Although we’ve never seen a bear around here in the couple of years we’ve lived here, we know they’re around just from the sign they leave. Shifting rocks is one of the easiest and most frequently spotted. Bears typically flip or move rocks to see what might be living underneath. Anything that doesn’t get out of sight quickly enough is fair game, but typically ants and grubs would be among the most common food items found this way.
I’ve also noticed a few random holes dug in the grass which I’ve wondered if bears might have created. They’ve been in the areas that I know the bears have been traveling, so it wouldn’t be a stretch. A number of weeks ago, around the time that I noticed the holes appear or maybe just before, we’d had some flights of citronella ants, so I wondered if the animal had been digging to unearth citronella ant colonies. Could they smell anything else from the surface? The other possibility for these holes is that they were made by skunks, which also root around in the earth looking for food. I don’t know enough about the physical sign of skunks to be able to say what their holes look like, though the photos I turn up on Google look a little different.
Scat photos coming up, so those grossed out by that sort of thing might want to stop reading here… :)
The discovery of bear poop on the property really drives home that these animals have been passing through unseen, though. I found the first pile a few weeks ago. Dark, and filled with some sort of reddish fruit that I couldn’t readily identify. Nothing that I knew was fruiting at that time seemed like a good match. However, something someone posted to Facebook about the same time commented on finding bear scat with black cherry remains in it, and in Googling that it looks like that might be what this is. The reddish bits are the skins, and the lighter things are the pits. I tend to forget about wild cherry species because they’re usually in the woods and their fruit aren’t especially showy.
Then yesterday, as I was heading out with the dogs, Dan suggested I check out a pile of scat he’d noticed on one of our trails. It hadn’t been there the day before, so the animal that had left it had passed through overnight. It was also bear, simply from the size of it. What was curious about this was that it was full of apple skins – prodding it with a stick to break it apart so I could examine its contents, it even smelled strongly of apple.
We’ve got a small grove of apple trees near the house, and Dan commented that he’s heard animals eating the apples there on occasion in recent evenings, and the dogs certainly show an interest in something that’s been foraging there when they’re let out the next morning. Could it have been the bears? There are also a couple feral apple trees on the 100-acre woods and no doubt our neighbours’ properties, so they could easily have been feeding there, too.
Not far down the trail there was another little bit of scat. This was darker, and quite a bit smaller, but it was just as full of apples as the first one was. The only other wildlife that I know for sure will eat apples is deer, and they, like most herbivores, create pelleted droppings, not tubular. Omnivores and carnivores typically create tubular droppings, and of those candidates the size of this could perhaps be raccoon. Would they eat apples? I don’t know; they’re pretty opportunistic.
What I actually thought these might be, though, given their proximity to the other scat and the identical content, were the droppings of a bear cub; the larger pile would be from its mother. Bears give birth in late winter, Jan-Feb, and by the early fall they’re already weaned from their mother’s milk. However, usually they’ll stick with her for another year, learning how to forage and live on their own. Females only mate every second year, with the between year being used to continue raising their half-grown cub.
I don’t worry that there are bears around, even mama bears with cubs, because, as the Peterson Field Guide to Mammals says, “Many are killed in the misguided belief that they pose a threat to humans. Black Bears are usually shy and retiring and very seldom dangerous.” If there is a bear around, no doubt she’ll have heard me and departed looong before I even realize there’s one in the area, if I ever do. Instead, I just find the sign she’s left behind.