Something I learned many years ago was how to find moose.
For the average person a moose sighting is more or less coincidental to their being in the right place at the right time. Moose do move around a lot and are not afraid to be in the vicinity of human populations, though their tolerance to staying in populated areas is limited by the quality of the food they find there and their perceived threat from that population. That means, you may find moose hanging out somewhere for a while but eventually they will move on to an area they are more comfortable with.
I don’t rely on reported moose sightings for finding moose. I may hear about moose hanging out here or there, but I don’t make it a point to chase sightings. It simply doesn’t work on a consistent basis.
The best way to find moose consistently is to understand their movement patterns and their preferences for food, terrain and climate.
One unwavering observation I have made is that moose don’t like warm temperatures. By warm, I mean temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of my photographs are taken in cooler weather, usually below 65 degrees and where it’s colder there will generally be more moose to be found. In Colorado that means, for the most part, higher elevations.
Not that moose are all that willing to move into rugged rocky mountain sides, no, they like higher altitude areas that meet their requirements for food, water and such. High mountain valleys, meadows, streams, lakes and marshy areas with dense forest in the vicinity is their preferred habitat.
Most of my moose hunting is in the mountains of North-central Colorado above 8,000 feet altitude. A colloquial term is “the high country.”
I look for certain characteristics in the land such as riparian areas with lush vegetation along a river or stream, high altitude lakes near dense forests and with lots of marsh. Moose love to be wet. Thickets of willows along streams in valleys, areas of low human population density. This is where moose like to be. Moose like weather that isn’t really good weather for photography. Rain, cloudy and cool. For the average tourist, these aren’t the conditions to plan a trip around, but I’ve found the wettest, coolest days are usually the best days.
Finding moose isn’t difficult if you look for them in the right places at the right time with the right conditions. For this reason, I seldom give consideration to the predicted weather conditions, hoping it’s going to be a nice day.
The best approach I’ve come up with is to identify the types of areas the moose prefer and then examine the area on foot to the extent possible. I look for signs of moose activity. Hoof prints near the shores of lakes and ponds, moose poop. Yeah, moose poop is a good indicator, the more fresh poop you can find, the more moose you’ll find in the area. Moose poop is fairly unique among ungulates. Deer and elk have smaller, rounder feces. Cattle, well, if you’ve ever been near cattle, you’ll know about “cow pies.” Moose poop is usually darker and larger than other deer species. It doesn’t always look the same either. Learning to identify the different types of animal scat is of benefit. I can tell moose poop from bear poop, or elk poop quite easily, but if you don’t have that knowledge, you’ll be guessing.
Another thing I look for is bedding areas. A tell-tale sign of moose in the area is finding a large area of flattened grass near a stream or woods. When I say large area, I’m talking about a spot that can be up to 6 feet in diameter. Usually, there are more than one bedding spots in the same area. Moose are social animals and they will often sleep together in small numbers, in close proximity and finding several bed-down spots in the same area is a very good sign. This brings up the obvious point that finding large, fresh bedding spots with fresh moose poop nearby would be an optimal observation.
Once you’ve identified the moose spots, you can plan your photography. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to hunt down the moose, as they are quite aware of humans when present. Sneaking up on a moose is not an easy task and could be a dangerous proposition. Surprising and/or annoying a moose is not a smart thing to do. Keep a safe distance, 50 meters or so. Moose are tolerant of the presence of humans, but they are short tempered animals and can get quite angry with humans when provoked. Moose are not predators though. They won’t hunt you down and try to hurt you. They just want you to go away and if you become obnoxious to their sensibility, they will have no qualms about threatening you and even attacking you. I consider any moose moving towards me making eye contact to be a moose attack in progress. Their eyesight is poor so often they’ll sense your presence and move towards you to identify you. Once they get close enough to confirm their suspicions, they’ll decide if you are a threat or not and act accordingly. Never approach a moose. Be particularly wary of cows with a calf. Cows are more dangerous as they will defend their calf without warning.
I’ve found it better to plan a return to the spot that gets me near moose territory before sunrise. Moose are most active in the early part of the day. Right before sunrise and for the next couple of hours after sunrise. On foul weather days, moose will be more active as the day progresses, but on sunny or warmer days, the moose will generally retreat to the shade of a forest by 9 or 10 AM. Be there before the moose is the best plan. Let them come to you. Choose a spot, get there early and quietly and don’t make noise once in position. Plan your shots and let the moose move in to your scene.
Colorado’s moose population is expanding and from what I’ve observed the overall population is healthy. From time-to-time, I come across an injured animal or one that appears to be a little too thin for the season. A good indicator though is the number of calves that are born each year. Another measuring stick seems to be the number of twin calves observed. The theory goes, the better the feeding conditions, the better the overall health and that leads to a higher rate of twins being born each Spring.
Getting accurate counts are difficult. Colorado Parks & Wildlife don’t consider moose to be a top priority for research and management and as a result the number of scientists/biologists studying the animal is not very high. Other big game animals get the money and attention, as wildlife management is primarily focused on hunting and not on the ecology of the species. CPW does a fairly good job of managing the large populations of game animals though.
