2005 Fall Update - Part II - Observations of nursing, heart rates, play, etc.

 

I moved into the field station on Aug 18 and remained there until I headed home to New Hampshire on Oct 14.  This afforded me the opportunity to more closely observe bear interactions and monitor bear weights.

June Bear

The first night of my stay, June and her cubs showed up to weigh in at 12:30 AM - much to my delight!  June is not a regular visitor to the field station and these were the first and only weights obtained on the family this year.  June weighed 207 pounds, Pete 65, and George 64.  It was interesting for me to observe June around other bears.  She was blustery and threatening towards 3-year-old male, Shylow, but spent time on the 2nd floor deck with 5-year-old Donna.  June and Donna are both pretty mellow bears and they tolerated each other's presence well.  At one point June walked along the railing in order to get by Donna - but no threats were exchanged.  I am not sure just where their respective cubs were - likely up trees nearby.

After returning to her territory from the Boundary Waters on Sept 25, June and her cubs seemed actively engaged in ‘idleness'.  They spent large amounts of time just resting or engaged in idle play with objects such as twigs.  Occasionally the cubs would participate in a rigorous bout of sparring - but generally their play was pretty subdued.  June spent a lot of time resting alert (head up looking around) while her cubs just wandered about quietly entertaining themselves.

My walks with June were relatively short because of their inactivity.  I concentrated my efforts on determining if June was still lactating and obtaining heart rates on her and the cubs.  When I had watched June nurse the cubs during the first couple days after she returned from the Boundary Waters I noticed she didn't seem to have much milk.  Her milk supply improved slightly over the next couple weeks and she continued to nurse the cubs until at least Oct 11.  At the end of the nursing session on Oct 9 Pete licked and pulled at her nipples with his incisors - seemingly looking for more milk - until June put a stop to his actions.

Obtaining resting heart rates required patience.  I generally waited until they were resting quietly and then got close enough to observe their fur move with each pulse.  On Sept 30 June fell asleep with the claws of one paw around a small sapling which moved with each heartbeat - making my job easy.  On Oct 2 both cubs fell asleep very near me with their paws extended in my direction.  I was able to hold their paws and work to find a pulse on their wrist - something they certainly would not tolerate when awake.

DATE

JUNE

CUBS

Sept 30

40

 

Oct 2

36

72 (both)

Oct 3

36

72 (Geo)

Oct 9

28

44 (Geo)

Oct 13

28

 

I observed actual feeding or signs of recent feeding on several new food sources during late September and October.  June and the cubs all fed on the lower stems of woolgrass on Sept 26.  The cubs especially spent considerable time pulling up and chewing on the milky-appearing stems.  June's cubs were observed feeding on willow leaves on Oct 5, 6 and 11.  The leaves did not appear palatable but they fed readily on them.  On both Oct 9 and 11 I found signs of feeding on buckbean roots and on Oct 13 George dug and fed on clintonia roots.

I had a couple of interesting interactions with Pete during my last 2 visits with the family.  My relationship with Pete has been iffy with him feeling comfortable approaching me but also quick to give me a swat.  On Oct 9 Pete calmly came over to me as I sat and began sniffing my eyebrows - exhaling between sniffs - and fogging up my glasses!  I was intrigued by his behavior and held very still.  When he sat back and raised a paw I encouraged him to back off as I didn't want to get whacked when I was on his level.  Then on Oct 13, the last day I was with them, he came over again while I was sitting and mouthed my nose with his lips - never touching me with his teeth.

His behavior reminded me of what June had done on Oct 5.  I was sitting on a log when she came over and stood with her front paws on the log next to me.  It was a rainy day and I was wearing a cap to keep the rain off my glasses so I could not see her as she stood over me.  Next thing I knew I was looking into her open mouth as she turned and gently bit my cap and gave it a brief tug.  A very strange sensation!

Observations of Play at the Field Station

I was intrigued by the numerous playful interactions between bears at the field station.  This is likely due in part to the fact these are well-fed bears.  I had seen play and partnering between young males in the past - but I observed a wide variety of play during this late summer period.  Interestingly, I did not see cubs playing at the field station.  Cubs-of-the-year seemed to be either eating or sleeping while at the field station.  On occasion cubs from different litters intermingled and showed interest in each other - even touching noses - but no play was observed.  The most vigorous play was male-male or male-female.  Female-female play was brief and tenuous.

One-eyed Jack - Victor (Aug 20)

One-eyed Jack is the dominate male in the study area while Victor is a 3 or 4-year-old bear new to us this year and is less than half Jack's size (244 vs. 519 pounds about this date).  Victor initiated play with Jack at the base of a large white pine.  Victor kept ducking behind the pine - and at one point blew and chomped in fear - but kept coming back to give Jack another shove.

Willy - Juliet (Aug 23)

Four-year-old Willy and 3-year-old Juliet played with wild abandon on the cedar chip pile for 5 minutes.  We had also observed their playful interactions during the mating season earlier in the year.

Sunshine - Keefer (Aug 25 & 26)

Yearlings Sunshine (Blackheart's F) and Keefer (RC's F) sparred briefly on the second floor deck on Aug 25 and romped briefly on the cedar chip pile on Aug 26.

