Tag Archives: winter

Between Sleeping & Waking: Female Black Bears in Wintertime

“Ever since I was young, the story about bears was always the same. Bears hibernated all winter long, usually in a cave and would emerge in the spring. I have since learned a bit more about the environment and ecology and have found that there is much more to the story,” said State Parks staff member Patty Wakefield-Brown.

Hibernation occurs when an animal’s body temperature drops and its breathing and heart rate slows, thus lowering the metabolism of the animal, and conserving the animal’s energy. Bears are not “true” hibernators. They sleep for long periods of time but are easily awakened and, if the winter is mild, bears may wake to eat.   This behavior is termed torpor, a state or inactivity achieved primarily by a greatly lowered (reduced) body temperature for hours, days or months. Only woodchucks, jumping mice, and cave bats are the “true” mammal hibernators in New York State.

Taking a long winter nap when food is scarce and weather is bad is a great adaptation for bears. While in a state of torpor, a bear will not urinate or defecate in the den.  Their bodies absorb the urea and turn it into protein, which is needed during the long winter months.

During hibernation, female bears (sows) give birth and nurse their cubs.  Females have delayed implantation, meaning that the egg is not implanted in the uterus unless the female bear has the energy, weight, or does not have the physical requirements to provide for the cubs during pregnancy and just after birth, the egg is released and there is no pregnancy. That is amazing.  While in the den, sows wake up in January or February to give birth, generally 2-3 cubs. Black bear cubs are born altricial, which means helpless, hairless, and blind. Cubs remain with the mother for a year and a half or more before they disperse or she forces them out.

Bears generally emerge from their dens in late March and early April and are primarily interested in two things; eating and reproducing.  Mating occurs in May or June.  Males and females are sexually mature at around four years of age.

With the human population increasing and more and more land being transformed to accommodate this increase, the natural habitat of the American Black Bear is being minimized. Because of this, there is a greater likelihood that a person will have an encounter with a black bear. Wildlife biologists collar and collect data from bears to learn about their populations, home range, health and preferences for den sites. Like all wildlife that we share our environments with, keeping track of this data helps to create local and regional management plans.

Collecting Data on Sows and Cubs

“While a college student, I took a two- semester black bear management class. We worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to assist in the creation of a database regarding den site criteria. We were able to accompany DEC staff on bear den visits in mid-March and collect data about the bears. The bears were outfitted with telemetry collars which enabled them to be found when they were in their dens during the winter months,” noted Patty Wakefield-Brown.

‘Photo 1’ below shows the DEC staff gently removing the tranquilized bear from the den; the entrance was on quite a steep slope.

Photo 1 resize in Publisher
Photo 1, by Patty Wakefield-Brown.

The bear was a female that had been previously collared. The purpose of the den visit was to change collars and to collect data including weight, visual appearance, take blood samples and note whether any cubs are present.  DEC staff also inspected the den, described its location, (i.e. old log, brush/thicket, hillside, under porch, etc.),  took measurements of the den’s  interior, what materials den was comprised of, and the amount of cover,  and noted the den’s proximity to humans, houses, and roads.

“On this day there were three cubs in the den with the sow.  As the mom was being ‘processed’ we got to hold the cubs to determine their age.  The way to age young cubs was to measure the hair on the tops of their heads (between their ears) or inside their ears, from the tragus to the tip of the ear (Photo 2) (Bridges et al. 2002).  When all the data was collected, the mom was placed back into the den comfortably with her cubs (Photo 3)” recalled Patty Wakefield-Brown.

Photo 4
Photo 3, by Patty Wakefield-Brown.

When bears disperse, they sometimes wander into populated areas creating human-bear conflicts. That was the case in October 2010, when a young male bear wander onto the Rochester Institute for Technology campus in Henrietta. The DEC natural resource managers ‘captured’ the bear and took him to a facility to collect data on him before he was relocated (Photo 4). The bear management class was invited to observe the event.   After the bear was tranquilized, a patch was put over the bear’s eyes, so that they don’t dry out (the bears don’t blink when anesthetized).  Blood samples were taken, ears were are tagged and a tooth was taken to age the bear, also the inside of the lip was ‘tattooed’ with a number and a radio collar was placed on the bear (Photo 5).The process was done very methodically and quickly. The bear was then released into the Hi-Tor Wilderness Area.

