Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Moose

A young bull Moose (Alces alces) lounges in the shade on a hot day in Summit County
This creature, the Moose,  is one of the meanest, most unpredictable, foul-tempered beasts you are ever likely to encounter in Colorado and I descided to stalk it over several soggy days, hoping to finally bag a shot of its malevolent personality. Don't try this at home children, I had a telephoto lens!

This tale, reminiscent of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, began when several people in my condo complex gloated that they had not only seen the Moose in our neighborhood but actually had a close encounter of the scary kind in the large expanse of forest between us and I-70.  The most ignomious part of this is that it actually crossed the road right in front of our car but we couldn't see it because of the back up in traffic.  Our neighbors never let us live that one down.

So what's so scary about a Moose?  Well besides their already mentioned pleasing personality, they are big, as in really big.  Our friends were walking their two dogs in the forest when they passed a small Aspen Grove.  At once this large, ominous shape began to rise vertically out of the grasses and kept on rising.  The dogs freaked, the woman screamed, and general bladder control was threatened.  Fortunately, these startled humans and canines took appropriate action... they ran for their lives.   Another friend of a friend recently did the opposite.  She cowered in a ditch and a Moose nearly pummeled her to death.  So children, while you fight off a Bear, Mountain Lion, and that person who just took the last parking spot at Copper Mountain,  remember....run from a Moose.  They don't have a prey instinct, unlike the skier at Copper.  

So, hearing these tales I was bound and determined to find this Moose.  I set out at 7 pm one evening and started trudging off trail through Willows, clear cuts, and generally swampy areas.  I was having no luck at all until I noticed a large Aspen with monster-sized chunks of bark scrapped away.  I immediately froze in my tracks and started creeping about very carefully.  It did not take me long to find the large areas of grass that had been flattened like crop circles in the UK.  The hairs on the back of my neck rose.  Was I alone in the thick grass?  It seemed I was, so feeling rather like a voyeur, I tiptoed around the Moose's haunt, poking at scat, following trails, and generally being intrusive.  At least now I had my target zone.  Every evening I went back with no luck.  It was on my last day, and the middle of the day when at last I saw him.  I was walking the dogs of course and was totally unprepared.  I ran them quickly back home, grabbed my camera and the rest is history. 

This young Moose was easily as tall as I.  A typical Moose is 6-7 ft at the shoulder.  Note the large flap of skin called a "bell" hanging from its neck.  Along with the distinctive antlers, this is another great identifying feature.
While other parts of North America, Alaska in particular, have more Moose than they know what to do with,  they are less common in Colorado.  Introuced three decades ago, their population has been growing.  Walden is known for a large Moose population as well as the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Their range is expanding, however so more and more people are finally getting a good look at this impressive animal.

The largest member of the deer family and the largest antlered animal in the world, the Moose habitually lives in cold, boreal forests eating terrestrial and aquatic vegetation, particularly Willows.  They are most often spotted in small ponds head down in the water.  The largest sub-species exist in Alaska, while the smallest in Colorado and neighboring states. 

A male's antlers are strickly a breeding enhancer.  They can grow to up to 4.5 feet across, and without their velvet, are impressive indeed.  Once the rut is over, however, off they go.  Maybe I'll find this male's set somewhere out in the Willows. 

Antlers are covered in velvet, which is rich in blood.  This helps protect and feed the antlers as they grow.  I wonder how large this set will get by the time of the rut in late September and October?
My personal odyssey at an end, I look forward to more Moose encounters...from a safe distance of course. 


Note: In 2012 a beautiful Bull Moose walked right up to (I was hiding).  Check it out!

2 comments:

Kelly the little black dog said...

You got your Moose! Congratulations.

Ryan said...

I thought the thingy you're calling a "bell" is called a doowap or doolap or something like that..