Billy - Sunshine (Aug 26)

Yearlings Billy (RC's M) and Sunshine (Blackheart's F) romped together on the cedar chip pile.  They seemed very comfortable and familiar with each other.

Billy - Keefer (Aug 26)

Yearling siblings Billy (M) and Keefer (F) played briefly in the driveway.

Victor - Solo (Aug 30)

Victor and yearling Solo (Blackheart's F) played in front of the garage at the field station.  Solo seemed particularly chummy with the older males during late summer.

Billy - Trax (Sept 7)

RC's yearling males Billy and Trax romped on the cedar chip pile - playing much as I imagined they had as cubs a year ago.

RC's Yearlings

Keefer appeared at the field station on Aug 1 for the first time since family break-up in late spring.  She arrived full of bluster and was particularly threatening towards her brothers Billy and Trax when they attempted to reconnect with her by approaching while tongue-clicking.  It was interesting to see her relax around them and by the end of September the 3 of them were often together and frequently showed up at the field station at the same time.  At times they seemed very much like big cubs - just hanging out together and often feeding together at the same feeder.  Trax and Keefer even shared the scale twice and Trax and Billy shared it on one occasion.

Cubs-of-the-Year

There were 8 cubs (Donna's, Hazel's, Braveheart's) visiting the field station on a regular basis throughout the summer with an additional 2 (Shadow's) visiting occasionally.  Towards late summer it became increasingly difficult to keep them straight.  The cubs would sometimes intermingle and it was not uncommon for cubs to show up without their mother.  After seeing June's cubs leave her and travel over half a mile to a home to feed this did not surprise me.  Some of this year's cubs have chest markings which make them easier to identify but many look like pretty generic cubs without their mothers.  Sometimes a single cub would arrive and I was generally clueless as to whose it was until the rest of the family showed up.

On Aug 22 there were 2 cubs on the 2nd floor deck and another in the white pine next to the deck.  This made 3 cubs but they didn't seem to match any set of cubs I knew.  The two on the deck were male but they were acting pretty suspicious of each other and I began to realize they weren't siblings.  Finally Shadow came down the driveway grunting to her cubs and the female cub in the tree came down, nuzzled one of the males on the deck, and the two of them left with Shadow.  I suspect the other male belonged to Donna - although Donna was not at the field station.

In general the mothers seemed pretty relaxed with each other.  At times they seemed hyper-vigilant with males and younger females - threatening and chasing them - but at other times they seemed very nonchalant.  It was not unusual to have cubs sleeping at the base of the red pine in the yard only 12 feet from 400+ pound males feeding at the feeder - and mom nowhere in sight.  Adult bears have been known to kill cubs but at no time did I see any adult bear threaten a cub.  The adult males seemed to ignore cubs while the adult females occasionally expressed interest by approaching and extending their nose in the cub's direction.

Wild Foods

In late August there was a period when we had only sunflower seeds to feed the bears - having run out dried fruit and nuts.  The bears had plenty to eat but did not have the variety they need and they were wandering from feeder to feeder looking for something different.  I spent an afternoon picking berries for them outside the study area - chokecherries, red-osier dogwood, highbush cranberry, and mountain ash.  It is fair to say these berries were ‘snarfed' up.  Solo commandeered one of the two trays of berries I put out and cleaned up in minutes what took me hours to pick.  Trax and Keefer shared the other tray.

About this time volunteers brought up a load of American hazelnuts and pears from their tree.  The bears abandoned the sunflower seeds and the sound of hazelnut shells cracking filled the night.  The pears were appreciated as well.  As I worked in the garage the next day more than one bear crept in to pluck a pear from the bag.

In spite of the fact the round-leaf dogwood crop was poor this year they continued to be sought out - as evidenced by the number of dogwood scats at the field station that began to show up around Aug 23.

Lumpy's Limp

Lumpy is perhaps the oldest and largest male in the study area.  While he does not always weigh the most at the end of the summer (503 pounds on Sept 13) his frame seems to be the largest.  He showed up limping badly on his right rear leg at the end of the summer.  My first note of this limp is on Sept 3 as he was feeding at the window feeder.  My recollection is thinking at the time that he had been limping for some time so I do not believe his injury was hunting-related - and there was no obvious wound.  His leg did not appear to want to turn with the rest of his body and I thought perhaps it was broken.  I felt torn between wanting to give him extra food to help him heal and not wanting him to gain more weight to carry around on his bad leg.  His face looked strained and he appeared to be in a good deal of pain.  He would extend his bad leg out in front as far as he could and then hop with his other hind foot.  Every move looked painful.

By Sept 6 his limp was beginning to improve and I was amazed to find him on the second floor deck.  I watched as he headed towards the steps to come down.  He stopped and laid down at the top of the stairs for a while before beginning his descent.  He then extended his bad leg down 2 steps and hopped in the same fashion as he did on level ground.  When he reached the first floor deck he laid down again for a while before navigating the few remaining steps to the ground.

Lumpy became a regular visitor through Sept 27.  During this time he spent one night sleeping next to the far feeder with one foot in the feeder and spent part of another night sleeping on the second floor deck.  On Sept 10 his limp was better but still significant.  Although he continued to limp he began to look better - his eye (he has only one) was brighter and his coat began to shine.  It seemed he no longer was in such pain.