Bears and Birds

Our mornings begin in much the same way: finding our study site via GPS, putting on our rain gear, and taking our first steps into the woods to start the study site. Although the routine is the same each morning, the day itself is as varied as the leaves on the trees. Some study sites are better than others, with less hills or having more visibility (or, huckleberries!). Some days are pretty ridiculous, and can include crossing thigh-high swift rivers or climbing multiple cliffs (it's never just one). The wildlife is always busy, and we are constantly being yelled at by the squirrels or sung to by the birds. This particular day, Bobbie and I began our morning at 7am by navigating down a steep hill full of young saplings. Upon starting our first point and counting snowshoe hare pellets, we heard a loud CRACK on the hill above us. Bobbie and I both have a very specific look we give each other when we think there is a critter in the woods that is taller than us. In this case, the noise indicated that it was a lot bigger than us! Some yelling on our parts rendered the forest silent once more.

Moving on to our next point, which was still downhill, we were minding our own business when we heard another CRACK! This time, however, the noise was below us. Moose are the lumberjacks of the mountains, and we most likely had not one, but two moose in the area. Moose aren't very smart, and this danger is compounded when you have a mama moose who thinks you want to eat her baby moose (or whatever they think when they see us). Moose have been known to charge trains, and although this doesn't end well for the moose, it wouldn't end well for us either if a moose charged! According to Bobbie, tree-climbing is your only option, and since we were in a sapling stand, yelling again was the next best one!

After the squirrels had determined that there were two crazy women in the forest, we continued working until I head a strange sound. It was a sort of vocalization that I'd never heard before- a keening I couldn't place as a bird or a machine. Bobbie said that it was most likely a bear cub crying for it's mom. So, not only were there one, maybe two moose in the area, but also a bear (black or grizzly, we didn't know) with a whiny cub.


Armed with bear spray and good company, Bobbie and I continued the day as usual, duly noticing the fresh pile of bear scat and the shadows moving around in the trees. It was a pretty rough morning, with the slope of the hill being very steep and the fallen trees providing ample opportunity to faceplant. We were definitely working in a bear's home range, as there were multiple stumps and fallen trees ripped open by bears to lick up the ants (some of those fallen trees were big, too!).

The day continued without event until we got to the last few points of the day. We get to each point using a compass bearing and counting distance by footsteps. This has been cause for me to look like Captain Jack Sparrow wandering around in the woods, holding my compass and trying to stay on the right bearing, while counting steps, without falling down. I must admit that I was a little more tired than Bobbie, whose nickname is Crazy Hiker Woman, mainly because I have an old knee injury that was wanting to act up on the hills. As Bobbie and I walked into an opening (looking for huckleberries as we went), all of a sudden we were completely and totally surrounded by a large group of nuthatches and chickadees! The fledgling group immediately took interest in us and fluttered around overhead, coming within five feet above us and leaning in to get a good look at us. They flitted and sang and talked amongst one another as we stood there in awe, listening, grinning, and managing to snap a few good photos. One nuthatch flew into a tree above me and landed on a branch right next to me. I could almost touch him. Nuthatches and chickadees are social birds and obviously get along quite well. There were easily two dozen or more birds chattering in the trees above us, most likely wondering what the colorful two-legged creatures were. Insatiable curiosity in both parties lasted for almost five minutes until the little birds decided it was time to move on to the next adventure of the day. We, too, had to continue on our adventure in order to get back to the truck. All the fatigue of the day left my bones after the visit with the birds, and I am so appreciative to have had such a surreal experience- nothing rivals the life that exists in nature. We left the birds to their boisterous chirping, counting our steps and looking for bears, smiling the whole way home.