July 2013: Moose, moose and more moose (and a toad)
Moose are fairly common inhabitants of the Canadian wilderness, but before July of 2013, I had only seen and photographed them on a handful of occasions. Near the end of July, my friend Turbo and I went out on a trek through Kananaskis. My new Sigma 150 to 500 lens had not yet captured a moose (it was only a couple weeks old at that point) so I was really hoping we would find one. Luck was on our side. A young Bull Moose (male) was feeding in a valley area just off the road. As we worked our way down the embankment to get a bit closer, we got distracted by one of my favorite little critters – a boreal toad!
I had only seen one other adult toad in Alberta before so I had to snap some pictures. Both Turbo and I have zoom lenses better suited for large animals far away (like moose), so getting this toad in focus was not easy – not to mention it was hiding in long grass. I tried to back away, far enough to focus but close enough to still see the toad, but kept slipping down into the bushes. At one point Turbo said, ‘here put it in my hat.’ I tried, but of course it jumped out and quickly burrowed deeper into the grass. Luckily, it hopped away just far enough to show through the glass and be in focus at my minimum focal point of 150mm. I managed to grab a few images – whew! I appreciate that Turbo helped me get the toad, even though I know his sights were really set on the young moose.
After about 5 minutes of toad distraction, we found the moose was still patiently grazing in the valley below. We slowly walked down in the bushes and positioned ourselves far enough away to be safe, but close enough for some really nice images.
It was impossible to get on the right side of the sun, but I was still very happy with the images I captured. On this same trip on the way home, we found another young bull moose with a fairly large set of antlers. He was drinking from a puddle on the side of the main highway, seemingly unaware of the traffic passing and cars stopped to take pictures. It was just after sunset and the light was tricky, but I found my new lens performed fairly well in the low light conditions and was happy with the images. All in all, a great moose day for me!
My other July moose experience was about a week later – July 30. I will remember this day forever because it is also the day of my my encounter with the Canadian Lynx. This was the day of my annual frogging trip (read about the origin of these trips here). My friends who I go frogging with could not leave until later in the morning, so I said ‘no problem, I’ll go for an early moose run and meet you at the frog spot at 10.’ It was such a magical morning with the dewy mist settling into the mountains. Even before I had reached the ‘moose spot,’ I had already taken a number of landscape images – I am a sucker for a nice misty morning sunrise. The moose spot, once again, did not disappoint. I saw two figures in the fog so I slowed down and rolled down window. Two beautiful cow moose were grazing on the side of the road. One of them walked off into the trees, but the other started walking towards me. ‘It’s not going to come lick my car – is it?’ I thought to myself. Sure enough, that is exactly what it did.
I was frozen with excitement. The moose was way too close for my zoom lens, and it took me a while to realize my 18 to 55mm lens was sitting on the seat beside me. I scrambled to change the lens but all I got was a ‘through the windshield’ shot. I had heard of the moose-licking-car phenomenon before.
I don’t think it’s super common, but also not that unusual – they are attracted to the salt that sticks to cars. (See Dad – I knew there was a good reason that I hardly ever wash my car!) What an amazing experience to get so close to a moose – it was just me, the moose and the fog. The fact that this experience was followed by a view of a rainbow spilling into the valley, a rare lynx sighting and an afternoon of frogging with some great friends and their kids was just unreal. Words cannot describe…
I like to think the July experiences helped develop my ‘moose eyes.’ I have seen and photographed countless more since and I never get sick of seeing them. They are such interesting looking creatures – with their massive bodies perched on long skinny legs, it’s surprising they can even stand. Their expressive eyes exude a gentleness not normally associated with such a large animal.
I admit, they are a bit intimidating because they are so big, especially the bulls. They are wild animals and of course have the potential to be dangerous. I would not want to be standing between a mother and her calf, or interfere with a Bull Moose during the fall rut (mating season). But now that I’ve had so much opportunity to observe them in the wild, I see them more as gentle giants, moving through the mountain valleys with a strength and peace unmatched by any other animal.
Moose are generally found in the foothills/mountains but sometimes venture east and are seen on the prairies, occasionally even within the city of Calgary. One of the handful of moose encounters I had prior to last July was in actually Weaselhead (of course). I was walking across the floating bridge over the Oxbow wetlands and heard some rustling in the bushes. Out pops a female moose! Female moose are a bit smaller and less stocky than males. Males have antlers that they shed every winter. The little flaps of fur/skin that hang down from their throats are called ‘bells’. Males tend to have thicker/larger bells than females. They are active all year round, and are best spotted close to sunrise and sunset.
To view more moose and other wildlife images, visit my Moose Photo Gallery
Please watch for my next post: August 2013: Grizzly Bears