Moose have been swiftly returning to the Adirondacks in recent decades. These large ungulates were extirpated from New York State around the time of the Civil War. In the early 1980’s, moose started making a return to the state with an estimated population of 15 to 20 individuals. Their numbers have mushroomed to a population of over 800 today.
Moose are the largest living member of the deer family. Unlike most other members of the deer family, male moose have palmate antlers, which are used during the mating season to fight for the right to mate with females. Moose habitat consists of either boreal or mixed deciduous forests, where their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation.
The bulk of the moose diet consists of terrestrial plants, primarily the twigs, leaves and buds of both hardwood and softwood tree and shrub species. Some of their favorite tree species are plentiful in the Adirondacks, including birch, maple, and balsam fir.
Aquatic habitats are also important to moose. Water is often used to cool off during the warm summer months as moose have a poor capacity for thermoregulation. In addition, water habitats are used to get relief from the constant onslaught of mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, etc. Anyone who has spent even a little time in the backcountry of the Adirondacks during bug season can appreciate this need.
The Five Ponds Wilderness Area in the northwestern Adirondacks appears to offer ideal habitat for moose. Many of their favorite tree and shrub species are present in abundance in this wilderness area, especially within the extensive regeneration from the 1995 microburst in the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Given their taste for young, succulent vegetation and need for aquatic environments, it not surprising to observe ample evidence of moose within the Five Ponds Wilderness. Over the last few years, I have witnessed a significant increase in evidence of moose within this area. Although I have yet to actually observe one in the flesh in this area, their tracks and scat are becoming more common.
A few years ago, I was excited by the presence of moose tracks from the Oswegatchie River bridge to the Five Ponds Trail’s crossing of the Big Shallow outlet stream. This was the first time I observed moose tracks in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Then last year, I followed recent moose tracks from near the Wolf Pond inlet stream to just past the intersection of the Cage Lake and Five Ponds Trails, where the tracks left the trail and headed toward the wetlands surrounding the Wolf Pond inlet.
This year the evidence was even more substantial, and indicated the frequent use of an area by one or more moose. During a recent bushwhacking trip to the remote Oven Lake, there were large numbers of piles of moose dropping in many different areas as far as miles apart.
Near one wetland, located east of the Riley Ponds’ outlet stream, there seemed to be moose dropping piles whenever I looked at the ground. The area north of this wetland must have been a popular moose gathering place by the looks of it.
Other places where moose dropping were frequently observed were the hills southwest of Toad Pond, along a series of beaver swales nearly connecting the Robinson River to Oven Lake, in blow downs along the western shore of Oven Lake, around Cracker Pond, between Gal and West Ponds and all along the northernmost run of the Robinson River.
The sheer magnitude of the moose scat was mind-boggling. Either moose are plentiful in this area, or the resident vegetation gives moose some serious loose bowels. I prefer to believe the former.
The Five Ponds Wilderness Area, with its abundant new growth of moose-preferred tree species from the 1995 microburst, extensive waterways full of succulent aquatic vegetation and its vast remote forests provide an ideal habitat for moose. Anyone looking for the opportunity to see moose in the flesh in the Adirondacks (or at the very least their droppings) should explore the remote, interior of the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Photos: Moose by US Fish and Wildlife Service, moose tracks and moose droppings by Dan Crane.
Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.