January 23, 2010

Black Bears Continued...

OK, I found some of the old pictures from the black bear den excursions that I mentioned in my last post. Keep in mind, this was almost 20 years ago and the photo prints have faded/degraded somewhat. Now I am the one who has faded and degraded ;)

The study bears all wore radio collars, so we were able to locate them by using a tracking antenna. Here we are, trudging through the North Woods behind one of Lynn's assistants who is holding the antenna.

Peering into 395's den after some snow had been cleared from the opening. Her den was like a small underground cave, maybe 8 feet long and a few feet deep.

Here I am entering the den - hanging upside down with two guys holding my ankles. Many people ask if it smelled bad. No, it smelled like dirt. During hibernation, bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate - and hibernation in northern Minnesota typically lasts from October until mid-April - about 6 months! Their physiology is actually quite fascinating! Most other mammals would die of dehydration or renal failure after only a week or two without water. Bears will lose approximately 25% (as much as 40% for a lactating sow) of their body weight during hibernation, but seem to retain muscle and bone mass, so it's all fat loss. They give birth and nurse their cubs during this time as well. Try doing THAT while you're"sleeping" :)

This particular bear, 395, had two cubs even though she was 21 years old at the time (that's an old bear)! For reference, Lily the Internet Sensation is 3. We got the cubs out first and promptly got them inside our jackets to keep them warm. Cubs are typically born in mid to late January and are practically hairless, weighing less than a pound. This excursion took place in mid-March, so the cubs were approximately 2 month old fuzz balls and weighed about 3 pounds.

Cute little buggers, aren't they? Their eyes were just starting to open. Check out the claws on the front feet!

And the little pink feet on the hind legs!

After the cubs were taken care of, it was time to get Mama out of the den. Since she was sedated throughout this entire process, she was limp as a rag, weighed about as much as the average human male, and you already saw the den opening. Not an easy job!

Once she was out, she got a thorough check up: weighed, blood drawn, breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and measured, pads of feet checked (they shed the outer layers of skin during hibernation), brand spankin' new radio collar put on, etc.

The sedative makes their eyes twitch back and forth - kind of eerie. Soon our job was finished and it was time to carefully put the bear family back where they belonged and say goodbye. The entire experience was one of the most fulfilling of my life and gave me a new found appreciation for black bears. Thanks for letting me tag along, Lynn!

Dr. Lynn Rogers, March 1991

January 22, 2010

Black Bears

In March of 1991, I had the privilege of visiting (and entering) occupied black bear dens in northeastern Minnesota with a bear researcher named Dr. Lynn Rogers. It was an awesome experience: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, and good ol' fashioned bushwacking through thigh deep snow just to get to the dens. The study bears all had radio collars, and Lynn's assistants had a tracking antena, which is how we knew where they were.

I remember one of the dens being in a small hidden cave in the ground somewhere between Ely and Isabella. Two guys held me by my ankles while I hung awkwardly upside down, wiggling between rocks to get into the den. The bear was called "395" and she had 2 cubs, a male and female, both of which weighed about 3 pounds (cubs are typically born in January and weigh less than a pound at birth). Their front feet were about the size of silver dollars and their claws made them stick to my ragg wool sweater like velcro. We got the cubs out first and put them inside our coats to keep them warm while we wrestled Mama Bear out of the den (she was sedated through this entire process). She was weighed, had blood drawn, had a breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and canines measured, checked to see if she had shed the pads of her feet, changed out her radio collar, etc. The cubs were also weighed, gender and identifying features noted, pictures taken. They bawled at first, sounding almost like human infants. Little pink feet and noses, their eyes were just starting to open (I really need to go find the pictures). Finally, Mama was gently lowered back into her den and her cubs were returned to her.

Dr. Rogers is still doing his black bear research in the Ely area, and this winter his team installed a camera into one of the bear dens. Late this morning, Lily the Black Bear gave birth to her first cub. You can watch it here:

January 18, 2010

Winter Blues

OK, so winter isn't my favorite time of year for running. I don't like running on ice or in sub-zero temps, and the hamster wheel drives me stone. cold. insane. I've chosen to do more short runs on an indoor track while upping my barefoot miles, strength training, and I keep meaning to get to a yoga class but haven't pulled it off yet. I've also been working on getting my shoulders fixed up (tendinitis on both sides from teaching 6 theraband classes per week at a nursing home). That's finally healing up, and I just started more aggressive upper body strength exercises this past week :)

Speaking of the nursing home, one of my 98 year old exercise participants told me last week what he wants engraved on his headstone when his last day finally arrives:

"The pills didn't work."

The more I think about that one, the funnier it gets.

Still unsure of my 2010 race plans - there will probably be more "seat of the pants" last minute decisions and/or fat ass runs this year, mainly because of financial concerns and my current lack of training miles (haven't done a double digit mile run since Surf the Murph).

This weekend I will attend either the MDRA annual meeting to score some free pizza, or the NSCA Winter Strength & Conditioning Clinic to get some CEU's for one of my certifications.

Hope to get out on the trails soon!