I’ve got an unwelcome and hungry guest

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Black bear
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

A butterfly I’ve never seen before flutters through the yard.

A new bird shows up at my feeders or I hear a song I don’t recognize. Or I find a new wildflower on the edge of the yard.

Discoveries like these make my heart skip a beat. I love seeing new things, and based on mail I receive from readers, so do you.

Identify this

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t receive a photograph or detailed description of something a reader has never seen before and cannot identify. That’s just one of the many things I love about writing this column.

But sometimes we find things we’d rather not.

Maybe it’s a hornet nest attached to the outside of a kitchen windowpane. It may allow us to spy on the private lives of hornets, but some things are just not worth the bother or risk.

Or maybe it’s the discovery of the patch of poison ivy responsible for the severe rash that can literally keep you home from work for a few days.

Or maybe it’s the copperhead you find under the back porch. (Of course, 99.9 percent of the time it turns out to be a harmless milk snake or juvenile rat snake.)

Mystery beast

On May 18, at exactly 11 a.m., I had such an encounter. With each passing year, I see fewer things I’ve never seen before.

But on this day I stepped onto the porch outside my office, which occupies the second floor of the garage.

Immediately I saw a large, dark shaggy form race along the edge of the woods just 25 feet away. I only saw the mystery beast for two or three seconds, and my first impression was a large black dog. But when it ran, it loped in distinctive bear fashion.

It was a black bear. I estimate it weighed about 120 pounds, so it was probably a juvenile born in January 2015.

Bear spotting

For at least five years, neighbors have been telling me they’ve seen bears within five miles of our house. Five miles is nothing to a bear, so I knew one would eventually appear. In fact, earlier this year a neighbor told me he had seen one cross the road just past my garage.

My biggest fear of a bear visit was that it would destroy my bird feeders and the “bird cage” I wrote about back in December. I quickly checked the bird cage and all my feeders and found no damage. Maybe the bear was just passing through.

Bird food

About a week later, I visited my daughter in California. I left the feeders empty and the door on the bird cage ajar. With no food inside the cage, I hoped the bear would ignore it if he returned.

On the morning of May 23, my wife called to report a pile of scat just outside the garage.

She said there was no evidence of damage, but “Given the size of the pile, it had to be that bear,” she concluded.

When I got home a few days later, the pile remained and it was indeed bear scat. Up to that point, it had done no damage.

One feeder down

A single Droll Yankee Covered Platform Feeder hanging for a steel arm just outside my office window is now the only feeder I keep filled with seed. I thought it was safe because it hangs from a 3-foot long steel arm.

But no, on a recent visit the bear actually bent the arm almost around the post that supports it to reach the feeder and drop it to the ground. Fortunately — though the feeder is far from bear-proof — it was undamaged.

On the bear’s next visit, it removed a heavy-duty metal finch feeder and completely destroyed it by crushing it with its jaws. No way a raccoon could do that.

For now, I’ve declared a truce with the bear. I’ll just keep that one feeder filled during daylight hours until fall when the bear decides to hibernate.

When it comes to dealing with a bear, discretion seems the better part of stubbornness.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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