Black Bear

It is unusual for anyone to get a clear and distinct look at a Black Bear in the wild northerly forests of New York State where even local conservationists can only catch a rare glimpse of this superb animal. Even though I had been told that bears were somewhere in the Preserve, my hopes of seeing one in those next two weeks were very low.

The black bear crossing the river.

Despite the odds, my strong desire kept the flame of hope alive. However, I knew that even if I did manage to get close to a bear it could be dangerous as they have been known to attack and even kill people under certain circumstances.

I arrived at the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve a week before the rest of the British group. I did this to get to know the area, introduce myself thoroughly to our American hosts and to organize the forthcoming conservation programme. It was a conservation project organized between the once BTCV and the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve. My job was to prepare the logistics such as accommodation, food and equipment; to organize workloads as well as leading the group in the field.

We stayed in wooden cabins named Beaver Camp, on the side of Lincoln Pond in the middle of the dense woodlands of deciduous, conifer and hemlock trees. As we were working deep in the forest I longed to see a good variety of the Preserves' wild animals.

We walked for many relaxing hours around the stunningly beautiful Lincoln Pond, Lake Myosotis and on the endless hillside tracks through the trees. We saw the best of the North American deciduous forests in autumn where the leaves were still on the trees, but had changed to a kaleidoscope of reds, browns, oranges and yellows.

During these reflective moments I thought about the animals that once lived here years ago, such as Mousse, Brown Bear and Wolf. Both the omnivorous Brown and Black Bears are hunters, scavengers and foragers, just like humans were before agricultural practices led to civilization. They use their extremely powerful claws to dig and rip up roots and their carnivorous teeth to tear flesh. Of the two bulky predators the Black Bear is a little smaller and is reputed to be less aggressive.

After the first week's work we relaxed at the weekend when some of the group hired a car and drove towards Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. The rest of us chose to stay at the Preserve and enjoy this spectacular setting. It was at this time that I struck 'wildlife gold'.

It was the Sunday afternoon when I sojourned to a fork in the river. Nearby beavers had built a dam. It had just stopped raining and the sun was shining bright yellow with only a few silvery white clouds interspersed in the big blue sky. I was studying a fabulous Belted Kingfisher that was diving in and out of the waters, and photographing the cheeky Chipmunks and mischievous Squirrels.

Then all of a sudden, and without any warning whatsoever, it faced me. The huge Black Bear had reared up to about 8 feet. Fortunately it was a few yards away on the other side of the rocky, fast flowing river. As soon as it spotted me it turned around and ran into the undergrowth. It was my own rare glimpse, and the last I expected to see of it.

Then, to my surprise, it started crossing the river. My heart pounded. This was a terrific sight, a Black Bear, the king of the forests - and in the open! Yet I also remembered that a fully grown bear of this size can kill people, if they choose to attack. Whatever the danger, this was the moment I had yearned for.

Would it now race towards me or along the river to the north? If it did run in my direction, why would it then not attack? Both Brown and Black Bears are as fast as they are big, and I knew I was stranded. Fortunately this individual didn't want to attack, but then again, it did not want human company either.

Only when it reached my side of the river did it scarper into the dense forest cover. I must admit that this was a relief, even though I was on a high due to my emotional systems pumping all sorts of natural drugs around my body.

I returned to Beaver Camp like an excited schoolboy to tell everyone my golden news, my fantastic scoop. Unfortunately nobody was there, so I had to contain myself until some conservationists turned up. It was my chance to expel all of my feverish excitement as I did in my youth. I exclaimed, "You will never guess what I have just seen" smiling like a crocodile. Yet secretly I hoped for an incorrect answer, so that no-one could steal my thunder. Fortunately they couldn't guess what I had encountered, so then I blurted out with complete victory "A Black Bear!" Everyone was genuinely 'gobsmacked'. Then, and only then, I released all of the secretive details that were heavily imprisoned below my armoured surface.

It may be that this is how some British conservationists behave. Perhaps many of us feel as though we should subdue our natural excitements by maintaining a stiff upper lip and giving a more stoical and factual account of such events.

But what happened to the Bear? I do not know exactly, but I suspect that it ran to a safe and secluded hide out. At the time when it crossed the river, the bear could have easily thought "Oh bother, not another one of those human beings. They are so troublesome, especially when they creep up and spy on me - poking their noses into my business whenever it suits them. If I crept up and spied on them, they would soon think that I am a stalker and I would be in deep trouble, one way or another.

Mmm . . . .

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 © Andy Mydellton