Darren and Mary Sue Dalton were driving on state Route 86 in their Mustang convertible at twilight Tuesday night when something smacked into the front driver's side of their car.
"It was just this huge bang," said Mary Sue Dalton, who was sitting in the passenger seat. "I thought our tire blew."
But the loud noise was the sound of a roughly 125-pound female bear running into the side of the car. The bear died at the scene, just a few miles outside of Saranac Lake.
A black bear in the Adirondacks
(Photo — Eric Dresser)
"(Darren) saw a black blur. He didn't even have time to brake," Mary Sue Dalton said. "It just ran out in front of us really, really fast."
While bear-motor vehicle collisions are rare here, sightings of the large animals have been occurring more frequently than usual this summer.
State Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist Ed Reed said he's noticed a spike in bear-related calls this month.
"Right before the Fourth of July we started getting complaints," he said. "There's been lots of them."
Reed said the majority of calls have been about bears getting into garbage bins and bird feeders. Bears have also been more active in going after food in the High Peaks Wilderness Area in recent weeks. But so far in the northern Adirondacks, the DEC hasn't had any reports of major problems. The most serious issue was that they had to trap and relocate a bear in Wilmington earlier this week.
"It was breaking into a barn and a chicken coop, so we set a trap and took it far away," Reed said.
The bears are probably more active recently because their natural food sources, such as skunk cabbage, have been depleted due to the lack of rain, Reed said. Black bears in the Adirondacks are mainly vegetarian.
"Berries aren't ripe yet," Reed said. "It's so dry they might not even get ripe. They might just dry on the vine. That wouldn't be good. It's been so dry, there's really nothing out there for them. The green stuff they eat is withering up."
In the High Peaks, stories about bears stealing food from campers are common nearly every summer because of the large number of campers who visit that area. But this year the number of reports is higher than usual, said Mike Heekin, manager at the Adirondack Mountain Club's High Peaks Information Center, located at the most popular High Peaks trailhead.
"We've had more incidents, especially this early in the season," Heekin said. "And now we're in the heart of the season. Now is when they should start picking up."
Heekin said bears are generally not dangerous and are just looking to get at the camper's food. This summer, he's heard stories of bears walking into people's campsites when the people are cooking late in the evening. He said the bears didn't hurt anyone, but they scared away the campers and ate their food. Most of the incidents were a result of people cooking later in the evening than is advised or not storing their food and garbage properly. The DEC requires campers to store their food and garbage in bear-resistant canisters in the Eastern High Peaks and advises them to not cook after 5 p.m.
"It goes beyond just having a bear can," Heekin said. "You have to be smart about everything, about cooking at the right time, about placing your can a full 100 feet from the campsite, at least 100 feet, and you should cook at least 100 feet from your campsite."
Heekin also noted that bears go after scented items such as soap and deodorant.
"There was an incident that I heard about out at Lake Colden, where there was no actual food in a backpack, but it actually went into the backpack and got the can of Off (bug spray)," he said.
The bear didn't like the bug spray and left, but it did destroy the person's backpack.
In the Lake Colden area, the well-known bear Yellow-Yellow has been making the rounds looking for food. The old female drew lots of media attention a few years ago for being able to break into the Bear Vault brand of bear-resistant canister.
"That's where she lives, and that's what she does," Reed said. "So far, nothing aggressive. We haven't noticed any bears trying to come into lean-tos or anything. They are picking off the stuff that is available."
Recent bear sightings by Enterprise reporters
Sauntering across the road
"My friend Rob Carr and I were returning to Saranac Lake at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, after camping out at Stony Creek Pond. We turned off of Coreys Road onto state Route 3 and had driven about 2 miles when we saw a fairly large black bear sauntering (yes, sauntering) across the highway. It stopped briefly when it reached the other side, looked around, and scurried (yes, scurried) into the woods. It was awesome."
-Chris Morris, staff writer
Silhouette on the shoulder
"My son and I were driving on state Route 3, just past Seveys Corners outside of Tupper Lake, on June 15 when we saw a good-sized black bear on the shoulder of the road, at the edge of the woods. I thought it was a statue or one of those silhouette-type signs at first, but we saw it move as we drove by and I realized it was real. My son, who's 4, was pretty excited about it. We turned around to get another look, but it scampered across the road and into the woods. It was the first time I've seen a bear where it wasn't trying to steal a camper's food or get into a dumpster."
-Chris Knight, senior staff writer
Two bears in one week
"After attending an art opening displaying Tim Fortune and Matt Burnett's wilderness landscape paintings at the Paul Smith's College VIC on Friday, June 22, my wife and I decided to go for a short walk on the VIC trails. About five minutes into the walk, we heard a crashing noise in the woods about 40 feet to our left. When I looked in that direction, I saw the backside of a small black bear running at full speed in an attempt to get away from us.
"About a week later, I was driving on state Route 86 toward Saranac Lake when I looked out into a meadow on the right-hand side of the road. To my surprise, I saw a bear peering out over the tall grass. It must have been standing on two legs. I drove another quarter-mile and then turned around to get a better look. When I returned, I grabbed my camera and walked to the side of road where I had seen the animal. Within a couple of minutes, it again rose up above the tall grass. I tried to take a photograph of the animal but only captured a image of its backside as it high-tailed it to the woods."
-Mike Lynch, outdoors writer
Capturing Adirondack wildlife in pictures
BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE - Wildlife photographer Eric Dresser (who took the photo of the bear seen with this article) will talk about his experiences on Monday, July 23, at the Adirondack Museum in a presentation entitled, "Capturing Adirondack Wildlife in Pictures," part of the museum's Monday evening lecture series.
Dresser, an internationally published photographer, specializes in wildlife and landscape photography from the northeastern United States and Canada. During his presentation, he will share exquisite examples of his work and talk about the strategies he uses to capture images of his wild subjects. With more than 40 years of experience in the field, he has developed many tactics for getting close to wildlife.
The presentation will be held in the museum's auditorium at 7:30 p.m, free to museum members and $5 for non-members. For more information, visit www.adirondackmuseum.org or call 518-352-7311.