SE Colorado Birding

Birding and discussion: A conservation-oriented birding blog that emphasizes low-impact birding and sustainable birding practices together with the enjoyment of birds. Southeast Colorado offers a diversity of habitats which provide premiere birding opportunities. Save Sabal Palm

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Close encounter of the "bear" kind

The weather was very hot today so I headed for a little higher elevation in the San Isabel National Forest that stretches from just south of where I live in Canon City, CO to the New Mexico border. Though the temps were in the lower 90's (instead of around 100 as forecast for Canon City), birding was quite slow likely due as much because of the very dry conditions as the high temps. There were few insects for birds to eat and few flowers for hummingbirds and butterflies due to the lack of rain. Since it was less hot and I enjoy the forest, I stayed for several hours checking out a few birds, a few butterflies and moths, and a few wildflowers with my two dogs. My smaller dogs, Chase, let out some alarm barking several times but I couldn't find anything that should have caused it. I did use my binoculars to check for critters and considered the possibility that a bear could be around especially since there is a lot of scrub (Gambel's) oak in the area. However I had checked the plants and found that the acorns were very small and would not ripen for a few weeks plus there was no other obvious plants with fruit there, so I decided that the bears would not be interested--not an accurate conclusion. Since Chase can be a easily spooked, I thought was what caused his barking.Close to dusk I was pursuing two birds that were flitting from tree to tree when I heard a noise like something scraping a tree--something large. My pulse rate immediately shot up as I realized it could be a bear and I was about 150 feet from my car--and one of my dogs was outside by the car. As I walked sideways (so I could look in the direction I thought the sound was coming from) quickly (and telling myself not to go too quickly as I knew the prohibition about not simulating a prey--easier said than done when you want think a bear may be near). To make matters worse, the scraping noise not only continued but got louder (now I realize it was because I came closer to the bears as I walked to the car). I first pointed to my dog to stay then put my arms in the air to make myself appear larger (another thing that experts recommend). When I got to my car I got my dogs secured inside and stood by my door, then (and only then) did I put my binoculars up to look for what had made the noise--and I spotted this mother black bear with her two cubs now about 400-500 feet away and took these pics. She clearly did not want anything to do with me anymore than I did with her so was moving away. I think that she may have sent her cubs up a tree, and she may have been up there also, but got them down when I came too close.

In retrospect I suspect she and her cubs, which I believe are over a year old, had been in the area most of the time I was there and was the reason that Chase gave his alarm barking. I also suspect that due to the dry conditions even immature acorns are worth eating. I have seen black bears on several occasions over the past 10 years when I have been out birding but I have never seen one with cubs or been so close without something between me and the bears. Though I enjoy seeing bears, this was too close for comfort and even scarier since it was a mother bear with cubs. As bears are now engaged in eating marathons to fatten up for winter, I will take precautions when I'm out birding or hiking. SeEtta


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