Photo by Joan Herrmann
Few things are as majestic as a moose in the wild.
by Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… It is such an amazing time of year, and as a local Old Forge garment store’s motto proclaims, “Life is Good.” Beauty surrounds us every waking moment. The intense color of the foliage and flora in the Adirondacks is awe inspiring and, as a nature photographer, it is sometimes overwhelming. Autumn is an eventful time, as many are finalizing their purpose in life; others are doing what is necessary to maintain theirs. Our meadow is always a home for eggs. In spring more than a hundred different species of migrating birds lay their eggs in nests within it or surrounding it. Warblers including yellow, yellow-throated and chestnut-sided nest in the meadow. Several species of sparrows which include song and chipping also make nests there. Gray cat birds nest in the hedgerow and Eastern blue birds nest in the nesting boxes unless the house wren or tree swallows get there first. We have four nesting boxes so generally one nesting box hosts blue birds every year. The blue birds normally have two nesting in the meadow; one in spring and another in late July or early August. Robins, blue jays, woodpeckers (downy, hairy and flickers) nuthatches both white and red-breasted, eastern phoebes, great-crested fly catchers, brown thrasher are just of few that can be seen finding insects in the meadow or worms and grubs from the lawn. Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers and indigo buntings also make appearances, searching the ornamental trees lining the meadow, for caterpillars.
When fall arrives there are even more eggs deposited in the meadow. Beetles, grasshoppers, praying mantises, katydids and spider eggs, from a multitude of species, are just a few depositors of the millions of eggs in the autumn meadow. Once the eggs have been laid the adult will perish. When springs warmth is assured the eggs will hatch and another generation will begin its cycle.
Autumn is courtship time for many Adirondack animals. Deer and moose begin the rutting (breeding) season about mid September through October and even into November. Establishing dominance is most important for the males. Buck deer and bull moose go through yearly rituals to launch their species hierarchy. Sparring is a form of mock fighting and is usually a pushing and shoving match, but as the season progresses so does the level of the seriousness. If one of the opponents doesn’t retreat the fighting can result in a fatal injury to an adversary. Another component of the rut is done by scent marking; this is accomplished through both glandular secretions and urine. The scent marking allows the females, of both deer and moose, to determine the male’s status, health and availability.
A bull moose (Alces alces) is an extremely large animal, weighing as much as 1,400 pounds it is easily four times the weight of a black bear. It is also very tall with a height of six to seven plus feet at the shoulders. They are able to browse high in the trees and wade into deep water when feeding on aquatic vegetation. They are strictly vegetarians eating both woody and herbaceous vegetation. Like deer they have no upper incisors. Instead they have a callous pad in front of their upper jaw which the lower incisors bite against. They tear off vegetation and grind it with their back molars. Like a domestic cow they have a four chamber stomach. This lets them eat quickly and digest food later at a safer restful time. Their food passes through the first two stomachs where it becomes cud (broken into pellets). The cud is then regurgitated and re-chewed until is swallowed and then digested in the other two chambers.
The possibility of seeing a moose in the Adirondacks is becoming more and more a reality. In January of 2017 the DEC hired a contractor to use aerial surveys to locate moose for GPS collaring and ear tagging. It is estimated that there are between 600 to 1,000 individuals within the park.
For at least thirty years I sought after and traveled to see, and hopefully photograph, a moose. I took trips that included ten days in La Verendrye wildlife reserve, about 120 miles north of Ottawa, Canada. We searched daily, by canoe, for moose and found lots of tracks and scat, but no moose. A few years ago a moose was sighted in a children’s playground in New York Mills. The DEC responded to call and tranquilized and transported that moose back to the wilderness. I learned from a neighbor about a week after that incident, that the “New York Mills moose” was deposited by the DEC in the state lands right behind our house, but I didn’t see that moose. The same moose was sighted numerous times over the next few years. One afternoon it delighted teachers and students of Adirondack Elementary School as they watched it through their classroom windows. Another time a friend photographed it for several hours, while it ate the aquatic vegetation from a nearby pond. He was so engrossed that he didn’t think to call me until several hours later. Friends have called to tell me about sightings, I have travelled from dusk to dawn searching, and still no luck, that is until my third trip to Helldiver Pond.
My husband reluctantly agreed to go with me this time, reluctantly because we had to get up at three in the morning and drive for two hours with another slim chance of seeing an elusive moose. We arrived at Helldiver Pond parking area at five in the morning, and then hiked the trail from the parking lot to the water. There was another couple already waiting on the dock. The pond was covered with a thick fog that was just starting to rise as I began scanning the circumference of the pond. Helldiver is a small pond about a tenth of a mile in length and about seventy feet across. As I scanned from right to left I suddenly recognized moose antlers. It was directly across the pond from me, an enormous bull moose, with its butt facing me and its head and antlers bent into the water while it ate some aquatic vegetation.
For a moment I couldn’t speak, I had been waiting for this moment for thirty years. Then I whisper to my husband and the other couple, “Can you see it?” they acknowledge that they heard the beaver slap its tail but, couldn’t see it. “No, the moose is directly across the pond,” then the reality of the moment filled all four of us with wonderment, as they spotted it too. He was so much larger than we would have thought. I returned the next day with another photographer friend, and we took our kayaks and had the pleasure of photographing “Harold” as he is called by others who have also photographed him.
It was truly worth the wait. More about moose in my next column…