Monday, September 18, 2017

A Celebration of Adirondack Moose

There are several creatures that serve as symbols of the rugged and majestic character of the Great North Woods, yet none is as fitting as the moose. When initially seen, a moose may be perceived as being quite ugly and an unusual choice to represent the beauty of the northern wilderness.

Its disproportionately long legs, awkward gait, protruding hump on its back above its shoulders, rather rough coat and odd looking facial features create an image that may not be very appealing at first glance. Yet, together these characteristics create a unique and overwhelming image to those lucky enough to see one of these giants in the wilds, and they help this massive mammal flourish in a sub-arctic region.

A moose’s exceptionally long legs are ideal for walking in places where a deep snow pack develops in winter. Additionally, the up and down manner in which this behemoth moves its legs further helps it plod through significant accumulations of snow and forest debris. The sizeable hump above its shoulders is added muscle mass that gives extra strength to its front legs for maneuvering through places where large fallen trees restrict movement. This dorsal clump of muscles also helps the moose support its chunky neck and head, especially when there is a rack of antlers protruding from the top if its skull.

The moose’s coat of coarse fur enables it to effectively retain body heat and its grotesquely enlarged and drooping lips enable it to strip sizeable quantities of vegetation from twigs and sticks. In order to maintain a good state of health, an adult moose needs to consume 30 to 40 pounds of browse each day, particularly during the colder months of the year. This snout also provides it with a keen sense of smell, even during the period of intense cold when odor molecules are more difficult to detect.

Despite the moose’s lack of natural enemies in the Adirondacks, this gangly beast possesses a shy temperament making sightings of it a rarity. Unlike the white-tailed deer, which frequently strays into open places to feed making it easy to spot, the moose prefers to wander in forested settings and shrub-laden thickets where visibility is limited. Also, because the moose is most active during periods of twilight, its dark, chocolate colored coat blends in with the shadows of the forest background. Even when it steps into a forest clearing, or ventures through a beaver meadow, the sun is generally below the horizon, and only a dim silhouette of it appears against the background.

While seeing one of these recluses of the Great North Woods is a rarity, there comes a time in mid to late September in the Adirondacks when the likelihood of an encounter is greatly improved. Around the time of the autumnal equinox, moose develop the urge to go on the prowl for reproductive partners. Bull moose are especially known to travel more in their attempt to locate one or several females, also known as cows, as the leaves begin to change color. Even cow moose, particularly those residing in places where there is an absence of bulls, are known to wander more in the weeks prior to the rut.

As the mating, or rutting season approaches, the gentle temperament of the moose, especially the bulls, may be impacted by the heightened levels of hormones in their system. It is never wise to get within a hundred yards of a moose at any time of the year; their sheer size and brute power can pose a serious danger should one view a person as a threat, or worse yet, as a rival. It is always best to observe a moose either from the safety of a car, or from a distance of at least a hundred yards.

Seeing one of these phantoms in the wilds is a rare treat. Its shy and secretive nature greatly limits the chances of catching a glimpse of one, especially in the Adirondacks where the moose population is still in a developing stage. However, toward the end of September, the odds of crossing paths with a moose do go up. While moose continue to remain hidden in the underbrush of our lush forests, their increased travels cause them to more frequently across highways, stray through the outskirts of villages, and traverse lakes and rivers.

Because of the increase in moose sightings in September, the Indian Lake New York, Chamber of Commerce, has proclaimed it to be a time of celebration, and an occasion to pay tribute to this symbol of the Great North Woods. As a result, the Chamber is sponsoring their 8th Annual “Great Adirondack Moose Festival” September 23 and 24, 2017. Festival activities will include moose themed games for children, talks and presentations by animal experts, Bruce the Moose and Smokey Bear, guided hikes and self-guided cruises in the Moose River Plains in search of this largest member of the deer family.

Photo: Moose At Helldiver Pond by John Warren.

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Tom Kalinowski is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for Adirondack Life, The Conservationist, and Adirondack Explorer magazines and a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News. In addition, Tom’s books, An Adirondack Almanac, and his most recent work entitled Adirondack Nature Notes, focuses on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. He also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s pictures have appeared in various publications across the New York State.

13 Responses

  1. James Marco says:

    Nice write up. Thanks, Tom!

  2. Farrah Whitney says:

    My husband took this picture!

  3. Catherine Kirkland Dowhan says:

    Th first time I climbed Eagle Cliff alone in Eagle Bay, NY, I saw a moose walking towards me. I stood very still and he and I looked at each other for long seconds, about 75 yards apart. He turned and walked away. He had grey in his muzzle and was very thin. For an eleven year old it was a grand adventure, I faced my moose and knew I was brave. My self confidence grew after that.

  4. Laila says:

    Any chance to spot moose in mid-November?

    • Tom Kalinowski says:

      Hi Laila, There is always a chance to spot a moose in the Adirondacks, however, sometimes of the year are better than others. Mid-Nov. is getting late for moose to be wandering outside their normal range, as their mating season is nearly finished by this time. Since this creature tends to remain in dense wooded settings, it is always a rare occasion when one should come into the open where it can be more easily seen. Good Luck in attempting to spot one, as you never know when one is going to cross a road, or emerge from the edge of an alder thicket.

      • Laila says:

        Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. It’s appreciated. Can you perhaps let me know what other wildlife I might see at that time. This city girl would be thrilled to see any wildlife!

        • Tom Kalinowski says:

          Hi Laila,
          Viewing wildlife is always a great experience, however virtually all encounters with wild animals is pure luck. Mid-Nov. is a time when some creatures, like the woodchuck and jumping mice have already gone into their den and descended into a state of hibernation. During some many years, the chipmunk will also enter its burrow complex in mid autumn to retire for the winter season, however if the crop of beechnuts is good, they may postpone their dormancy until after Thanksgiving. This year seems to be a good cone year in my area, which should increase the profile of the red squirrels this year. Mid-Nov. is when deer are quite active, as this is the peak of their mating, or rutting season. If you are interested in seeing deer, you may want to visit an area in which they are highly visible, like around the village of Old Forge.
          It is impossible to say what creatures you may encounter, if any, as the places where you go, the manner in which you spend your time, (i.e. hiking, canoeing, or simple sitting quietly in a chair in front of a leanto), your attentiveness to sounds and subtle movements around you all play a factor in determining your chances for seeing wildlife. Good Luck with you trip, and I hope you have a great time.

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