Moose – Nature at our Door

Most people never get to see a moose in the wild. In contrast, in our neighbourhood it seems like just about everyone is talking about ‘their moose’ – the sightings are that frequent!

I recently watched a video from the CBC’s series The Nature of Things called The Incredible Things I’ve Seen while Following a Moose and her Calf for a Year.

A field naturalist, Hugo Kitching, spent 13 months tracking two mother/calf moose pairs  in Jasper National Park (Alberta) so he could document the dangers to moose calves in their first year of life. These mountain moose are in decline – death rates for baby moose are high. A year tracking moose in Jasper National Park is a short story of Hugo’s experience. It gives a further glimpse into the challenges Hugo faced in finding and following these majestic mountain dwelling animals (and avoiding the animals that make a baby moose’s life so dangerous.)

As I watched the video, I kept thinking how much easier it would be to do a similar study of Alberta foothills/prairie dwelling moose. Tracking the moose in our neighbourhood, for example, would sometimes be nothing more than walking out the front door. Other days the search for the moose might take longer, but it would be on mostly flat terrain that is never more than a mile from a road… it is easy to see why The Nature of Things never did a video called “Watching Alberta Prairie Moose is like Watching Paint Dry”.

Moose (Alces alces) colonized the Parkland Region of Alberta during the 1980s and early 1990s, and later colonized the Grassland Region by the early 2000s. They are not a declining species here because there are few areas with the major predators – wolves (Canis lupus), black bears (Ursus americanus), and grizzly bears (U. arctos). Cougars (Felix con-color) are also at very low density, although the abundant coyotes are a small but possible threat. Between 2001 and 2014, the provincial moose population increased ~25% from 92,000 to 115,000. (Status and Management of Moose in the Parkland and Grasslands of Alberta .)

One thing that I learned from the video: our mama moose will drive her calf away later this spring in preparation for giving birth to her next calf! Hard to say how far the calf will go, though, since there are already two other moose loosely associated with the mother moose – possibly her calves from the previous few years… but I’m just guessing.

Mother of all moose and her almost year old calf.

Here are all the moose photos I’ve posted so far.

There are about 700,000 moose in Canada. That means there is one moose for every 54 Canadians ! Mostly moose choose to live where people don’t live, however…

To set the record straight, moose are rarely dangerous and they are vegetarians…

 

Treed – Man Vs Moose

Piecing together the story

What I saw: The neighbour up the road hired a Tree Trimmer/Remover for a job that was well beyond the capabilities of the crew at the ‘Munching Moose Tree and Hedge Maintenance Service’.  The work was such that a man, with a chain saw, climbed a tall tree and then methodically removed branches. When that was done, he would then be able to take down a ‘skinny’ tree that wouldn’t damage the surrounding shrubbery nearly as much.

He had removed most of the branches when I walked by on the road. I stopped to watch, partly because it is quite interesting to see a man confidently using a chainsaw when he is about 25 feet up in the air… and partly because one of the Munching Moose was calmly eating the branches that the man had dropped to the ground.

In turn, the man was taking pictures of the Moose on his cell phone. (This is when I wished I carried a cell phone). I headed for home as fast as my little legs could carry me. Fifteen minutes later I was back at the scene with my camera, but by then the moose was gone and the man was back at work. I took a photo of the man in the tree.

What I was told: The next day I returned to the scene. The owner of the property was out front surveying some of the other work the tree trimmer had done. I told him that I had seen the ‘Treed’ man. The owner said the moose delayed the man’s descent for a while. The man kept throwing branches down towards the moose, hoping to scare it away. The moose just kept on eating. Eventually the man got low enough down the tree and the chain saw got noisy/menacing enough that the moose moved on.

From the perspective of a moose: As I was walking home, I spotted the moose in the aspen forest across the road from our place (about 150 meters (500 feet) from me.) There were at least four of them, possibly five.

I can just imagine the story that one of them told about the adventure the day before: “I tell you, it was raining branches yesterday! They just kept falling from the sky. I ate until I could hardly move!”

Photos of this group of Munching Moose. I’m making an assumption that the four moose we usually see (either in pairs or as a group of four) are always the same moose. One is a female with last springs calf. The other two are perhaps her calves from the previous year/years.

The newcomer to this group is a bull moose with antlers. It might be a younger male, since older males usually lose their antlers by now.

Bull moose on the left
Bull moose with antlers
A moose has poor eyesight but their hearing and sense of smell are excellent.
Moose are not normally aggressive unless they are harassed or it is mating season or mothers with young calves are protecting their young.

That’s it from the land of Munching Moose for this week!

 

More Munching Moose

Two representatives of the ‘Munching Moose Tree and Hedge Maintenance Service’ were here again last week. When I pointed out to them that I really didn’t want any more pruning done, this is what they said:

“Well, we chose your yard for a free complimentary call! I’ve got a young trainee with me. Junior hasn’t got the skills of our more experienced crew, so really needs the practice.

Junior can’t reach the taller branches, so I’ve assigned him to hedge duty. He should have your willow cut down to about 3 feet before the morning is over.

While he is doing that, I’m going to work on this aspen tree over here. What’s that you say? It was pruned just a few weeks ago by our other crew? Well, they missed a few branches. Look at how lopsided it is!

See how we eat everything and never leave a twig behind for you to clean up! Well, yes ma’am, we do leave these round brown lumps on the ground, but we don’t charge you a thing for our Munching Moose Tree and Hedge fertilization program.