Winter slumbering bears are an essential part of the the ecosystems found in New York State parks.  They are part of the splendor of the natural world that mesmerizes us and holds us captive in its magic.  If you are lucky, you might get a chance to capture some of that magic if you see a bear in a New York State Park next summer.

Post and photos by Patty Wakefield-Brown, OPRHP.

Reference:

Bridges, A.S., Olfenbuttel, C Vaughan, M.R. (2002). A Mixed Regression Model to Estimate Neonatal Black Bear Cub Age . Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 4.

First Day Fun in NYS Parks

Resolutions

Get outside to a State Park this New Year’s Day! New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) is putting RECREATION at the top of this year’s New Year’s resolution list with First Day Hikes.  Now in its 5th year, First Day Hikes are a great way to help you get your New Year’s resolutions started on the right foot.

On January 1st State Parks is hosting 41 First Day Hikes in parks and historic sites across the state from eastern Long Island and Staten Island, to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, and much more.  Hikes range from accessible, level walks; a leisurely stroll across the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, explorations of historic landscapes or quiet forest; dog-friendly rambles, mountain hikes, family-orientated activities and more.  If there is snow, bring your skis or some parks have snowshoes you can borrow.

During your hike you’ll be able to meet new people, see new places, spend time with family and friends, get a bit of exercise, and enjoy time outdoors.  Could there be a better way to spend the first day of 2016?

Remember to dress in warm layers, wear appropriate footwear, and bring water and a snack for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.

Remember your camera and please share your photos on State Parks’s Facebook Page!

Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration guidelines.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Photos by OPRHP.

 

Flitting Crystals

“Snow”

by William Cullen Bryant

Here delicate snow-stars, out of the cloud,
Come floating down in airy play,
Like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd
That whiten by night the Milky Way.

Snow is that magical precipitation that turns our stark winter landscape into a winter wonderland; gives school children joy at the possibility of a day off – SNOW DAY; and gives commuters white knuckles as they navigate home on slippery roads.  Snow is what we expect to see each winter here in New York State.  But what is snow?  How is it formed?  Is it true that no two flakes are the same?

Snow will form in clouds between the temperatures of -39˚F and 32˚F.  Clouds are mostly filled with tiny water droplets, tiny meaning that thousands can fit in a period.  Microscopic dust and salt particles from the land and sea are also found in clouds.

As the dust and salt cool in a cloud, they attract the tiny water droplets which stick and freeze to the particles – beginingthe formation of a snow flake (or the scientific term snow crystal).  These tiny snowflakes grow by collecting more water molecules.  When they get too heavy to be in the cloud they start to fall to the ground.  As they fall, they bump into other snowflakes causing pieces (tiny crystals) of the snowflake to break off which become new snow flakes.  The humidity and temperature inside the clouds will determine which type of snowflake is formed.  If the air is moist and warm (25o-32o F) large flakes will form.  If it is cold and the cloud has little moisture, the snow that forms resembles tiny columns.  Figure 1 illustrates how different types of snowflakes form in different cloud conditions.

Figure 1. Snowflake shapes at different temperatures and humidity (“Supersaturation”). From: http://mrsgallscience.wikispaces.com/Snowflakes
Figure 1. Snowflake shapes at different temperatures and humidity (“Supersaturation”).
From: http://mrsgallscience.wikispaces.com/Snowflakes.

Why do snowflakes have a six-sided symmetry? Snowflakes are six-sided because of the way that the individual water molecules connect together – they form hexagonal lattices which give the snowflakes six-sided symmetry.

Eight common types of snowflakes are:

Hexagonal Plate Crystal:

Hexagonal Bentley & Humphreys P. 45

Six-sided flat crystals with various amounts of surface patterns.  Largest of these can be just under ¼” across.  Hexagonal plate crystals are found in most snow falls.

