By Jack McShane

The source of the paw print in the snow was not questioned. The question was why it was there. It was not supposed to be there because there was still a solid foot of snow on the ground, it was 25 degrees out and no foodstuffs were available. I messaged my friend Peg who works for the NYC DEP who was land checking when she spotted the bear cub’s meandering tracks, that the little guy should get back to snoozing in his hidden den and wait until the end of April when there might be some emerging greenery for his or her consumption. Bears have been known to emerge from their dens mid-winter, wander around, and eventually go back to their den and reenter their world of torpor. I have always had a theory that it was only boar bears or yearling cubs that might endeavor a winter trek, as the sows would not endanger their cubs. My trail cams have shown no sign of any of the eight locals caught on camera doing any Winter trekking. Let’s see what this Spring brings. There will be much changed on the terrain that my wild critter friends knew, as many trees have been harvested over the winter and their tops are now strewn, blocking trails, but giving great cover. I have full confidence they will adapt forthwith as is normal for all the critters in our natural world.

The DEC has posted the numbers on bear-kill last hunting season, and of note the heaviest field dressed was 550 lbs. taken up in Lexington in Greene County, top harvests, Ulster County (167), and second our own Delaware County (151). These figures do not include any taken by farmers with nuisance permits. All but one of my guys should be safe and sound as sows and their cubs are off limits.

Darwin is one of my favorite authors, the scientist who first gave us the theory of evolution. This favoritism can be seen if you have ever glimpsed my car’s license plate (DARWIN). There is an ongoing example of evolution presently in Sweden, and it has to do with the indigenous bears called brown bears which are very similar to our own black bears in ways other than their color. Bear hunting laws there are similar to ours in that it is illegal to shoot sows with cubs. They have been in place for many decades. Now studies are showing that the sows and their cubs are staying together for two years rather than the traditional one. Researchers are suggesting that this new family retention length by the sows gives longer protection from hunters and this life-protecting trait is being passed on to their heirs, an example of humans affecting evolution happening right before our eyes. Will this happen with our black bears? Our rules protecting the sow cub families are the same. Our bear population is on a major rebound and we will need a couple more decades to see if there is a similar outcome. If there is, I won’t be around to witness it as I have now reached the big 8-0.

Writing this on March 22nd, yesterday on the way along my favorite wildlife observation route which is Route 30 along the Pepacton, frozen and snowed over, I spotted a mature bald eagle standing alone out on the ice, and a little farther on, two black vultures. At this point I knew there was something dead out there. A very short distance from there was an unidentifiable lump with what appeared to be a fisher feeding on it. I had to go back to check it out. It turned out to be a small grey fox doing the feeding on what, I could not tell; the eagle and vultures apparently were awaiting their turn. Too distant for my little camera to get a good shot, but a great sighting for this intrepid wildlife geek.

Another sighting on March 27th was of a very robust-looking woodchuck running over the crusted snow to the back of our pole barn where he disappeared. There are a number of ground dens, harboring at least three cottontail rabbits at that location, causing me to wonder if he will snuggle down with one of them, or will it cause a rabbit/woodchuck ruckus over ownership. (A woodchuck lived there last summer.) Also on the same date, on one of our smaller ponds, where the ice was gone and there was now precious open water, a pair of hooded mergansers and two pairs of mallards had taken advantage of it.

A quick clarification to last month’s Field Notes: Chicken loss per se is not considered a nuisance complaint by the DEC. My friend at the DEC makes fun that they are now getting occasional calls complaining that a small pet or chicken was taken by a bald eagle. This a nuisance complaint with the bald eagle as the focus and proves that the DEC’s efforts to reestablish our bald eagles has been successful.

“Those who dwell….among the beauties and mysteries of nature are never alone or weary of life” Rachel Carson~