June 23, 2010

Pretty quiet day in the field. The golden eaglet is so big now, it eats like a horse when mom brings dinner to the nest and cries for more between every bite – what an insatiable appetite! As I was hiking the Willow Creek trail with my buddy Jay and his family, a gray fox came trotting toward us with three rodents in its mouth. I recognized the fox from our first encounter on the 13th (due to the missing piece of its right ear), looks to be a mother rearing her young kits, hopefully I can get a glimpse of the little ones soon.

On my way out of the park, near the entrance station, there was a mother mule deer and her two very young twins – couldn’t be any cuter! I had just left the park and was on my way home when I noticed a group of coyotes howling and barking to the left of the dirt road. I pulled over and, though it was nearly dark, could make out the shape of a black bear walking through the sage near the large family of coyotes. Hopefully this bear doesn’t wander too far from the park, there are numerous neighborhoods nearby and a bear in a neighborhood is almost always trouble for both the bear and the community. No cubs today, fingers crossed even tighter for cubs tomorrow!

June 22, 2010

Arrived around 5 with my neighbor BJ and his son Aiden. We hiked the Fountain Valley trail, but it was just too hot to see much wildlife. The golden eaglet is growing so fast, it now looks like a little bald eagle with white left only on its head and dark feathers everywhere else. After a couple of trips up and down the road we finally spotted a black (Gorilla Bear) on the east side of the first hogback. Watched her for a while, then a second bear (Choco, still trying to prove to GB that he’s a worthy mate) wandered up and closely followed the first bear for the rest of the evening. Too far for any decent shots, but still well worth it – Aiden’s first bear sightings! After we’d left, my friend Allison sent me a text me to let me know that Choco had pushed GB’s boundaries and she had charged him and bit him on the butt (again), she’s not quite ready to mate, but that’s one persistent bruin! At 10:00 my wife and I were sitting on the front porch and a huge raccoon wandered down our street, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one in the neighborhood (a live one that is, always plenty of road-killed coons). Fingers crossed for cubs tomorrow!

June 17 – 20, 2010

Bears and fawns have kept me busy the past couple of days – I haven’t been able to get any really great shots, but the viewing has been excellent! The little golden eaglet is growing fast, showing more and more dark feathers every day. I’ve met some really nice folks on the trails, shared some wonderful wildlife sightings and made some great friends. The weather has been a lot hotter and drier than the past couple of weeks – hopefully we’ll get some more rain this week!

June 14 – 16, 2010

June 14th: Rob, Dan and I arrived at Roxborough around 6:00 PM. The golden eaglet was visible on the edge on the nest, squawking at the top of its little lungs. It wasn’t long before one of the adults showed up, circling above the nest. A small rabbit in the canyon below the nest never saw the eagle coming, and after a couple of minutes dinner was served.

After spending half an hour or so at the nest, we decided to push on. As soon as we reached the upper parking lot I noticed some movement on the right hand side of the road. I grabbed the radio, “Rob, the two bears are back – upper lot!” Dan and I hopped out of the truck, I went down onto my knees in the road and began shooting – the bears crossed the road in front of the truck and started walking east on the other side of the road. By the time I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and stood up there were four cars stopped behind us – bear jam. The bears flanked the road for a bit, then headed up the Willow Creek trail.

We stuck with the bear pair for the next hour or so (I ran out of disk space and Dan ran out of battery power), then made our way back to the truck. We reached the truck as my buddy Chris and his wife pulled up. Chris was anxious to see his first bears of the season, so we told him where to look and he started up the trail. After a bit of “bear talk” with Rob, Dan and I drove east to take a look in the canyon. We reached the high pullout on the east side of the park where we usually scope from, and before I could get the spotting scope out Rob was on the radio. “Another bear, upper lot again!” This bear was extremely skittish – it had darted through the parking lot and attempted to scramble up a tree near Rob’s vehicle, but fell out about half way up. The reddish-cinnamon bear finally settled down a bit when it hit the brush line on the other side of the road, following the path that the other bears had taken, sniffing the ground for the scent trail as it walked along. Dan, Rob, Chris’ wife (sorry, I’m not very good at remembering names) and I watched the bear for a couple of minutes, then Chris came around the corner on the trail – just in time to see the third bear as it ran past. The light was gone, so we decided to call it a day.

