In September 1980, after an absence of 100 years, moose returned to New York State permanently when four or five animals migrated west out of Vermont. Thirty years later, to celebrate the arrival of moose, the Indian Lake Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the 4th annual “Great Adirondack Moose Festival” September 28 and 29.
Among the activities planned are moose themed games and activities for the children, demonstrations, contests, wilderness guided hikes and tours, Bruce the Moose and a self-guided driving tour of the Moose River Plains, all to celebrate the return of the largest member of the deer family, the moose.
September is a good month for moose watching because it marks the beginning of the rut, a time when bulls roam widely in search of a cow moose. This is the season when moose callers get out their megaphones of plastic or the traditional birch bark, and try to call in a bull. Even if you don’t get to see a moose in person, you may see moose sign and tracks near the road, as the Moose River Plains-Perkins Clearing area of Hamilton County is one of three key nuclear areas for moose, places where those first moose colonizers clustered in the 1980s and 1990s and slowly multiplied to the point where they started dispersing to other regions of the Adirondacks. The other two nuclear areas are the Loon Lake-Standish section of Franklin County and the east side of Lake George. Today, the Department of Environmental Conservation guesstimates there may be 500-1500 moose in northern New York.
When looking for a moose, you have to envision a very dark, horse-size animal that blends in well with the foliage and can be difficult to see, even close to the road or trail. Moose love salt, especially the runoff from highway salting of winter roads that collects in wetlands near roads. In northern Vermont and New Hampshire where there are sizeable populations, moose create “licks” or “wallows” in these places, making them easier to see and photograph, but also they pose a potential traffic hazard when on or crossing the roadway. Take all “Moose Crossing” signs seriously and slow down. Another indicator of a moose crossing in areas frequented by these animals is skid marks on the hardtop, a reminder to drive carefully.
Though you hear about 1000-pound plus moose, the bulk of bulls in the northeast weigh in at 700-900 pounds; cows weigh less. Moose tracks can best be described as super-sized deer tracks, averaging 6-inches long, the rear dew claws often showing, especially in mud.
Historically, the Adirondacks were part of the moose’s natural southern range. By the 1860s they had been extirpated, the result of over hunting and land clearing which opened the door for an influx of white-tailed deer. Deer can carry a disease called “brain worm” (scientifically p. tenuis) that is transmitted by land snails. Where their numbers are high, deer when browsing excrete the p.tenuis, which is picked up by a land snail that becomes infected. If a moose accidently eats browse with that infected snail it will get the almost always fatal disease. Surprisingly, deer are immune to brain worm. With our deer numbers down from the peaks of a half century ago, there now seems to be a population balance that should benefit both species.
The classic picture of a moose is a wilderness, spruce-lined pond, the bull pulling up water lilies. While they do seek water in summer and like to eat water lilies, moose in the Adirondacks will be found as often in logged-over forest where young striped maples, mountain ash, and aspen are growing. These are favorite foods, the moose often “riding down” the sapling to get at the tender tops.
No matter in what habitat you find one, seeing a moose in New York is still a rare treat—cherish the moment.
This post was adapted from an essay by the late outdoors writer Dennis Aprill, who also took the photo.