Bears are Kind of Like Squirrels

Black bear and cub in YosemiteOur apartment complex is infested with squirrels. But we’ve learned to coexist. We all fill the dumpster with leftover food, like most Americans, and, in exchange, they don’t ambush our kids on the playground, or drop sharpened acorns on our heads from their nests.

One of our lord of the flies neighbor kids made a bow and arrow for squirrel hunting, but this hasn’t threatened our peaceful relationship.

Similar rules of engagement seem to apply when interacting with bears in the Yosemite valley and other high traffic national parks. On my last trip to half dome, I found this black bear mother and cub, minding their own business, not wreaking havoc or killing anyone. Like squirrels, these park bears thrive on our leftover trash, and they rarely bite the hand that feeds them.

But what about the wild, undomesticated bears? I know I sound pretty macho sometimes, but when camping with the kids, and not in KOAs, parks, or campgrounds, I tend to get a little nervous and super protective of my kin. Camping with the kids in the forest, I’m awake half the night listening for crunching leaves and snapping twigs, any signs of predators. So I’ve been doing some research, starting with bears, to ease my mind a bit.

Although bears can peel open a car like a can of sardines (warning from the NPS), dangerous encounters with humans are uncommon. There has never been a fatal bear attack in Yosemite (NPS – Yosemite), and fewer than ten have ever been reported in Yellowstone (NPS – Yellowstone), though two occurred in 2011 alone.

Wikipedia keeps a list of fatal bear attacks in North America

Some people misconstrue the numbers and suggest that we’re more likely to be struck by lightening, twice, than to be part of what the Discovery Channel calls a bear feeding frenzy. Statistically, it depends.

Like professor Harold Hill, you’ve got to know the territory. In most of the US it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever meet a bear who feels threatened enough destroy you. Parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska are exceptions, especially if you’re baiting the bears with steak and salmon.

Like Ranger Smith of Jellystone Park, or Christopher Robbins of the hundred acre wood, you’ve also got to know the bear. Both black and brown (i.e., Grizzly) bears will take a picnic basket over acorns. But, unlike squirrels, they’ll sneak into camp, even into your tent, to get it.

So, outside the Rocky Mountain wilderness, do you need a shotgun, bear horn, ferocious dog, and can of pepper spray when you take the kids tent camping? Probably not, as long as you don’t use a jar of honey for a pillow. But, whatever helps you sleep at night.

Ticks and Kids

minnesota dog tickSpring has finally arrived in Minnesota, and so have the ticks. Last week was our first experience with ticks and kids, an unfortunate combination.

As long as bugs keep to themselves I don’t usually mind having them around. I can tolerate the pesky ones that sting and bite in self defense, and I’ve even made peace with mosquitoes. But any creature that takes up semi-permanent residence on my person is an enemy. And anything that goes after my kids will face my wrath. Sitting in church on Sunday I nearly swore out loud when I found a tick clamped to my daughter’s neck.

We had gone hiking, to get some bald eagle photos, on Friday morning. So this tick had been stalking us for over 48 hours! It gets worse. Sunday afternoon I took the baby (18 mos old) for a walk. When we got home, while twisting her hair into a mohawk, I found a tick on her neck!

We finally concluded that the pair had been waiting on my older daughter’s jacket, which she had worn on our hike, and which my youngest had worn on our walk. Lesson learned – ticks are patient, persistent, and they’re gross.

Here are a few more facts I recently learned:

  • They typically hatch in the summer/fall, live three years, and are dormant through the winter. It’s not until the second and third years, or phases, that they’re most annoying and most dangerous.
  • Deer ticks (aka, blacklegged ticks) carry lyme disease and they’re not all deer ticks. The ones we found, in the photo above, were dog ticks.
  • They don’t jump or fly. Instead, they sit and wait, usually in thicker grass and brush, and grab on when someone comes by.
  • Depending on the humidity (the higher the better, for them) they can survive indoors. The rugged ones can also survive a wash cycle, but none will make it through an hour in the dryer.
  • Good methods of prevention are keeping the kids on the trail, putting them in long pants, and doing a thorough check after being out. Tweezers are the best method of removal.

There’s a variety of information on the web, but you’ll find everything you ever didn’t want to know in this document: www.ct.gov/…/tickhandbook.pdf

Minnesota’s Largest Aquatic Carnivore

minnesota river otter

What I thought was a sea lion, escaped from the Minnesota zoo, was actually a close relative, a river otter, cruising down the Mississippi River in Red Wing, MN. Apparently, river otter are common in northern MN, but have only recently ventured south beyond the frothy Minneapolis waters of the Mississippi.

More from the MN DNR

Some great photos, taken in northern MN, by Mark Udstrand

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

bald eagle at dusk

H. leucocephalus fun facts: biggest bird, next to the condor, and that monstrous eagle on Rescuers Down Under; nearly extirpated by DDT, which was ingested by fish, which were ingested by the eagle; mates for life, monogamously, so they say; not really bald.