I’ll share more of my moose photography insights in future articles, so check in with me from time to time.
If you’re hungry for moose, let me know. I do photo tours in moose country every summer and I’ve never not found moose. They don’t call me “The Moose Whisperer” for nothing.
I spent the earlier part of this past week in Red Feathers finishing up the cabin work and there is more to do. I came to a screeching halt when I acquired a nasty head cold, from which I’m still recovering.
I used the down-time to consolidate my backups. After last month’s hard drive crash, I came to the realization that I have a boat load of image files on the computer and that my backup strategy was a little too haphazard to be effective. I’ve since picked up an external SATA hard disk drive docking station, which allows me to simply use 3.5 inch SATA drives connected to the computer via a USB 3.0 connection as backup devices. I have 10 of them now filled with everything I have on the computer. 10 Terabytes of image files requires a bit of storage space. I even created a complete clone of my boot drive along with the operating system and personal files, so if I have a drive failure, I can just swap a hard drive and I’m back up and running in minutes.
On my Facebook photography group, North American Nature, Wildlife and Landscape Photographers Association, it is “Sheep Sunday” so I elected to use this photo for the group and blog entry today.
I think it’s a nice head shot of two mature bighorn sheep rams, and is a different take from the tons of photos I normally get.
As the old saying goes. Variety is the spice of life.
Looking forward to a relaxing weekend here in the Rocky Mountains.
Trudy is at the cabin on one of her home improvement missions. I tend to step aside and watch the wood chips fly when she takes on a project. The photos from her adventure are looking promising. I just love having a gal who loves tools.
This bighorn ewe has a fine sunrise view of the South Park Valley. One of many who visited the summit. At this time of year, the mature rams aren’t found hanging out with the females. The late Spring coat is about as ugly as it gets. As Autumn approaches, the fur on these critters will become a chocolate brown and look much more appealing. Part of the cycles of life in the Rocky Mountains.
Notice the haze in the distant atmosphere. There is a wildfire burning near Durango and I heard there was another burning in Eagle County directly west of where this photo was taken. It’s going to be a long, hot, fire prone season I’m afraid.
This morning was my first trip of the season to photograph the mountain goats.
Out with friend and fellow photographer Jim Esten, we struck pay-dirt near the summit of Mt. Evans. A good size group of these furry ungulates were gathered on the 14,000 foot peak, along with a group of bighorn sheep.
I managed to upload a good selection of stock photos to my agencies and I’m still editing.
Now that I’m semi-retired, meaning I’m not really taking in much business beyond the photo tours, I’m enjoying a less stressful approach to photography. A good outing with a friend, nice breakfast at a mountain lodge and a leisurely editing pace is far more suitable than having to edit 3,000 wedding photos on a deadline.
As we approach the opening of moose photography season here in Colorado, the weather has been a mixed bag as usual.
The saying is “Springtime in the Rockies”, which is commonly used to describe the drastic changes in weather patterns. It’s not uncommon to have Summer weather one day and four inches of snow the next. And that’s what’s been happening this year.
I’ll probably be offline for a few days as we make our annual trek to Red Feather Lakes to get our cabin opened for the season.
This photo was taken a couple of Summers ago. I’ve begun to explore my own backyard for landscape scenes that I’ve previously taken for granted. When one drives through an area often enough, it’s easy to forget to see things. I drive by scenes like this all the time in Northern Colorado, so now, this year, I intend to stop and smell the roses.
I’ll use this photo as the example shot for today’s blog post.
For the amateur photographer looking to better understand compositions in landscape photography.
There’s a concept called “Previsualization” photography gurus often preach.
There’s another concept I call “revisualization.”
Previsualization in essence is thinking about what your photo is going to look like before you actually see it and make the image. Previsualize your scene, when you see the required elements you have something to work from because it’s recognizable. It works, if you have capacity for abstract thought. All abstract thought ability mileage varies from photographer to photographer though.
Revisualization is different from all that, but it plays into previsualization as a precursor.
I often challenge myself to shooting with “one camera, one lens” for a day of heavy photography. This forces me to use that lens exclusively for an extended period of time and learn exactly how it will perform on that body and in general on other bodies in dynamic situations.
My first choice in lenses for this exercise are prime lenses. For example, the blog photograph today was taken with a Canon EOS 1Ds MKII using the EF 50mm f/1.4 during one of my photography workshops. I shot with the above mentioned camera/lens combination that entire day. My physical location was determined by the position my client wanted to be in. I was there to assist, not do my own thing. I get the shot I take once the assistance isn’t needed. Now I’m in a position not of my choosing, with a fixed camera/lens and I have to find a shot at the last second.
A fixed camera/lens combination automatically takes you out of your comfort zone because it removes the possibility of certain types of shots. You’ll often find that you have to compose a shot on the fly and it’s not necessarily the previsualized scene you had in mind. A couple hundred of frames in, if you’re learning anything, you’ll literally get the picture.
When it’s all said and done, you could wind up with some really nice photos you may not have thought of if you had brought that big super-zoom instead.
Getting out of your comfort zone is a good way to learn.