“Bears make the world a better place”
That’s a comment from Casey McFarland on a picture from a bear track I posted long time ago.
And it is true in many ways.
At the end of September Beke and I went to the Carpathians to scout for a wilderness tour we are planning to run there next year. Here is a short blog about the week, with a focus on brown bears.
We are halfway up a mountain in the Rodnei National Park when we stop for lunch.
Mihaj, one of the rangers here, opens his backpack and a lunch pours out.
No high-tech, dehydrated, compact food at all… An entire loaf of bread, a plastic bag with big chunks of pure pork-fat, some paprikas, tomatoes and a chunk of cheese. And a knife.
Just now I see that the drops of “sweat” on his cap is not sweat at all, but two tiny LED lamps on the rim of his cap! But we all did sweat because of the steep climb to this ‘poiana’ (a mountain meadow of sorts), overlooking a huge mountain range all around us. I can think of uglier places for a lunch.
It is the first day of our scouting tour and our local guide brought us first to this National Park to explore. His 4×4 took us until it couldn’t go any further and from there on we started our walk uphill. The ground was hard, so my hope for many tracks soon were gone.
But at some point, there was an old car track filled with a layer of mud. A perfect tracktrap, or better said: a perfect tracker-trap! I simply can’t resist a closer look at puddles like this. And we are lucky; there are tracks of blackbird, wild boar, fox and most exciting, a lynx! This part of the Carpathians has the highest density of lynx, and here is some sort of proof.
We take our time to look at all the tracks, and I know then that Mihaj knows about tracks, as he identifies them all correctly and with ease.
Not long after we come across another tracker-trap… a brown bear. Yes! First we find a small track of a cub, so we know its mother must be around. Soon we find her tracks too, and with a story: she slid accidently in the mud. It’s fun to imagine this huge bear slipping in the clay, making her Michael Jackson moves!
We pass two old ladies picking blackberries. There are all types of forest fruits around here; raspberries are gone by now, but we do find lots of blackberries. A few hours later, on the way down to the car we find more bear tracks and a nice scat in the middle of the road. It is full of seeds.
What a great way to start a week of scouting!
Later that week, where ever we go, we see the sign and tracks of brown bears each and every day. What a treat! They are everywhere. In another National Park (Caliman) the habitat is different, mainly spruce forest, and the slopes of the mountains have a brilliant rusty color.
Later we discover it is because the blueberry leaves have turned a deep red. And there is still a load of berries on them, even this late in the season. These natural dinner tables are attractive to many mammals, as well as birds. We see blackbirds, songthrushes, big thrushes and find their purple droppings regularly. Fox and marten scat, black and packed with seeds, litter the small hiking trail. And, as hoped for, we find a huge brown bear scat, also right in the middle of the same trail. Besides berrie seeds, there are many leaves in them. Bears simply can’t pick them one by one.
Another great sign to find are the large rocks turned over by them. We find many. Maybe they were looking for grubs underneath? Or mice? We didn’t see any remains of mouse nests, but it would be a great place to stay out of trouble with marten and fox around.
In another area we find wasp nests dug out and opened by a bear. For comparison: the log (which was also removed by a bear) on the picture is much thicker than a thigh. The wasps are crawling around on the bottom, they look like they’re still in some state of shock. Although the sun is up already for a long time, they are all still surprisingly slow. From a safe distance we observe them for a while.
It will not be the only wasp nest we find. On one afternoon we find three more. The wasps were really get hammered by bears out there!
“Did you see any bears?”
We heard this question both in Romania as well as when we got back in Holland. The answer is no and yes. No, we didn’t see any bears on this trip. And although we really walked quietly most of the time, given the enormous area we were in, chances are slim.
But yes, we did see bears! Both their track and sign were a direct link to these animals and to the two of us. We saw them turn over the massive stones and watched the big mother bear slide in the mud. We’ve seen them standing in the middle of vast blueberry fields, grazing happily.
Pausing to drop their huge scat in the middle of a track, or to climb in old orchards, or rub against resinous trees to mark their passing. I am sure we walked many miles on exactly the roads and paths they are also using. For a moment we stepped into their daily life and got to know a bit of where they hang out, and why.
Bears DO make the world a better place, Casey is right.
We can’t wait to return!