1. eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion, and insect larvae
2. have color vision and a keen sense of smell
3. are good tree climbers and swimmers
4. are very intelligent and curious
5. can run up to 35 miles per hour
6. weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds
7. go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges
8. usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother's sleep every other year
9. can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18)
10. are typically shy and easily frightened
We haven’t had actual snow fall from the sky for a couple of weeks now, but snow continues to cause problems. That’s one problem with studying birds in high elevation wet montane meadows. There are still several sites with closed roads so we can’t get in to survey them. And even if we do get in it rarely looks like spring/summer there. I’m not sure how the birds are able to handle such a small window of opportunity—a breeding season of basically 2 months (in a good year).
We had 4 days of work left (we work a 7 on/3 off) and a bunch of sites that needed to be surveyed. I really wanted to cover the Perazzo area finally—its been really wet so we had put it off. So I sent the rest of the crew to the Truckee area and tried to cover 6 sites on my own in the southern Sierras.
On Sunday I ended up in Sequoia National Park. Home of the giant trees! Surveying in a National Park can make things interesting—because people are always watching you (except maybe at 5am). And National Parks are the only place where people will stop dead in the middle of the road, hop out, and start snapping pictures of deer, bear, etc.
I set up my point locations in the evening and talked to a family who wanted to know where the bears were even though I told them I studied birds. I told them I hadn’t seen any bears. As soon as I left them and crossed the road, there was a bear.
As a side note—I didn't see a bear in a meadow from ’05 through ’08. I had only seen a couple in neighborhoods. And one in Little Perazzo in ’09. But of course this year has been a different story. During my first week in Yosemite for this project I saw a mama bear and three cubs. And shortly after, a sighting of a rather large bear with a possible older cub in our dumpster at the condo. I also had a young bear on a point count near Carmen, and another in Hope Valley—when that one wouldn’t move off my point, I backed up and sat down. He sat down. Finally he or she got bored and left. Anyway—lots of bears this year. I’ve started to accept it as no big deal—but its still really exciting to get to see them.
Back to Sequoia. The next morning when I arrived to do my point counts in the same meadow—a bear, in the same place. A car pulled over immediately after me and a woman hopped out excitedly with a camera and started snapping pictures of a bear 250 meters away. I was in a hurry to finish my points and started putting on my hip waders.
“You aren’t going out there are you!?” the woman said frantically. “I’m not going out there.”
“I am. But I work here, and I’m not going far.” I replied. At least she was smart enough not to go out there. She asked me if it was tagged. I wanted to tell her I didn’t really give a damn about the bear. But that wouldn’t have been very nice.
She proceeded to ask why the bear—which was very far away from the road—didn’t mind us staring at him or why he or she was not bothered by the road at all. Hmm. Maybe because it’s a National Park and there are roads and people everywhere?
It didn’t appear to be a different bear from the night before—very dark (they range from blonde to black with cinnamon being very common). I did my point and looked back at the bear again and it was replaced by a lighter colored bear. Popular bear spot?
Later in the day I spotted another bear far at the end of another meadow near my last point. So I decided to sneak up on it to watch it. This large mama bear had a tiny little cub and they let me watch them from 150 meters while she foraged and the cub ran around climbing trees and falling back down. It was amazing just to sit and watch them for a while.
Long story short, I had a few more bear sightings and left the park about 24 hours after I had arrived the day before. Oh yeah, I also saw some big trees.
So in the end, I probably saw more bears in one 24 hour period than I have in my entire life.
Fear of bears is probably a good thing in a National Park—at least you won’t have people invite the cute cuddly bear into their car for a family picture. But at the same time, fear is silly. The bears I saw didn’t seem to be bothered by me—they were just doing their thing. I know if threatened or startled they can run fast and rip me to shreds—and I respect that. But in general the black bear is not an animal to fear. I’m much more afraid of being secretly stalked and hunted down my a mountain lion in a meadow—even though that’s also unlikely to happen. Honestly, the most dangerous and common thing out there is cold water.