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A recent column covering some of the signs of (gulp!) the end of summer was, I’m afraid, incomplete. I had listed all the usual subtleties of the waning season and there’s no point in going over them again – even those who didn’t want to see them two weeks ago can’t ignore them now!
I did miss one ubiquitous element of fall’s approach that I should have mentioned. I knew it well and remembered it fondly for decades, but of course one’s memory does tend to slip with the passing years.
This week I had a chance to relive the very first time I encountered this harbinger of autumn when, in the early 1970s, I woke up to the same undeniable evidence that greeted me at dawn just a few days ago.
It is my habit to rise before sunrise each day, brew a pot of tea and sit on the deck to watch the wild world wake up.
Well, while lounging in my wooden rocker and enjoying my hot tea and the cool breeze, I noticed something decidedly different 100 yards away on the north side of the garden. Yesterday morning there were two busy, buzzing hives covered with drowsy honey bees warming their wings in preparation for another long day of gathering nectar. The hives are stacked five sections high and are colored red and yellow (so the bees know which one is home). They’ve been out there all summer, not doing well because of the heavy early rains we had this spring but still – bees don’t give up!
This day, however, something was definitely different and even through the morning mist and the steam wafting above my cup I could tell that something was amiss.
Both hives were dismantled, broken and scattered across the field. The concrete blocks that kept them off the ground were overturned and moved 20 feet away, and the shepherd’s pole that held a plastic gallon jug of sugar water (provided to feed the bees on off days) was bent to the ground – the jug empty and smashed.
I’d had trouble with raccoons all spring and summer, but I knew this was something more, something bigger and something more exciting. In a moment of déjà vu I remembered and realized – we had a bear in our midst! A bee-keeping friend I knew 40 years ago had the same thing happen to him in late August. I didn’t even have to get out of my rocker to know what had happened.
I really shouldn’t be surprised that we (and others) are having bear problems this year. According to recent reports there were 218 nuisance black bear complaints in Maine in 2011, but by the end of June this year there were already over 450 complaints!
There is a lot to consider here (like why, if there are so many black bears out there, we haven’t re-instituted the spring season that was shut down in 1980 because biologists were worried that we might not have enough bears!), but the bottom line is that bears begin to eat a lot in fall and will continue to do so until the sows and cubs begin entering their dens in mid-October. The larger males may continue foraging well into November.
The official warnings are already out for landowners to stop feeding birds and other critters because where there’s food there will be bears, and bears are not picky eaters; they will happily destroy a bee hive, bird feeder, trash can, cooler or shed in their quest for caloric intake.
Some reports say that wild berries are few this year, although my freezer is full of wild blueberries and raspberries picked from secret woodland stashes. Acorns have been dropping for weeks, and bears will eat copious amounts of such mast including beechnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts and anything else that can be eaten by the bushel and digested in a hurry.
Plus, orchardists seem to be having a banner year. I saw some stands that were open for business in mid-August, offering big, fat, juicy apples that I hadn’t expected to see till mid-September. No one mentioned bear damage when I went out to pick my first bag of 2012 McIntoshes, but the odds are that someone, somewhere is going to have issues with orchard-raiding bruins at some point in the near future.
The quandary now is what to do about “our” bear. The bee-keeper isn’t fond of the idea of feeding a bear all fall and wants “something” done about it. It is bear hunting season (and what better bait than natural honey?), and I do have a valid trapping license, but all told I’d rather just continue on knowing there’s a bear out there, look for it every chance I get and just enjoy the idea of having some serious wildlife living (albeit depredating) in my back yard.
The bear did come up on the porch and destroy my sunflower seed feeder (I had just filled it!) but, to be honest, the squirrels had already done a more thorough job. It was hanging by a thread, cracked and twisted by hungry grays and a raccoon or two that contributed their know-how earlier this spring, so it’s not as if I’m going broke buying new feeders.
I suppose the issue will come down to the amount of damage the bear does going forward. If he comes back too often and destroys too many hives (and devours too many of those expensive bees) we may have to take drastic action.
Right now, however, I’m enjoying the thrill of knowing there’s a bear out there, that it came on my porch and mangled the bee hives just 100 yards from my rocker. Though I have my share of bear meat in the freezer and love every morsel of it, something about THIS bear seems very special.
Odds are he was just passing through and is well on his way to creating trouble (and excitement) somewhere far from here. I hope so! Nothing spices up the day like knowing a bear was rooting around on the front porch. Maybe you will be the next one to find out!
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