The population of black bears (Ursus americanus) in our state has increased tenfold over the last 30 years, and the current population is estimated to be about 20,000 ani-mals. Not only are they growing in numbers, they are also getting larger in size and producing higher numbers of cubs. It is believed that this is due to increased food availability.
The largest black bear ever taken anywhere was an 880-pound giant from Craven County, North Carolina in 1998. Bears weighing in at over 700 pounds are now being taken every year, though bears of that size were a rarity not too many years ago.
Black bears are sighted within the DSRF frequent-ly. FODF member, Nancy Kay recently had a sow and three cubs cross the trail in front of her as she was horse-back riding on Hickory Mountain Road. A sow and three cubs were subsequently sighted on the edge of Rocky Ridge Trail. Here it does not get cold enough or for long enough to drive our bears into real hibernation. During winter they will sleep more but they also continue to forage for food.
The large rock outcrops with the moss pads on Big Rock, Cedar Rock and other trails in DSRF are home to an attractive grasshopper known as the Lichen Grasshopper or the Rock-loving Grasshopper. Trimerotropis saxatilis is one of only two species in its genus that inhabit North Carolina. The Natural Heritage Program lists it in the category of “significantly rare,” and it is found only on the rock outcrops.
This non-migratory species overwinters as eggs that hatch in the spring and produce adults in late spring. The adults persist until frost. They are known to feed on li-chens and moss. Coloration is variable but tends to match the rocks where they live.
If you walk among the moss pads on the rock outcrops you might scare one up. They typically fly off only a short ways and land back on the rock. The one pictured here flew off at least 15 times before it tired and was successfully netted.
Bird authorities consider the raven (Corvus corax) to be one of the most intelligent birds in North America, and we are lucky to have them here. They live in all of the western states and across almost all of Canada and Alaska. Here in the eastern United States, they inhabit only a narrow band of territory encompass-ing the Appalachian Mountains.
With a wingspan of up to 53 inches they are almost twice the size of crows and have a thick neck, shaggy throat feathers, and a massive beak. They are entirely black, right down to their legs, eyes and beak. Their voices are incredibly varied from low deep baritone croaks to high bell-like twanging notes.
After rebaiting my game camera sites, ravens are usually the first birds to arrive, suggesting that they actively patrol areas where they have previously found food.
High-interest Critter Update
The tagged turkey vulture reported in the July issue of this newsletter was seen almost daily from March 16 until May 14 when it stopped coming to the site of the camera trap bait. On July 7 this bird made a one-day return to dine with other vul-tures and then went back into hiding. It returned again on Au-gust 3, 13, 15 and 17 but has not been seen since. The USDA taggers said that no one has reported seeing it during its time away from here.
And Blondie the coyote (also featured in the July issue) was seen on June 11 and then disappeared until she reappeared be-fore the cameras again on August 9 and 19. During her absence it was thought that Blondie (assumed to be a female) was per-haps staying in a den with pups and was depending on her life-time mate to bring home the bacon. Recently, however, a smaller version of a blonde coyote was caught on camera with another classically-colored coyote by her side. Was this a thin-ner Blondie or one of her relatives? Your guess is as good as mine.
Article and Photos by Alan Cameron
See more photographs and more articles in the October Friends of DuPont Forest Newletter