This can’t be happening….
But it is. First thing this morning on the way to the fields to open the nets, there’s a bear in the adjacent field. This is an adult bear, not one of the yearlings from yesterday. Bigger. It has an ear tag. I round the bend and enter the banding field where Net #1 is set and it immediately becomes apparent that we have a serious bear problem.
The two cubs from yesterday – or at least, the same sized cubs in the same place – are running across the net lane at the end of the net. They tree in the large pine on the left of the net, on the edge of the swamp. This photo is taken from the Jeep, parked at Net #1. The second cub is just below the first. The adult bear from the field is no where to be seen, so I sit quietly in the Jeep and observe. Only moments pass before there is much shaking of the autumn olive bushes about 10 feet in front of the Jeep. I can’t see the bear through the vegetation, but it must be the adult. I hear the crack of breaking branches as she brings the berries down to her level.
The cubs remained treed for only about five minutes. They can see the Jeep from their perch in the tree, but I remain quiet. They come down with lots of scratching and clawing, and run across the net lane back to what is apparently their favorite hiding spot now – the bushes from yesterday. OR, is that adult bear their mother? Somehow, I don’t think so, or she would have been nearer the treed cubs.
Okay, so I won’t be opening net #1. I drive down the path, passing Nets #2 and #3 (still too close to the bear cubs). Maybe I’ll just open Nets #4, 5, and 6. Or not. Maybe I’ll just drive back up to Net #1 and make some noise, and see what happens. Sounds like a plan. I stop by Nets 2 and 3, honk the horn, get out and shout “Run Away!” I don’t hear anything, don’t see any movement, but bears are amazingly quiet. I get back up to the bushes where the first two cubs were, but don’t see anybody. I go back to the Observatory building and turn around. Let’s try this again. It’s still early enough to open nets – around 7.
It’s an instant replay. Adult bear in the field AGAIN. She cuts through the bushes towards Net #1. This time, when I get to Net#1, a little cub, just one, runs across the net lane and into the swamp. This is NOT good. Is the adult bear that was just in the field this one’s Mom? The same adult as before? This cub was NOT one of the yearlings, at least not the two I’ve been seeing. This one is much smaller. There’s no sign of the adult now, so I am assuming Mom and small cub have gone into the swamp (to the left of Net #1).
Okay, forget Nets 1, 2 and 3. I’ll open 4, 5 and 6. I drive down the path to those nets, and unbelievably, there is a bear sitting in the autumn olive bushes on the other side of net #4. He ducks down into the bushes and disappears. This can’t be Mom, she went the other way, with the small cub. There’s no way for her to get here, at the other end of the field, without my seeing her. This bear has not just been in the field and spooked by my Jeep. Clearly, this is another adult, sitting there looking at me. As I grab for the camera he ducks into the bushes. This is a second adult, and that makes him bear number five! And that’s just counting the ones I’ve seen. I’m certain there were others, because as I was sitting quietly in the Jeep, parked at Net 4, and with the windows open, I could clearly hear the snap and crack of autumn olive branches being pulled down to bear-level, coming from the field beyond where nets 7 through 12 are located.
I decided there would be no banding today. Although I enjoy watching the bears, I will need to figure out what to do about this, as it is going to seriously disrupt my banding schedule. It won’t be so bad on days when there are two or more banders, but on days when I band alone, I need to rethink this plan.
Or, we could become Raccoon Ridge Bear Observatory. Tours, anyone?