Close Encounters of the Bear Kind

Monday started out slow but was an eventful day.

I drove almost three hours down to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge which includes Pungo Lake.

Pungo Lake has a forest on the North side that is well known for its bear population. According to a local ranger “bears in those woods are like squirrels in most.”

From the parking area, it is a mile walk down a dirt road to the path in the woods that seems to host the most activity. There were lots of bear tracks and fresh scat along the road which was encouraging.

There is a deep canal alongside most roads in that area that carries irrigation water from the lakes. The most that I saw for the first hour or so was turtles and a raccoon eating what seemed to be waterlilies.

I went up and down the path through the woods down to the lake several times. Nothing but birds high in the trees.

Then I saw a young boar crossing a huge plowed field across from the forest. I tried to take some shots but the heat rising from the hot sun was distorting my shots. Then he saw me and took off running at full speed. It is amazing how fast they can run. He crossed the field and a canal going into the adjacent field then crossing the dirt road some distance from me. Once at the edge of the forest, he paused for a moment to check me out before disappearing into the woods. I did get some pictures of him then.

Another wait for about an hour and a half with nothing. Out of boredom, I took pictures of a vulture soaring above the field. Finally, about four o’clock, I decided to call it a day and start the one mile walk back to the van.

Walking up the dirt road, I was looking at bear tracks in the dirt and turtles in the canal. Nothing but high green grass on the woods side.

What I did not see was a momma with two cubs mostly hidden by a large tree. They were eating the grass along the roadside. Evidently, they did not see me either. When she did, I was much too close! With a start, she snarled and took a couple of quick steps toward me to warn me off. That gave me a start too and an instant STOP!

Without thinking, I snarled back at her which she did not expect. She backed up a couple of steps but still maintained a threatening pose. The two cubs were long gone into the woods at this point.

I recognized the bear as she had been photographed many times and been named “Ginger” due to her coloring.

I began to back up slowly and after about 30 feet raised my camera and began to take some pictures. Surprisingly, the sight and sound of the camera must have been familiar to her as she seemed to start to calm down.

I continued to back up slowly. She resumed eating grass but meandered along the road in my direction at the same speed that I was backing up. She continued eating but periodically gave me a hard look as if to say “I have my eye on you!”

After I reached a distance where she was comfortable, she turned and went back where she was originally eating all along the way. When she got back to the tree, she went into the thick brush a short way a just laid down. I continued up the road. I could see her shape but could not get a picture due to the brush. The cubs returned to her resting place.

As I started my walk back to the van, I was much more alert. That was good because about 100 yards up the road was another momma with two cubs eating grass alongside the road. No tree was blocking her view and she saw me from a distance. I took some pictures and began to walk up the road again.

She stood fully erect, staring at me then barked at the cubs and they all ran into the woods.

When I got to the truck, my adrenaline was still pumping. It had been a good day.

No pictures of cubs but no photographer found floating in the canal either!