Summit Outside: Swimmers and Honkers on Dillon Reservoir |

Summit Outside: Swimmers and Honkers on Dillon Reservoir

by Dr. Joanne Stolen

On a recent Sunday, one of our rowers saw a bear swimming in Dillon Reservoir from Sentinel Island over to a smaller, unnamed Island. This is the first I’ve heard of a bear swimming in the reservoir. Perhaps it thought there were some juicy berries to be had on the island. One wonders if it was especially hungry to have taken to the water in search of food on a small island.

Black bears have been known to swim to island campsites, but were no campsites on this island. The black bear can swim up to 5-15 mph and that’s not bad for a big bulky critter! They could out-swim a rowing shell if they wanted to, but most people don’t carry food onboard, so the danger is minimal, and people aren’t really bear food. Still, the thought of being capsized in the water with a 300-400 pound bear nearby is a bit disquieting. Whether it’s based on the swimming ability of bears, or simply that bears have a connotation of being fierce, there are quite a few swim teams across the country with bears attached to their names: Calbears’ men’s swimming, Berkeley bears, Bears swimming, Potsdam Bears swimming, Lady Bears Swimming and the list can go on and on. Bears going out of their way to get food may be a harbinger of winter, and their anticipated hibernation. We haven’t seen evidence of bears visiting the Dumpster yet, but it usually occurs more often in the fall when they are trying to fatten up in preparation for hibernation. A sign recently appeared on our Dumpster building saying “Beware of unauthorized diners.” There is a cartoon of a bear with a knife and fork.

While we are on the topic of dining, in addition to the bear, some creature had partly dissected a large fish, leaving entrails, scales, fins and blood all strewn in several piles on the Rowing Center’s dock. My guess is that we had an unauthorized diner that was tearing into its meal on the dock, when someone probably disturbed it and it flew off leaving a lot its dinner behind. To us it looked rather unappetizing, like a yucky squishy mess! The diner was probably one of the great fishing birds, the osprey. We have a sizable osprey population on the reservoir with several visible nests. Their distinctive calls or chirps can be heard frequently, as they are very vocal birds! Perhaps the loudest sounds, though, are of the honking of the Canada geese – especially when they take to the sky and fly in formation. They have no fear of humans and do not like to give way to our rowing shells until the last moment. Just before an impending collision, they flap and loudly protest as they barely move out of the way. Resident gulls can also be heard calling to each other on the reservoir. They especially like to hang out in a tight group in a small, shallow area in an inlet just north of the Frisco Marina.

Thinking about the above-mentioned creatures we share the reservoir with, the bear is the most solitary. You rarely see bears together except mothers and cubs. Ospreys pair up, but except on the nest, you rarely see them on the same branch or even tree. Canada geese on the other hand are rarely seen alone. They are almost always in flocks in constant vocal communication with each other. Sometimes they even seem to be singing in chorus. Gulls tend to like to hang out together in colonies. We humans run the gamut, there are loners and those that like communal living.

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.