Stellar Crystal or Dendrite:

Stellar Bentley 7 Humphreys P. 149

Stellar crystals are six-pointed star shaped snowflakes. These flakes can be up to 1/2″ across.  They can be found in low numbers in most snow falls.  Formed in the low atmosphere when the temperatures are not too cold and the humidity is high, sometimes the stellar crystal flakes join together to form large flakes that are 2” across.  The gentle drifting of the stellar crystal flakes gives a tranquil feeling to snowfalls.

Column Crystal:

Columns Bentley & Humphreys P. 210

Forming in cold clouds and low moisture, column crystal flakes are six sided and can be hollow inside.  During the winter, column crystals are commonly found in the high, wispy cirrus clouds.  They help to create a halo around the moon on winter nights. The halo is created by moonlight streaming through these ¼” crystals.  Rarely do these crystals fall to the ground.

Asymmetrical Crystal:

Asymmetrical Bentley & Humphreys P. 210

Asymmetrical Crystals are another common snowflake.  They appear to be many hexagonal plates stuck together and have been mistaken for stellar crystals.  They are about 3/8” across.

Bullet Crystal:

Bullet Bentley & Humphreys P. 210

Bullet crystals are column crystals that look like one end was sharpened with a pencil sharpener to form a hexagonal pyramid.  They can be seen either singly or in groups of three, attached by the points of the pyramid.

Tsuzumi Crystal:

Tsuzumi Bentley & Humphreys P. 210

Named for the Japanese drum of the same design, Tsuzumi crystals are column crystals with hexagonal plate crystals at each end.   They form when the column crystals bump into the hexagonal plate crystals as the snow falls.

Needles:

Needles Bentley & Humphreys P. 210

Needles are fine, six-sided columns with a point at each end; they range in length from ¼” to ¾” long.  This is one of the most common types of snow flake in a snow storm.  Sometimes the needle flakes freeze together during the descent forming conglomerate flakes.  These conglomerate flakes quickly break apart as soon as the flakes hit the ground.

Stellar Hexagonal Plate Crystals:

Stellar Hex Bentley & Humphreys P. 111

Stellar Hexagonal Plate Crystals are some of the most stunning snowflakes.  They form when either a stellar crystal goes through a hexagonal plate crystal cloud condition or a hexagonal plate crystal goes through a stellar crystal condition.  These are some of the most common snowflakes in a storm.

So is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?

During school vacation try one of these family activities – preserving snowflakes or making a snow catcher.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

 

Sources:

Bentley, W. A. and W. J. Humphreys, Snow crystals: 2453 illustrations, Dover Publications, New York, 1962.

Griffin, Julia, The science of snowflakes, and why no two are alike, PBS NewsHour, 22 December 2011, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-science-of-snowflakes/.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs, Snowflake Bentley, Hougton Mifflin, Boston, 1998.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, How do snowflakes form?  The science behind snow.

Stokes, Donald, Stokes nature guides: a guide to nature in winter, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1976.

National Snow and Ice Data Introduction to Snow.

 

 

 

 

The Folklore of the Woolly Bear

Finding a banded woolly bear caterpillar during a walk in the woods leaves no doubt that autumn is upon us.  These familiar black and reddish-brown caterpillars are larval Isabella moths.

The woolly bears that we see in the fall are the second generation of woolly bears for the year; the first generation hatched out in May.  This second generation of woolly bears emerged back in August.  Since then , they have eaten leaves from a variety of plants from grasses to clover to trees and sunflowers.  Once the cold weather hits, the woolly bear finds a sheltered spot like rotted log, or under a rock, or in a pile of leaves, to overwinter. When the temperatures drop below freezing, woolly bears also freeze.  Fortunately woolly bears have a cryoprotectant, a natural sugar-based antifreeze which protects the caterpillar’s tissues from being damaged when it freezes.  In spring, woolly bears emerge from their sheltered spot, eat a few more leaves then make their cocoons and undergo metamorphosis to become an Isabella moth.

