Using trail cameras to research bears allows us to gain an up close and personal view of their day to day lives without the impact of constantly being viewed. They allow bears to be bears, which is the stuff we find really interesting to capture on film! This year was my first full field season using Bushnell HD video camera traps and, despite some design flaws, I don’t think I’ll be switching back to still image capture in the future.
Did everyone see the GoPro footage of a grizzly bear in the news recently? It was captured by my colleague John Kitchin and features a young grizzly bear picking up a GoPro camera in its mouth and examining it while its mother and sibling watch on. It is an excellent example of their handiness, mental capacity and inquisitive nature. I am actually in the video as John was interviewing me on the bridge when it happened.
There has been lots of action on the camera traps over the past few days. The mating season has officially began, and we’ve seen two female grizzly bears pursuing one male out in the estuary. The mating season is always an exciting time, both for viewing bear behaviour and for collecting data! I’ve been out daily to my camera traps and have been taking scent samples when I’ve found evidence that scent marking has taken place. Examining the chemical constituents of bear scent will allow use to understand the chemical messages passed on through this behaviour. Can grizzly bears recognise individuals through scent? Can bears identify age and sex through scent? What about the estrus state of females? These are all questions we hope to address through this project.
Today I went out to check the camera traps that I set up yesterday and scope out some locations for future monitoring. As I approached the first trail on which I have a camera, I stopped the vehicle and called out “Hey bear!” a few times. To stay safe in bear country it is always a good idea to make noise! It sounds like unusual behaviour around wildlife, but creating noise and letting bears know that you are in the area reduces your chances of spooking a bear and gives them enough time to move away if they wish. Calling out to bears in a low, calm voice also distinguishes us from hunters, who would want to remain unseen and unheard. Once I’d called out a few times and listened for any response (i.e. fallen branches breaking, indicating movement), I was just about to leave the vehicle when something caught my eye on the opposite side of the trail. It was a subadult grizzly bear who had been sleeping and had awoken at the sound of my voice and/or the vehicle noise. I watched as it stood up and very slowly and calmly started to move further up the hillside to a slightly higher vantage point, where it then lay down again. One thing that struck me was the silence as it moved up the hillside, no branches broke under its feet at all. Bears can be very silent or very noisy as they move through the forest, depending on the situation. I’ve even heard accounts of bears purposefully stepping on fallen branches to make noise and presumably make themselves sound like a larger bear. After a moment or so I noticed that the bear yawned, which may have been because it had just woken up, but can also be a visual signal of anxiety, so I decided to move on to my next trail. I will check that camera trap tomorrow.
Throughout my years in Glendale Cove, I have tried to keep track of the different individuals that we regularly see. This particular subadult looked familiar, and could possibly be a young bear named Peanut. Peanut was the first cub that Lenore (see previous posts) raised to independence. He was born in 2009 and split from Lenore in 2011. Peanut is quite a special bear to us at Knight Inlet Lodge, as we saw him and Lenore almost every day from 2009-2011 and were lucky enough to watch as he grew in size and personality towards independence. At 3 years old, he left the area (typical behaviour for young male bears) and we lost track of him. Bears can change so much in their appearance between seasons and over years, particularly at this young ‘teenage’ age before they reach maturity. So I’m hoping to see more of this bear over the next few days, and try to reach an opinion on whether it could be Peanut.
I also spent a few hours today touring the estuary in a small boat, looking for bears. I managed to see one young adult female grizzly bear. Surprisingly she also looked familiar. I suspect she could be a bear that we last saw in 2009/2010 named Bonnie. If it is her she would be approximately 10 years old now and, as she was not accompanied by cubs, could be in breeding condition. The breeding season for grizzly bears is usually mid May – mid July, so we may have some males in the area soon as they roam around at this time of year, looking for estrus females.
Hoping to see both bears again over the next few days and take some clearer photographs to make a more positive ID.