June 15th: Arrived at Roxy around 6, and passed a large group of cub scouts at the visitor center on my way up the Fountain Valley trail. My hike yielded nothing, just too hot for the wildlife to be out. I made my way back to the truck and down to the eagle nest, arriving just in time to see an adult leaving the nest – just missed feeding time. I waited around at the nest for a couple of minutes, and a group of scouts led by a park volunteer came down the road. I did my best to point out the nest, but it’s camouflaged against the cliff and hard to make out without an eagle visible on it. Down the road, and after a half hour of nothing, I found myself back at the upper parking lot. Four deer shot out of the oak brush, heads held high, bleating and scattering as they ran at full speed. I picked up the radio – “Rob, you’d better get over here, something’s got these deer spooked. Definitely a predator.” As soon as I took my thumb off of the receiver a mountain lion walked out of the brush. “Mountain lion, mountain lion, get over here quick!” I was out of the car and shooting in a couple of seconds, and Rob raced into the parking lot. The lion slowly stalked toward us, eyes locked onto the two humans below it the entire time.

The lion came to about 40 feet from us and froze, looking off to the left. We could hear the sound of kids walking up the trail, and the lion obviously heard them as well, dropping down as low as it could in the tall grass, ears exposed above the foliage. The next hour was a blur – kids and parents trying to be a quiet as possible (these are kids, after all) while we watched the ears twitch in the grass. I shared my photos with the kids, discussing lion behavior with the brave ones at the front of the group and explaining to the frightened ones that the animal was just as afraid of us as we were of it. We could’ve ignored the scouts and let them pass by without ever seeing the lion, and we may have been able to get more shots after they passed, but I’m convinced that sharing this experience with the kids was the right thing to do. The joy and excitement on their faces made it worthwhile. Chris and his wife waited with me until dusk, and as soon as the crowd left the lion arose. It looked over at us for a moment, then disappeared into the thick oak brush. My first mountain lion sighting of the year, and I’d finally been able to get shots of the reclusive cat!

June 16th: Dan and I got into the park later than usual, about 6:30. Not much happening, another hot afternoon. We spent some time with the eaglet, squawking again at the edge of the nest as an adult circled overhead. Rob spotted a bear near the Willow Creek lot, and we were on the trail within shooting distance of the bear within 10 minutes. We spent the evening with the bear, a beautiful black that didn’t seem to mind our presence at all.

At sunset a female bear and cinnamon cub appeared on the top of the ridge above us, obviously very interested in the black bear we were photographing. She stood on her hind legs for a better view as the cub rambled around the rocks at her feet. First cub of the year, hopefully we’ll have more time with it in the future. The light was gone, so we headed back to the truck. Another 3-bear day, and these were three bears that we’d never seen before, bringing our running total to 7 individuals in the park so far this year – another day in parkadise!

June 12 – 13, 2010

Another great couple of days in the field! It’s been rainy and overcast, but you’ll get no complaints from me – the weather has kept much of the usual traffic out of Roxborough, and the wildlife viewing has been excellent. The golden eaglet (I’m fairly certain now that there is only one) is growing fast, it’s losing some of that baby “fur” and a few dark feathers are beginning to appear. Both adults can usually be found atop the cliffs somewhere near the nest, and lately a peregrine falcon has been perching nearby as well. Most of the muley bucks have joined bachelor groups, and the pregnant mule deer are busy evicting their yearlings, preparing to give birth to a new generation. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the confused youngsters as they’re bitten, kicked and chased away by their loved ones. I remind myself that it’s time for them to face the world on their own, and nature isn’t always pretty, but it’s right.

