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February 1, 2013

Bears losing sleep over crazy winter

The Daily Star

---- — Isn’t this the strangest weather you’ve ever seen?

A week ago, I woke up and it was 15-below zero. Thursday morning, it was 38 above. It’s no wonder the bears are confused.

The Jan. 11 issue of the New York Outdoor News includes a photo, taken by Bill Marchel, of a black bear sleeping in a pile of leaves right out in the open. That’s not normal. Bears are supposed to find a den someplace and hibernate for the winter.

I thought it was really strange until I got an email from a friend the other day. Al Nichols of Laurens was running his cat hounds last week on Bramley Mountain near Delhi. It wasn’t long before the dogs began to howl and the chase was on.

The bobcat was somewhere on the side of the mountain when the dogs struck its track. When they started barking, the cat decided to make a run for safety. Before long, the elusive feline came up over the ridge and ran right past Al. The dogs were in hot pursuit and the trio disappeared down over the sunny side of the hill.

All of a sudden, the dogs went from barking to howling. Al assumed they had treed the cat or cornered it in some ledges. When he got down to the noisy dogs, however, they were in a frenzy barking at a big black bear that was sound asleep in a bunch of blackberry briars.

During all the commotion, the bear finally raised his head a little. Al didn’t want to get too close or disturb the bear anymore and was finally able to call off the dogs. Before long, the dogs picked up the cat’s tracks again and disappeared down over the mountain.

The following day, Al decided to go back and get a picture of the bear. The bear was gone when he got there, but he was able to take a picture of its nest. The bear had gathered a large quantity of blackberry briars and curled up in them next to a blown over tree. The nest was about a foot-and-a-half deep and better than three feet across.

This was probably a big, old boar bear. Al followed the tracks for a few minutes up the mountain toward some ledges, where he may have found a more peaceful place to finish his winter nap. The front footprint of the bear was about six inches across.

It seems strange to me that there were sightings of two different bears hibernating above ground in just the last couple of weeks. My old buddy John in the Adirondacks once told me that a male bear will sometimes wake up from hibernation and wander around a little, but I’ve never see any sign of it.

I did follow tracks of a big bear one snowy day during the hunting season for a mile or so. He was heading toward some ledges on Long Pond Ridge in late November. I assumed that with the foot or so of snow on the ground, he was looking for a den.

But two bears out in January I think is quite a rarity. I just hope that sooner or later, the weather will get straightened out so I can go skiing and these bears can get a decent winter’s sleep.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at