Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rites of Spring : May Bears

This has been a quirky Spring to say the least. I have noted the arrival of hummingbirds, and scarlet tanagers. I’ve wondered over the fate of four pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks that have yet to join the two pairs in residence. My flock of canary yellow goldfinches is down to five from the thirty-five usually summering with me.Stormy weather all over the US could have played a role in this...
I have waited and watched, but the visitors that I missed most of all were the black bears that usually appear by mid-May.
I have had up to four at a time in my backyard, but it always varies. Last year I had one handsome male that I named Silus, for his silent comings and goings. He spent every afternoon for a couple of weeks here, rolling in the grass and of course munching on the sunflower seeds put out for the birds. I got to the point where I could converse with him softly from the deck and he’d just sit there and listen, then slowly stand and shyly head off into the woods. But just when I had started to give up on bear visits this year, I noticed both cats were acting oddly. They seemed to be picking up a scent that I couldn’t.
I pulled them back inside and was on the phone when I glanced out the window and to my delight there was a beautiful Mama bear and two tiny cubs about the size of cocker spaniels. Last year's Silus was a one-year-old male and maybe 75 pounds but this female was much bigger. She helped herself to the wire birdfeeder but just emptied out the contents and deftly used those big paws and claws to rifle through the grass and pick up seeds. The little ones tumbled around her playing in the afternoon sun as she snacked. This bear has a distinctive cinnamon circle on her right flank; the rest of her is shiny black, except her nose, which is also a cinnamon brown. I think I’ll call her Domino.
It is quite windy today. The lilacs are in full flower and perfuming the air, fragrant narcissi are still blooming and adding their distinctive aroma to the mix. The large rhododendron is just opening her magenta blossoms and is literally abuzz with bees and hummingbirds. All of a sudden Domino stood up and sniffed the wind in this direction, where most of the flowers are. As she did this, the precious little cubs scooted into the woods and quickly climbed up a tree. I was taking pictures through the window glass and trying not to be seen, as surely they would all bolt.
Domino came right up on the deck and pressed her nose against the glass of the sliding door and looked in, three feet away from me. Of course I missed that shot, as I stepped back behind the curtain for undetected observation. She sniffed at the furniture and birdbath and slowly, carefully moved around not disturbing a thing. The cubs began calling her and come running toward the deck. She gracefully moved down the three steps and led them around it and they all slip back into the woods as quietly as they came.
I have had other mother bears with cubs on my deck in the 15 years I’ve lived here and never have they disturbed anything on it. The birdfeeders were taken hostage quite a few times however, sometimes in the same day. And I really had a battle of wits with a male years ago as he would sneak in all times of the day,grab the feeder and abscond with it.I managed to play keep away and was quite pleased with myself. The next morning I opened the front door and stepped into a pile of scat left on the doormat, nothing else touched, everything neat and orderly... but I got the message! I had to laugh at him pointedly choosing that spot and getting me good!
I am so pleased to have had this traditional visit and hope I’ll have a few more before they head deeper into the woods. Now this crazy season seems a little more on track…
I have a deep and special affection for these shy creatures and wish them a long and healthy life. For your amusement I’m posting a great shot of Silus from last year and today’s Domino and her cubs, shot through the kitchen window and the flowering lilac outside it.

May you have pleasant encounters with whatever “bears” cross your path today!

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