Monday, April 29, 2013

Bears bears bears in the neighborhood

Photo I took of mama black bear and two cubs at Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah National Park, October 2010
They're baaack. Black bears are roaming now that spring is here and one place they are being sighted on a regular basis is our little corner of Augusta County. Those critters are hungry and, while it's not unusual to have bear sightings here, this spring there appear to be more than usual, according to one of the wildlife biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Black bears are extremely common in Virginia especially as their population grows and expands. These intelligent creatures are highly adaptable and quickly sniff out food sources to the point where they will remember and return until it is removed. If there are nuisance or returning bears, humans often are the cause by leaving garbage cans, pet food, or bird feeders accessible.

But sometimes bears are around even if there is not a food source. One neighbor heard a noise and looked out to find a bear on her deck. Recently local kids waiting for the school bus saw a bear in the field and, after they got on the bus, the bear ran across the road in front of them. What an exciting opportunity that was for a bus load of students!

Another nearby neighbor has motion cameras out and has gotten photos of a 400-pounder and others closer to 200 pounds. He has also found paw prints on his deck's sliding glass doors. Hmm ... that would give pause. Other neighbors have had their bird feeders torn down, and yet another even had the contents on the inside of his barn destroyed a few weeks ago when they were out of town. The bear(s) didn't bother their goats and cattle.

All this reminds of the humorous episode with SWAC Husband last summer when he had taken a break from working in the garden and was cat-napping in his garden chair. He woke to hear a snorting kind of sound and looked to see a black bear running straight toward him, obviously oblivious to the human in the chair, until SWAC Husband waved his arms in the air and yelled at him. The bear temporarily looked startled, then changed course and ambled away.

So today the wildlife biologist and a volunteer were notifying neighbors to store bear magnets like bird feeders and the grease traps from outdoors grills that would smell like a smorgasbord to a bear's ultra-sensitive nose.

I just wrote about black bears two weeks ago ("If you live in Virginia, you live in black bear country") and recounted a number of bear episodes in our area over the years. The natural wildness of western Augusta County with its national forests and rural spaces was one reason we chose to live here as opposed to the more urban eastern Augusta. It sounds like this year is a little more intense than in the past so we will keep a closer eye out even as neighbors are sharing encounters with one another for awareness ... and we will still enjoy watching these beautiful creatures.

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