In a recent post, I mentioned several bear sightings that took place in Searsport around the first week of January. I also reported that people had seen raccoons. My feeling was that the unusually warm winter up until that point was responsible for these animals being out and about.
However, one reader, Robin, commented that, “It's not abnormal for bears, raccoons and skunks to appear in the winter. Bears don't sleep soundly all winter. They wake and sometimes leave the den. We're much more likely to see their tracks in the snow (when we have snow...) than to see the bears because they're out briefly. Sows are typically more active than boars. They're giving birth about now. They'll be awake to tend to the cub(s). Raccoons and skunks come out of hibernation in mid winter for mating season.”
Well, I spoke with Randy Cross, a wildlife biologist and bear specialist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Randy says that first off, few, if any, female black bears reside in the Searsport area. Also, it is very unlikely that a sow would leave her den after having given birth to cubs. Randy told me, in fact, that sows are very unlikely to leave their dens in winter.
Randy went on to say that around the time of those sightings, the bear or bears were probably male and because of the warm weather and continuing availability of food, were out and about at that time (late December, early January). Randy also mentioned that the animals went to den late this year, also because of the weather, further supporting my thoughts.
Robin also mentioned raccoons and skunks coming out in mid-winter. That’s true enough, but late December and early January is a bit early, at least for Maine. February is the traditional month for ‘coons and especially skunks, to go on the prowl.
Of course in states to the south of us, these animals have different schedules.
But in the end, I do trust bear biologist Randy Cross to give me the right information and that confirmed my suspicions that the animal sightings were somewhat unusual for that particular time of year, at least here in Maine.