Moth
By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Folklore has it that woolly bears predict the severity of the upcoming winter based on the proportion of black and reddish brown banding on the caterpillar’s body.  A thin reddish brown band means we are in for a tough winter.

But is this folklore true?  Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (1928-1960) traveled to Bear Mountain State Park in 1948 to find out.  On a single day, he gathered as many woolly bears as he could find, compared the reddish brown segment to the black segment, then reported his findings and a winter weather prediction to a reporter at the New York Herald Tribune.  Dr. Curran continued his study for eight more years and was never able to conclude whether the woolly bear was able to predict the winter.

More recently scientists have found that the size of the reddish-brown band increases as caterpillar matures and that wet weather increases the size of the black bands.

While woolly bears may not be an accurate forecaster of the upcoming winter, they are still a delight to see during a visit to a park.  Perhaps you’ll see one curled in a ball or looking for the next leaf to eat.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.

 

Winter Scat Identification

The winter snow provides a great backdrop for finding wildlife scat; you can learn how to identify some of the common critters that reside in our State Parks by looking at their scat. We will be focused on scat that you are most likely to run into while out exploring the beautiful New York State Parks.

When first looking at scat you want to see if there are any remnants or sign of what the animal has been eating. For example, are there berries, fur, bones, or plant fibers? Identifying what the scat is made up of will narrow down the type of species that the scat can belong to. If the scat contains fur or bone then you can assume that the animal is a carnivore, like a fisher or bobcat. Where things can get tricky is if the scat has berries or fur and berries, this comes from an omnivore like a fox, coyote, raccoon or black bear that eat both meat and vegetation. If the scat only contains plant fibers then you can assume that the animal is an herbivore. Some New York species that fit this category are deer, rabbit, porcupine and woodchuck.

The next thing to look at is the placement of the scat and its shape. Canines will generally place their scat higher off the ground such as on a rock in a trail; this is a way they mark their territory so it can be found by other canines. Scraping marks in the dirt from their paws can also be found in front of canine scat. Felines don’t specify where their scat lands and the scat are tubular and sectioned. Deer and rabbit scat is shaped like a ball or marble and can be found primarily in feeding areas. The scat from black bear and raccoon is usually dark in color and will be tubular in shape.

White-tailed deer scat is probably the most common that you will find in New York. It will generally be found in a pile and each piece will be around the size of a small marble. Softer scat will still resemble the ball shape, but more in a patty form.

White-tailed Deer vs. Cottontail Rabbit

white tailed deer
White-tailed deer scat. Photo by Nate Kishbaugh.
Cottontail rabbit
Cottontail rabbit scat. Photo by Susan Carver.

 

Below is a picture of coyote scat. Notice how the end of the scat looks like it has been twisted. Fox and coyote scat look similar, but fox scat is generally smaller. The second photo is scat from a domestic dog, notice the end are not twisted.

coyote
Coyote scat. Photo by Jackie Citriniti.
domestic dog
Domestic dog scat. Photo by Susan Carver.

Black bear scat is usually in a large tubular pile and usually will contain different food items depending on the time of year. In the spring, bear scat will most likely contain vegetation. In the summer and fall, it will contain things such as seeds, berries, corn, acorns and apples if available.

blk bear
Black bear scat. Photo courtesy of NYSDEC.

Scat from a raccoon can be found anywhere from the water’s edge to around your trash can. It is moderately sized and can contain anything from berries to shiny garbage fragments (raccoons are attracted to shiny objects, especially in water).

raccoon
Raccoon scat. Photo by Amanda Dillon.

 

 

Bonus scat: Wild turkey have made a serious comeback in New York State, and are a common sight around agricultural field and forested land. Turkey scat is greenish to brown in color and it is believed that male turkeys’ (toms) scat is in a J shape whereas females’ (hens) scat is in more of a pile. The difference in shape is due to the different body structures between males and females.

wild turkey
Wild turkey scat (female). Photo by Tom Hughes at Sampson Lake State Park.