Why Did The Moose Cross The Road?

Cow and calf strolling through the woods. Shiras Moose – Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

 

Life these days are about finding simple pleasures.

Earlier this week I ventured out to find the local moose at sunrise, as I normally do when I’m at the cabin. The primary activity lately has been from a couple of cows and their calves. There’s one cow that has twins and she keeps them fairly tucked away in the woods. Closer to the village, a mother and her single calf have been frequenting the woods near my place and it hasn’t been difficult to find them in short order.

Still sipping coffee, I made a quick run to the two areas I felt most likely to find the critters, and after about 10 minutes of poking around with no luck, I elected to go to a third location on the other side of the village in hopes they might be lingering in the open.

Much to my surprise, I’m driving along the road towards my place when I spot the obvious silhouette of the mother moose standing in the middle of the road at the intersection of my street and the main highway. She was standing in the road looking back over her shoulder off to my right at the side of the road where her calf was trying to get over a fence to join her.

Moose Cow and Calf crossing a highway.
Leading her calf across the road near my cabin.

I could almost hear her talking to the calf. “Come on, just jump over the fence and lets get going”  The calf was anxious and made it through the fence with little effort. Momma moose then proceeds across the road with calf in tow, into the field near my house, where they stop to browse the bushes for a quick breakfast snack.  I pulled off to the side of the dirt road leading to my cabin and sat and watched. The sun still wasn’t up but it was getting lighter by the moment. The dawn sunshine hit the field beyond the pair and began its slow creep toward the two. A few moments of browsing and they were done. Mother moose decided to take the calf into the woods in the direction of my cabin so I pulled the SUV off the roadside and drove on down the road running parallel to them. By now they had vanished into the woods. I know those woods quite well and there’s a marshy pond on the far side of the woods they were moving through so I figured I’d just drive on down the road to where that pond was and see if they were anywhere to be found.

As I crept along the dirt road near the pond, the two were coming through the woods directly towards me. I stopped and fired off a few frames from the Nikon D810 as they crested the small hill above the pond, almost directly in front of me.

Mother moose didn’t blink and eye and she led her calf right to me and across the road into the woods behind my cabin.  The end result, I got a good 30-40 minutes of early morning camera time in close proximity to these two lovely neighbors.

Why did the moose cross the road?

So I could get photos.

The Watering Hole

Moose calf at a watering hole near Red Feather Lakes, CO
Shiras Moose Calf – Red Feather Lakes

I’ve been photographing a moose cow and calf most of this Spring and early Summer in the area around the village. There’s a particular water-hole near the village where all manner of wild creatures come to slurp and it’s a good place to watch for activity.

It’s difficult for the moose to find good habitat east of the village, as the area begins transforming from mountain forest to open brush and range land. Moose will move through but they are seldom found in numbers. This makes the forest surrounding the village a good congregation point. The moose come in to the area, browse around. The cows and calves have a good range of feeding in a non hostile environment. The bulls are a different story. They seem to have more of a wandering spirit. They move into the area but seem to eventually move back to the higher country to the west where there is a lot more forest to explore.

Goals and Milestones

Photograph of a Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Hunting in the Shallows.

I’m in a contemplative mood this morning so this post is going to be a little more from the heart. Hope you don’t mind the ramblings of a man who is trying to grow old gracefully.

I’ve rationalized just about every aspect of my life over the years, justifying to myself and to others, my reason for existing, my motivations, my mistakes and my successes. Most of those rationalizations bring me back to who I really am as a person and the self realizations that spring from these ever changing thoughts. I reckon that I’m not unique in this regard.

One thing I’ve rationalized as an important aspect of my life is always finding something to look forward to. My most depressing moments have been in times when I felt there was nothing to accomplish and my motivations in life have generally been based on this simple self observance.

As I’ve grown older, my motivations have seen an obvious shift and an overall simplification of what I believe to be the things I want to do to stay happy and stay engaged with life in a positive way. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I find that word to be the main pivot point of my thinking.

Of course, everything isn’t going to be simple. I don’t shrink from complicated things, my mind won’t allow that, but I always find a way to trim away the fat of what I consider meaningless attachments to anything I do. As time grows shorter for me, not wasting that time on life’s baggage seems to be goal.

Long gone are my aspirations of fame and fortune. I served my country, I did my corporate ladder climb to middle management, I’ve married and divorced and remarried and friends and family have changed over and over again. No regrets, but there is still a candle burning in my soul and that candle is used to light my next path in life as it always has in the past, with a low, flickering flame that can’t be extinguished by the actions of someone else.

Find something to look forward to. That is the simplified thought that drives me from day to day, and I have indeed found a way of having something to look forward to doing. Simple things usually.

After a lifetime of ambition and service to my employment masters, I started a small photography business and I’ve successfully kept it alive for over 12 years. I’ll continue to keep it alive as long as I’m physically able to do it.

My secret of keeping motivated is that I always find something in photography to look forward to doing.

Well, today I’ve reached another small goal, a small milestone and set a new goal and milestone to replace it.

The goal I set for myself in 2018 was to have at least 2,000 images on sale at the stock agencies before the end of the year. Nothing monumental in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it’s an accomplishment. This morning I had my 2,000th stock image approved and it’s now online with the others. It won’t make much money over time, maybe five or ten dollars a year if I’m lucky. But, when  I look at what it cost me to take that 2,000th photograph, it adds up to about 3 dollars in gasoline and one hour of my time. I’m certain that I’ll profit for having taken the time to look forward to that next photograph. The next photograph has value beyond the few pennies it will make me. It keeps me motivated, it keeps me engaged and it pays for itself in the long run. What could be more simple than that?

Today’s photograph is of a great blue heron. It’s my 2,000th accepted stock photo and I’m quite proud of it.

Today, I’m sharing it with you too.

Insights From The Moose Whisperer

Photograph of moose calf at a watering hole
Moose calf at a watering hole

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.

 

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Photograph of two bighorn rams in Colorado.
The mutual admiration of two bighorn rams.

Life’s adventures continue here in Colorado.

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.

Job done.

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.

Hard Night on the Town

Photograph of an elk under a tree
Elk lounging beneath a tree in the Denver suburbs.

Working on the wildlife catalogs this morning I came across this comical photograph of an elk lounging beneath tree in my neighborhood.

Elk wander into the burbs of the foothills from time to time, however, it’s not often they stop and linger for any length of time.

This guy looks like he has a hangover after a hard night on the town.

Rocky Mountain High

Bighorn Ram photo by Gary Gray
Bighorn Ram – Colorado Rocky Mountains

Back to the summit this morning.

My main mission was Rocky Mountain Goats, however, the goats were scarce. I had to settle for the bighorn instead.

Beautiful morning on the mountain though. The clouds were blowing through fast and wafting below the summit of Mt. Evans.  All in all, it was a productive morning.

 

On Top of the World

Wildlife photography by Gary Gray
Bighorn Sheep on Mt. Evans

From Mt. Evans on this past Monday morning.

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.

I’ll Take It

Photograph of a baby mountain goat.
Baby Mountain Goat on top of Mt. Evans, Colorado

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.

I’ll take it.

I’m Not a Weekend Warrior

Photograph of a wild mountain goat
Juvenile Mountain Goat – Colorado

Mountain goat season is here.

This is a photo from June of 2016.

With the tourist season upon us here in Colorado, I try to avoid getting out on weekends. The crowds form quickly and the probability of getting nice photos goes down dramatically.

I’m not a weekend warrior.