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Getting ready for Winter

More on the white-bark pine story
by Dan Hartman

Oct. 21, 2020

     We've been busy at the cabin trying to ready ourselves for winter, before the snow and cold settles in.
     Projects like splitting wood (we now have an electric wood-splitter), digging up and replacing plugged drain lines, working on heat tapes.  Heck, yesterday afternoon I replaced eight shingles on our roof to stop a leak that's been a problem over the last month.
     Then this morning we woke up to six inches of heavy, wet snow.  The power has been out twice today.
     Now an interesting story.
     A couple of weeks ago, Bill Hamblin and I pulled out my two remaining camera traps placed on a large squirrel midden.  I had already pulled out cameras on a different midden and found bear activity had basically ended by late September.
     You see as I probably explained in  an earlier article, I like to set the traps before the bears show up and then pull them out after the bears have moved on.
     In theory that should avoid any confrontations, only problem is I really have to check the traps mid season to see if they are still functioning and to change cards.
     Well, this year I found two cameras still performing nicely, but had filled up their cards.  Another camera had been ripped down by a black bear.  Still it had gotten over 200 clips before it disabled.  In all I had some 1100 clips to go through.
     I replaced the traps in the two middens and let them run until Bill and I pulled them in.  This time, however, the first family of bears ripped the cameras off the tree trunks.  Bill and I had to search a bit to find all the parts.  So instead of having another 1000 clips to go through, I had less than a dozen!
     Usually that would end my association with the middens for the season, but this year I stuck it out a big longer.
     I've always wandered how the squirrels cope with having their caches raided night after night by the bears.  And as far I could see, the bears were very thorough and rarely missed a midden.
     Two separate stories came to light.
     Number 1.  On a whim, I started going through dried bear scat.  I wanted to confirm an idea, that not all the white bark pine nuts were opened by the bears jaws and some passed through their digestive system to then potentially grow a new tree where ever the bear scatted.
      This would mean while the bears steal the cones they actually help the trees by moving the forest to new locations.
     What I found was very few nuts pass through unopened.  Some scats none at all.  Then I found a strange occurrance.  One scat had almost no nuts cracked open!  What did this mean?  Was it an old bear with bad teeth?  That seemed most likely.  But what if it was a young bear that wanted to gulp the nuts quickly to avoid being caught by a larger bear?  Not taking time to properly crunch the nuts.
     Another story.  After the white barked pine harvest was over, many of the trees still lay dense with worked over cones.  Meaning cones that clarks nutcrackers had already opened up and cleaned the cones of their valuable pine nuts.  Of course the cones the squirrels harvested were cut, dropped to the ground and then hauled off to be buried in the squirrels middens.
     Back to all those worked over cones still hanging in the trees.  I started finding them stuffed in holes in the squirrels middens.  When I pulled out a few of them, I found in many instances the clarks nutcrackers were not able to get to the nuts on the undersides of the cones.  Of the 50 to 100 nuts contained in the cones usually only half a dozen to maybe up to a dozen were left but that was still a late season harvest for the squirrels.  What's strange about the whole thing is the squirrels didn't bother to bury these cones.
     I mean after the squirrels took great care to hide the cones from the bears, now it was almost like an open invitation.  Why?  Were they just a decoy to keep any passing bears away from caches they might have missed, or were these cones just not valuable enough to waste energy burying?
     Snow came and covered up any more investigating of either story.
     Next year I'll try to find some answers.


View slide show

Bill IN A Midden

GRIZ Standing Where Bill Stood

Bill & Me With Trashed Cameras

Dug Up Midden

Cone Worked By Nutcracker

Cone & Nuts