12/2/2012 8:45:35 PM

The Bears Come Out to Play

By Valerie Abbott

I awoke with great anticipation because today was one of my morning shifts. I immediately started thinking about what wonders I might see. The weather outside didn't matter: I was comfortably at home, but off to the tundra.

When I'd get on the cam in the mornings, the chances of finding a bear were pretty slim. Almost all living creatures were still tucked away in their makeshift beds. I imagine some of the humans were still having their coffee.

The tundra is classified as a desert, yet a very cold one. The windblown snow is a wonder to see. With the sun just breaking through the morning clouds, casting shadows that got shorter by the minute, all would be quiet. I would take a moment to realize and appreciate what I was seeing. Once again, I felt awestruck by the beauty of this desolate place.

In the mornings I'd normally start with the south camera as it had better light. It was a little easier finding bears there. On the north cam the light was still weak and Buggy One® had yet to venture out. So I'd start by scanning nearby, trying to peek in the bushes for a sleeping bear. It was always one of those "Aha, found ya!" moments when I stumbled upon one, reveling in the delight that I had found a bear for all to see.  A sleeping bear ... how long would he lay there? If lucky, he would soon venture out looking for scraps of food. Usually kelp was the meal du jour—food that doesn't satisfy the bears' nutritional needs, but gives them something to do and fills their stomachs. It was always interesting when a bear was ambling along and suddenly would make this tremendous pounce, undoubtedly smelling something to eat.

As the mornings drew on, more bears would come out to play. Activity on the tundra would pick up, Buggy One would head out searching for bears, and you could feel the action starting. If it was a good day, I would find bears sparring. A real good day would be finding multiple bears in action, with the big males out in force. Suddenly, there would be abundant life in this recently quiet corner of the world.

A couple bears would get into what appeared to be a really fierce sparring bout. As they rose to dominate the other the snow would burst off their blurred paws, so quick it was hard to see. You could literally feel their power as two bears would stand and face off, swinging those massive paws at each other, seemingly without any lasting effects. As I watched them wrestle and spar, again the wonder of what I was watching would take over. Scenes like this were one of those times that I referred to in my earlier post when I just forgot what I was doing and let the other cams go. (Please don't tell my boss about this!) I was so engrossed watching the action my house could have been on fire and I would not have noticed. Just as quickly as they started, the session would end. The bears would go to what appeared to be their respective corners and lay down for a while. Sometimes they remained inactive for the rest of my shift and other times just a few minutes. If lucky, they would get up, wander around, and eventually get back together. This could go on for hours and my pulse seemed to rise and fall with each exciting bout.

On an afternoon shift I might get to pick up on another cam operator's find.  Sometimes there would be chatter on our Skype feed about the day's happenings. I would set up early, waiting in anticipation for my shift to start. As in the mornings, I would scan nearby and then along the horizon, hoping to find some action. On most days Buggy One would be out giving us vantage points like no other. Near high sun you could usually find a bear or two laying around. We could set the cam on these sleeping giants for long stretches of time, while searching the Cape or other areas.

As the day wore on bear sightings became less and less noticeable. Many would seem to just disappear into the distance.

Some late afternoons as the sun was setting it was as if I were watching a movie. I would see a bear surrounded by an orange silhouette searching for a safe place to bed down for the night. Another precious moment in time.

This is part two of a three-part series. You can also read part one (Operating the Polar Bear Cam) and part three (The Freeze).

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