Both Mainers and tourists love to see – and sometimes even interact – with wildlife. I’ve probably had more encounters with wildlife than many folks, given the time I spend outdoors in the wood, and on the waters of our state. Here is the second in a series relating some of my more memorable encounters.
It’s always exciting to see a bear – but most of the time, you see the hind end as the bear runs away. Unless of course the bear is a sow with cubs. Then they can be very dangerous. Time for you to back away!
I found a bear’s den one winter, up in the Kennebec Highlands, and bears have been seen occasionally in my town of Mount Vernon, but I’ve only seen one here in 40 years. But I’ve seen many bears in western and northern Maine.
One year I was driving out of the woods after fishing a stream north of Rangeley when two cubs ran across the road and up into a tree followed closely by their Mom, who stopped behind a downed tree. We couldn’t see her but she was tearing up the area and roaring, and my friend was in a panic, because I’d stopped the vehicle to take photos of the cubs.
I could do that without getting out of the vehicle, but my friend was still going nuts, eager to get out of there. I will admit, the sow sounded ferocious! But we escaped, with a few nice photos and a memorable encounter.
Up to our camp on Sourdnahunk Lake, adjacent to Baxter Park, we often see bears. One of our most memorable encounters was when our kids were small. We were all returning to camp after a walk, coming up the driveway to our camp, when we saw a bear sauntering toward us, also in the driveway. The bear stopped, looked at us, and turned left into the woods. Pretty soon we heard it moving through the woods to our right, and – Surprise! – it popped out into the driveway about 50 yards beyond us, continuing on its way with just a slight detour around us.
Another time, I was walking Baxter Park’s perimeter road near our camp, when I saw a bear coming up through the woods, headed right toward me. I backed up and picked up a rock, just in case. If the bear continued on its route, it would pop out into the road about 30 yards in front of me. But just before it got to the road, it turned my way and started walking just off the road, coming right at me. I figured that was enough of that, and hollered. The bear stopped quickly, looked up, turned, and bounded away. I can still see it whirling around and sprinting off.
Our absolutely most memorable experience also happened at camp. Another camp owner raced up the hill to our camp to alert us to a bear that was swimming across the lake, headed toward our camp. We grabbed a camera and ran down to the shore. The bear was only a couple hundred feet out in the lake by that time, and we were very surprised to see a cub on the sow’s back, and a second cub swimming behind her. She may have seen us because she turned slightly and came ashore on the other side of a stream that enters the lake at our camp. She stopped on the shore to shake off some water, and we got great photos of both the sow and her cubs, before they moved off into the alders.
Beaver can be destructive but fun. We have four beaver houses on Hopkins Stream that passes by our house. We had two relatively new apple trees on our front lawn one year, and when I went out to get the morning newspaper, I did a double-take. One tree was completely gone – a tasty treat for the family of beaver living on the stream. That year I put metal pieces around the trees I wanted to save, and that did the trick.
Beaver love apples, but they’re not smart. After they eat the apples, they also eat the tree! If you look carefully, every fall you’ll see a beaten down path from the stream across our side lawn to the apple trees, where the beavers chow down. One evening I pulled into the driveway and my vehicle’s lights lit up a huge beaver in the driveway with a big red apple in his mouth. Wish I’d gotten a photo of that!
Beaver are not great at sharing their space either. Quite often, fishing a favorite stream up near camp, a beaver will come out of its house to slap the water with its tale, a warning to me to get out of their water. One time I was standing in the water where a small beaver dam had created a nice pond full of trout, when a beaver came out of its house, slamming its tail on the water. When I didn’t immediately retreat, it dived and headed for me. I could see it coming. Not sure of what it planned to do to me, I quickly retreated up stream.
A few years ago beaver moved into the bog on my woodlot and built a dam on a tiny brook, completely flooding the bog and making it hard for me to get through it and to hunt there. I asked a friend to trap beaver there that winter, and he caught several small beaver, but no large ones. The flooded water now covers a huge area, so I asked my trapper friend to return this winter. He scouted around and reported that he’d seen no sign that beaver were still there, and recommended that I breach the dam and drain the water. I’m going to do that soon.
In the winter, I like to snowshoe up to a beaver house and listen to them talking inside. You can actually hear them by listening at the air hole in their house.
Bobcats are shy elusive animals, so you don’t often see them. But they are plentiful throughout the state. I’ve only seen them a couple of times on my woodlot, but notice their tracks almost every time I snowshoe there.
One winter in our back yard, at the bottom of a large apple tree, I found the feathers of a turkey along with bobcat tracks. From the snow, I could tell that quite a ruckus had happened there. Turns out the bobcat had sat in the crotch of the tree, and when the turkey had walked by, the cat jumped on it and killed it, dragging it about 20 yards back into the woods and eating most of it.
Next Monday I’ll tell you some stories about porcupines, snapping turtles, woodchucks, and more.