Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the August 21, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

This week I saw my Black Bear, URSUS AMERICANUS. In El Dorado National Forest I was following a narrow four-wheeler trail down a wooded slope when the bear and I met at a curve about 25 feet apart. Both the bear and I froze in mid stride and I was gratified when he remained frozen as I raised my binoculars and had a good look. He was all black except for a cinnamon chest, and not quite fully grown. We stared at one another for about 15 seconds and then he turned and waddled off in the opposite direction. I continued my walk past where he'd been and followed his tracks on the dusty trail for a good distance before they led into the brush.

This was in the same general area where earlier I had seen bear tracks. Those prints had been 7.5 and 7 inches long, not counting claws, and this one's prints were 6.5 inches long, so now I know that at least three bears inhabit that vicinity.

Earlier I wrote that surely bears at this season are having a hard time finding enough food to survive because it's too early for acorns, blackberries and other such fruits. However, this bear looked well fed and healthy, and now that I've looked more into bear food I can see why. Bears are much more vegetarian than I'd believed, at this time of year mainly eating miscellaneous herbage and even grasses, until berries and nuts ripen later.

I was curious about the bear's cinnamon-colored chest. I read that about 95% of Black Bears in the Sierra Nevadas are some shade of brown and only about 5% are truely black, but I can't find mention of black bears with large brownish spots.

There's a very informative website dealing specifically with bears in the Sierra Nevadas at http://www.sierrawildbear.net/