The 12th was a fairly quiet evening – not a whole lot to see, just too stormy and wet for most of Roxy’s wild inhabitants.

On the 13th, Dan and I met Rob (and a nice group of mule deer bucks) near the entrance to Roxy, and after a couple of deer photos and a quick radio check, we were on our way into the park. Dan pointed out a bull elk grazing in the valley about 500 yards from the road, and after scoping, spotted another bull (a massive 6-pointer) that was at least three times farther away than the first – good eyes. I had somehow talked Dan into taking a quick hike, so at 6:00 we headed up the trail to Lyons Overlook. About 1/4 mile up the trail, we rounded a bend and I caught some movement along the rocks to the right of the trail. I stopped in my tracks – “Dan, fox…? not a red fox…? swift fox…? No, it’s a gray fox!” It took me a second to figure out what I was looking at – I’d never seen a gray fox before, and it almost looked like a mix between a fox and a cat. Little fox face, short legs, big bobcat-like feet (the only North American canid capable of climbing trees) and a long, grizzled gray tail with a black stripe down the middle and a black tip. It looked like it would be more at home in a South American jungle, not much at all like the red fox that I’m so well acquainted with. We took as many shots as we could before the fox grew tired of us and slowly walked down the rock and out of sight. Bad lighting and light rain made for grainy photos of the little guy, but nonetheless a great first-time experience with this species.

We passed a doe bedded down under some oak brush on the way up, then set up at the top for some landscape shots. After a couple of minutes we started back for the truck. The radio had a low battery and was spitting out interference noise (or so I assumed) throughout the hike back, and numerous attempts to reach Rob were unsuccessful. We rounded the corner near the visitor center and the noise on the radio suddenly cleared up, “Where are you guys? 2 bears, 2 bears! Past the eagle nest!”. Dan and I made a mad dash for the truck and drove down to Rob and the two bears. We hopped out and were able to get a couple quick shots before both bears disappeared into the creek bed.

Rob had been trying to call for fifteen minutes – another lesson learned, always charge the radios.

The rest of the evening was spent watching the bears from afar (a big boar and a smaller female, apparently courting) as they grazed and mingled in the valley, sharing the scope and binoculars with friendly wildlife watchers, enjoying the sunset, the silence, the smell of rain, and the cool night air.

June 8, 2010

The forecast called for rain in the early evening, so I left the house around 4 PM and met Rob at Roxborough, once again in search of bears. There wasn’t a whole lot happening at Roxy – no coyotes and no activity at the golden eagle nest, just a handful of distant deer. 5:15 and still no rain, though some dark clouds were beginning to move in from far to the west. We decided to try our luck at Chatfield for a while, then return to Roxy when the rain started. There wasn’t a whole lot happening at Chatty either – no coyotes at the den (there were two baby magpies in the bushes outside the den, still unable to fly – first time I’ve ever seen baby magpies) and no whitetail deer in sight, just a lone killdeer wading in the creek.

Back to Roxborough, and as soon as we drive through the canyon and turn around for a return sweep the rain begins to fall and I finally spot what I’ve been waiting all year to see – BEAR!!! I fumbled around with the 2-way radio for what seemed like forever and finally got a call out, “Rob! Get up here! Bear! Big bear!” The bear was over the hill to the north and out of sight within a minute, no photo opportunities whatsoever, but at least we’d finally seen one. It was headed for the Fountain Valley, so I parked the truck and started up the Fountain Valley trail. I passed a couple of frightened hikers and rounded the trail just in time to see the bear disappearing into the thick oak brush at the top of the hill, heading southwest. I waited out the downpour under a tree in the valley, and when I was sure that the bear wasn’t going to double back my way, I headed back to the truck. Rob hadn’t seen anything come over the hill yet, so we spent the next half hour waiting for the bear to show up – no dice, the bear never made another appearance.

