By Eric D'Aleo
It was the day before Halloween and the sky was gray and overcast. The area had just received a heavy storm that deposited over five inches of rain in twenty-four hours. Strong wind accompanied the rain and its remnants were still howling among the tree branches as I walked through the woods to check on some remote trail cameras. The streams were full with water and many trees in the forest had blown down, some across the trails. I discovered the trees were not the only things damaged. There had been a different kind of recurring “storm” in one location. I walked off the trail through the brush toward it. My destination was a vernal pool in a remote area of Science Center property. An unusual story had unfolded here earlier in the year involving a chicken carcass and a coyote. I had placed the chicken carcass out as bait and captured some interesting pictures over several weeks. This time nothing had been put out to draw an animal to the area, or so I thought. As I pushed through a stand of young hemlock trees I could see the rain had filled the vernal pool half full of water. I walked to the tree where the trail camera was and came to a halt. Something was wrong. The clasp to shut the camera had been opened and the batteries removed! My first thought was that someone had walked through the woods and vandalized the camera, an idea I quickly discarded. Most people photographed by the trail cameras are unaware of them or simply wave and say “hello” once they realize it’s there. I closed the camera and found my first clue; the motion detector’s plastic covering was punctured.
I experienced déjà vu as I stood looking at the camera on the ground and the batteries in my hand. I thought a black bear might also be responsible for the damage this time. I took the broken camera to my office and looked at the images. Sure enough, it showed a black bear yearling energetically investigating the camera. Black bears are curious and investigate novel objects. Apparently the camera interested this bear. It flashes an infrared light whenever there is nearby movement and takes a picture. Perhaps it might rouse a bear’s curiosity to investigate but the yearlings and their mother hadn’t showed much interest in the camera before September. When I looked through the images, this bear was intent on the camera and moved it back and forth triggering the camera to take distorted images of the ground, its fur, its face, its mother, and its sibling from numerous angles.