(NECN: Josh Brogadir) - "I'm going to try to take it easy on you Dan, but we're going to have to go where the bears are. And the bears are in here," Nick Wisniewski joked with photographer Dan Valente.
Wisniewski, a black bear tracker, took us for a long, fascinating and strenuous walk through the woods, in New Salem in north central Massachusetts.
Along the way, we were joined by his mate, bear tracker wife Valerie.
"If you're a tracker, you should really know all the flora and fauna," Valerie Wisniewski said.
"If you're by yourself, you might find that a little intimidating or scary because it's the deep dark forest and you know there's bears around," Nick Wisniewski said.
Nick, a retired middle school science teacher, has largely dedicated the past eight years to this project.
"You'll be walking along and there's some new place you're exploring and you'll say, man, this feels like bear. It's almost like a sixth sense," Nick said.
To say this is a passion for this self-described nature nerd would be like asking, does a bear bleep in the woods?
"Two and 1/16 (inches diameter) is going to be an adult black bear and it's actually a very good size black bear, this is a big bear," Nick said.
And here's the fresh, black pile of truth.
Nick gets out a caliper to measure, then collects a sample for analysis.
"When you come over to eat at our house, be careful what you pull out of the refrigerator, you never know what you're going to get," Nick laughed.
For all the joking along the way, the Wisniewskis take this bear tracking very seriously.
They were downright giddy to explain their research of the past eight years - following the ritual prints and trails of black bears.
"And that's a left (print). And that's a right," Nick said.
Hard to see with our camera, the Wisniewskis showed us that bears on these ritual trails walk wider apart with heavier foot falls than usual, they say, intentionally leaving prints behind for other generations of bears.
It's mating season in the swamp, but on this day we did not see any bears, just some red spotted newts, a friendly little toad, some moose tracks, a porcupine den, and a bunch of bugs.
But we made up for it with bear markings, clumps of bear fur, including a demo by Nick.
"The bear that bit up here, has to be able to stand here like this and sink its teeth in up there," Nick said.
Crossing a beaver dam, seeing the clear distinction from old markings, "At least five years old, probably seven," Valerie said.
To new: "See how it's glowing orange," Nick points out.
Two cameras have been set in the forest help track these bears. And as we made our way through a chorus of gray tree frogs, it was easy to see what is driving this couple.
"Those two are whammy trees, now those are white pines, and when those were broken off, by the bear, that tree was alive," Nick said.
They go the way the bears go and feel a kinship with this fascinating omnivorous animal, gathering data and hoping others will gain an understanding without getting too close.
"They're not a cute, cuddly Disney character," Nick said.
And at the end of the day, for Valerie and Nick Wisniewski, this is much more than just bears walking through the woods.
"I think the tendency a lot of times is just to take something like this and say, well it's just territorial, or, it's just aggression, or it's just part of a mating thing. But who knows what it is, it may be a little bit of all of that and more," Nick said.
To find out more about Nick and Valerie’s tracking project or to join them on a nature walk, go to WalnutHillTracking.com.