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Bear Update:

First movements to winter den



Bear Researcher, Whistler Black Bear Project

At the base of a steep, timbered rock outcrop an immature female black bear stands. Her small paws disappear beneath the powder snowfall. Her slender dog-like snout and small narrow head sway slowly from one direction to the next, nostrils flaring as if to activate her internal GPS navigation.

She is confident in her path of travel, having traversed this ridge many times with her mother and brother the year before. These dark, timbered and shallow-soiled forests are home to many bee and wasp nests.

She stops to itch an irritating twinge in her left ear. Looking into the dense forest of small diameter trees she remembers her brother tugging and tearing at the shallow root masses, the explosion of bees, and the reward of honeycomb and larva. She remembers the way both of them would dance around, biting at the attacking colonial hymenopterans defending the sweet smells of honeycomb and larva.

She arcs her nose – a bobcat’s been here. Nosing through the snow and conifer needles she can detect the small storage caches of conifer seeds stockpiled by squirrels for winter. Not really to her liking.

She stands and shakes off light snowfall accumulation from her shoulders. The rich brown guard hairs glisten as the icing disperses. Her coat rolls from one side to another – the thickness of the under fur is there and protective, but the fat is not. She stands and feels the mere 42 kilograms – what she weighed as an 11-month old cub entering the den last fall with her mother and brother. Her 23-month old body now is underweight and she knows it. But what else can she do? She has travelled and foraged as much of her mother’s territory as she dars. She crossed boundaries here and there and in doing so encountered many other bears – much bigger than her.

She takes the 17 kg she has gained since spring, minus the 2 kg she lost during September and October (after summer berries), and continues her ascent through the sub alpine forest.

The remaining clouds part as the female yearling reaches the top of the ridge. The snow is deeper, to nearly 45 cm. She continues just inside the forest edge where snow has barely covered the freezing ground. Suddenly she stops. A food scent erupts. She back-tracks and walks in a circle, allowing her nose to lead. She scrapes away surface snow with her right forepaw and discovers an exposed root. Root and ground have been torn up. She pushes her nose into the ground. The scent of honeycomb floods her nostrils.

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