Close encounters of the wild kind

A black bear located where I normally like to see them: far away. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

A black bear located where I normally like to see them: far away. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

August 7, 2015 | by Diana Bizecki Robson | 0 Comments

This summer, I spent a good chunk of my field trips to the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) fescue prairie preserves being bear-anoid. Although I saw several black bears last year, they were all solitary and a fair distance away. Not so this summer!

On my second field day in late June I was examining a plot for pollinators. When I looked up there was a mother bear with her two cubs, down in the valley below me. Nuts! They apparently hadn’t notice me high up on the hill. I began moving slowly away from them and making noise in hopes that would be enough to warn the bears of my presence. The mother paused, looked at me like I was crazy and ran into the bushes with her young ones behind her. I was relieved, figuring it would be my only bear encounter of the trip.

Bumblebees just loved visiting these stemless thistles. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

Bumblebees just loved visiting these stemless thistles. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

Once again, this was not so.

That afternoon I was busy photographing a bumblebee on a thistle. I turned around, and there was a small bear cub digging away about 10 metres down the slope from me. Again I turned myself into a noisemaker and the cub took off.

But where was mom? Down in the valley, I hoped, rather than in between me and her offspring. I beat a hasty retreat.

The black bears in the areas were digging for beetles on the hillside where my research plots are located. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

The black bears in the areas were digging for beetles on the hillside where my research plots are located. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

One thing that became very clear to me that day was that despite their ungainly appearance, bears can sure be stealthy when they want to be. As I walked back to the field station I noticed many signs that the bears were foraging extensively in the preserve. I found bear scat, overturned rocks and turf and hair caught on a barbed wire fence.

The next day I was determined to make plenty of noise to alert the bears to my presence. I tooted on my whistle and loudly sang nature-inspired show tunes from Les Misérables ("Do you hear the warblers sing, singing the song of hungry birds. It is the music of a genus that likes to eat lots of worms!"), vaguely hoping I wasn't inspiring any forest revolutionaries.

The noise must have paid off, as I didn't see any bears for the remainder of my field work. But I was still jumpy.

The great grey owl that startled me. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

The great grey owl that startled me. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

At one point I felt something poke my back. I jumped five feet in the air from fright. Was it a bear? No, it was just the walking stick that I had propped up on a fence.

Then something zoomed by my face. I screeched like a three-year-old watching a scary movie. It was only a great grey owl, which stared at me like I was crazy. Or maybe that’s just the way it always looks. Clearly I was a little high strung.

Bees have a good reason to be wary of crab spiders. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

Bees have a good reason to be wary of crab spiders. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

It was mating season for these spectacular blister beetles. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

It was mating season for these spectacular blister beetles. (Photo by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson)

Fortunately I encountered many other less frightening creatures throughout the rest of my field trips (at least less frightening to me although I’m sure the bee that I saw getting eaten by a crab spider would disagree). A grasshopper that wanted to lick me, a great grey owl, two racing white-tailed deer and some amorous blister beetles, along with many cool pollinators, made my field work a feast for the eyes! And quite frankly, all these close encounters are exactly what makes my field days a mini adventure each of its own.

For more information about encountering wildlife and how you can be bear smart, visit the Government of Manitoba's website.

About the Author

Diana Bizecki Robson is the curator of botany at The Manitoba Museum.

Read more about Diana Bizecki Robson.

More by this author »