Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to see and photograph moose

Bull moose on Red Lake, Ontario
Moose, the largest members of the deer family, are abundant around Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake, Ontario. and seeing them is always a thrill.

Here's the best way to see and photograph these magnificent creatures.

Get up early! I know you didn't want to hear this but it's the truth. Probably 90 per cent of your chance to see these animals will occur in the first hour or two of daylight.

Moose are most often seen as they swim from one island to another or when they wade out into shallow weedy areas to feed on aquatic plants.

These plants are higher in sodium than are land plants. After a winter of doing nothing but browsing on woody stems --the tips of hardwood trees-- moose crave the sodium-rich aquatic plants. The amount of sodium in this vegetation is only a few parts per million, but to the moose it's a big difference.

They also need the sodium to bring into balance the potassium and sodium in their bodies. Winter twigs are high in potassium; water plants are high in sodium.

Moose also wade out into the lake to get away from bugs such as deer and horse flies and, in the spring, black flies.

They'll also come to the water to escape the heat. We've seen moose that will lie in the water on beaches, the same as people do. This can occur any time during the day.

In the spring and early summer, getting away from camp at daybreak is harder than it sounds.

It gets light about 4 a.m. and doesn't get dark until 11 p.m. But by mid-July to the end of August, the sun comes up closer to 6 a.m. You can always see very well one-half hour before sunrise, so that's when you want to leave camp.

Head to a grassy bay or where a creek comes into the lake. Turn off your outboard motor and be quiet. Sounds carry great distances over the water. Voices, in particular, can be heard clearly a half-mile away. If you must talk, whisper.

There's no reason you can't fish at the same time. In many cases the motor, at idle speed such as when trolling, doesn't spook the animals either.

Watch for wakes in the water that could be caused by an animal swimming or for black spots along the shoreline or on land.

Obviously a good pair of binoculars will be an asset.

Listen for splashing in the water or sticks breaking up on land.

Moose will usually wade out until only their heads are above water and then periodically submerge. Although they are normally standing on the bottom, I've also seen them swim and dive to get weeds that were out of their reach.

When the moose puts its head underwater, you can paddle towards it, then freeze when it lifts its head again.

Although you can get incredibly close using this technique, we ask that you keep a respectful distance. Mostly it's just to keep from scaring them to death when they finally realize you are there but there's also some danger from getting too close.

It is rare for fishermen to ever hear moose vocalize. However, if you are quiet and close to them you might detect a very, very quiet "URH". They do make louder calls to attract mates but that doesn't occur until late September and early October.

Finally, if you're like most people on vacation, you aren't an early riser. No worries! We also see moose right in the middle of the day, usually as they swim from one spot to another.

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