At 8:00 I left the parking lot to check the canyon and east side of the park, Rob waited at the parking lot for the big bear to show up. I drove through the canyon and out the other side, and as I crested the hill on the east side of the park, I heard a group of coyotes loudly snarling, barking and howling, then spotted a black spot out in the flats surrounded by 4 coyotes – ANOTHER BEAR! The smaller bear had wandered into coyote turf and was surrounded by them, standing on hind legs and spinning around in circles trying to avoid a bite on the butt. The bear fought them off for a minute, then made a break for it to the south. The coyotes, surprisingly, did not give chase – probably guarding their den site. I franticly tried to reach Rob over the 2-way, but the canyon was too much for the radio… I tried to call him on the phone, but no answer so I left a panicked message… By now it was getting too dark for decent photos, but I clicked away anyway, excited to see my first Colorado black bears of the year.

I turned around and started driving back to the west side to alert Rob, and his crackled voice finally came over the radio, “Did you say bear? I’m on the way!” We spent the next twenty minutes watching the bear out in the flats. He kept wandering south, then got too close to another group of coyotes and the air was filled with howling and barking again, until he disappeared into the creek bed. We finally left the park around 8:45 – mission accomplished!

Bear Humor from Colorado Springs’ Ranger Rich

He’s big and he walks funny and grunts and we’ve long wondered if he “goes to the bathroom in the woods.” He makes us feel uneasy, and experts say if we see him we should stand our ground, yell and make ourselves look bigger.

We remind ourselves “he was here first” and we try to co-exist with him. But now maybe he’s sick or getting old or has a thorn in his foot. Perhaps he’s just frustrated by not being able to find a mate.

And today we’d like the Division of Wildlife to shoot him in the ass with a tranquilizer dart and drop him off deep in the forest hundreds of miles away so he won’t bother us ever again.

But enough about Doug Bruce…

Click here to read the story

Colorado Kills “2-Strike” Bear

An adult black bear that was a so-called “two-strike bear” for getting into residential areas was killed Friday by Colorado wildlife authorities. The bear was tranquilized and then killed in Pueblo after residents reported seeing it climbing up a tree in a residential neighborhood early Friday. The male bear weighed about 350 pounds and was about seven to 10 years old.

Click here to read the story

More Than a Dozen Bear Sightings in Denver Neighborhoods

Deputies are concerned because there have been several bear sightings in populated areas in Arapahoe County in the past few days.

“In this area it’s not expected,” said Lt. Chris George with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department.”However like we said earlier, it’s not uncommon, we can have contact with our wildlife here in the state just about anywhere, certainly unexpected down in this area.”

Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for DOW said, “We want to remind people to alleviate any attractants from their yards, whether it’s barbeque grills, bird feed, pet food. Anything that may attract bears. You need to remember, bears have powerful noses and trying to pack on weight so they’re going to go for any easy meal sources here along the front range.”

Click here to read the story

Care About Bears

WildEarth Guardians –

Mom bears and their cubs are out in full force now looking for food – this time of year it normally includes flowers and grasses – but it can also include opportunistic choices such as birdseed, BBQ left-overs, and unkempt garbage. These are all deadly choices because once habituated to humans, bears will continue to return and when conflict with people occurs, the bears are euthanized.

Bears are sensitive to all sources of mortality. Most bears die from sport hunters, but they are also killed to protect agribusiness, and increasingly from negative interactions with people who further encroach upon bear habitat and migration corridors.

Unfortunately, even with their vulnerabilities, bear quotas are going up, as we saw recently in Aspen where the Colorado Wildlife Commission increased bear shooting licenses in Aspen by 64%! Carelessness by humans will cause untold deaths for bears in Colorado and New Mexico that could be prevented with easy, precautionary measures.

We know you care about bears and so we are enlisting our supporters to help us. We encourage our members and their friends and colleagues to be mindful of bears — whether you live in an urban area like Boulder, Colorado or Santa Fe, New Mexico, or in the hills where bears live. If you recreate in bear country, be mindful, and remind others to do so too.

Click here for the “Care About Bears” Fact Sheet from WildEarth Guardians

Click here for the story on Aspen’s new bear hunting quota

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