Three Moose Morning

Three moose grazed their way through our yard a few mornings ago. Only one of them was within camera range. If this moose could talk, this might be the moose side of the conversation:

Good morning. Me and my two pals were sent here by the Munching Moose Tree and Hedge Maintenance Service. I finished pruning the hedge.  Now I’m going to do an Aspen Tree. What’s that? You don’t want the Aspen pruned? Well, usually the customer is right, but let me show you how I can fix the lopsided growth on this particular tree.

If I was to cut this branch off, right about here, this tree would look much better.

Now, another little snip right here…

There, I’m done this branch. Just thirty or forty more branches and I’ll be full… I mean done. Hope you weren’t counting on this tree to provide any shade this summer…

Moose to the Left, Moose to the Right!

We’ve lived at the Red House for almost 30 years. For the first 20 years, Moose were an urban legend as far as I was concerned. The neighbours all talked about them, but I never saw them. That changed in 2011 when a solitary moose made a dash across the back of our property. In 2012 I saw 3 moose behind the neighbours property and later, 5 moose grazing like cows in the field across the road. In 2013, 2014 and 2019 I saw between 1 and 3 moose behind our place – never stopping, just passing by.

This year we have seen moose four times in less than a week – and they are not in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Hello Grandma. I can see you in there, you know.

Last week a lone moose browsed it’s way past our house, stopping for a short time to look into the window. It was close enough that I had to back up a bit because my zoom lens wouldn’t focus on something that close. (The picture is a bit deceiving – the window is only 19 inches (48 cm) wide – probably not as wide as a moose is…)

Yesterday, I was bundled up in winter walking gear and was ready for a brisk outing when I realized that there was a moose between me and where I wanted to go. I watched it for a while as it chowed down on the willow, aspen and other assorted icy vegetation.

Same moose, head colour distorted by a bit of lens flare.

With my walk aborted, I suggested to The Car Guy that we take a trip to town for flu shots. That is when he pointed to the other side of our driveway – where two more moose were bedded down in the shelter of the woods.

Mother moose, calmly chewing her cud
Young moose, resting

Three moose, both sides of the driveway – with the possibility of a fourth moose (because we’d seen all four moose a few days earlier, though the mother and young one kept their distance from the other two moose.)

We decided a trip to town wasn’t going to happen. The truck was parked midway between us and the moose…

This all leads me to wonder – have the moose been using our woods as a winter retreat while we have been snowbirds in Arizona? Maybe this is their winter home and we are the interlopers!

(An aside story. I was curious as to whether a moose would go through a window. I could only find a couple references to such an event, one being in Maine where a moose went through the window of a vacant pizzeria. Local Police Chief Ryan Reardon said he had grown up in Maine (estimated moose population 76,000) and had been on the force for 26 years. That was the first time he had seen a moose go through a window.)

 

 

More Than One Moose isn’t Meese

If I had slept in a little later, or had breakfast a little earlier or been admiring the morning by looking out the windows on the back side of the house, I would have missed the show completely.

A pair of moose, mom and a young one, were in our front yard, giving a willow bush a thorough pruning. They were about 8 meters (25 feet) from me. (I was safely in the house – which is why these photos are not very clear. The window glass isn’t very clean and there are horizontal reflections from the venetian blinds.)

After they de-leafed the willow, the momma moose crossed the driveway and stepped onto our patio. She was now only a few meters away from our front door. She contemplated the spirea bush in the planter box, but decided it was not all that appetizing.

Mom and baby then headed back across the driveway, strolled past The Car Guy’s truck…

… the young one sniffed a spruce bow, then sauntered out of my sight.

I made a mad dash to my crafty room, which looks out in the direction they had gone. The blinds were closed in that room. I twisted the little rod that opens them and… it is hard to say who was more surprised. Me looking in the eyes of a moose that was not more than a meter (3 feet) away from me – or the momma moose. (Sure was glad there was a wall between us…)

Momma moose looked back down at the shrubbery she had been contemplating, then slowly moved on.

A few minutes later they were at the back of our property, de-leafing the trees in that area.

Later, much later, The Car Guy and I followed their meal path. I am so glad we have a 6 foot chain link fence protecting all the trees, bushes and other delicacies that I have planted over the years. If not for that fence, I think my yard would have been eaten all up.

Moose Facts
Scientific Name: Alces alces
Average weight: 400 kilograms for a male; 350 kilograms for a female
Average length: 2.4 metres to 3.2 metres
Average lifespan: 15 to 20 years in the wild

– The moose is the largest member of the deer family. (Yes, I’d certainly say that is true!)
– Moose live in the boreal forest and are found along the margins of lakes, muskegs and streams. Their range also includes the aspen parkland of the prairies (that’s us).
– The only natural predators of moose are grizzly bears and wolf packs. (We don’t have those here. The only danger would be from vehicles, but moose are not nocturnal. During daylight hours, the slow moving traffic in our rural area would most likely see a moose near the road even before the moose saw the vehicle…)

Another Moose

I told my niece that I saw a moose on the way to work this morning
She said, “How do you know he was on his way to work?”
– Author Unknown –


Not so long ago, a pair of Moose ambled across the field behind our house. The moose (not meese or mooses) stopped for a short while, contemplated something, then moved on. (This was the best I could do, photo wise. The light was not great, nor was the weather…)

Fast forward to last week. I was at our local Canadian Tire store, and what do you think I saw? A moose – and not just any moose. A genuine Canadian moose dressed in red Trooper’s Hat, plaid shirt and a sporty scarf – with a Rudolph Nose!

Portrait of a Moose

Showing great restraint, I didn’t buy the moose. I did buy two strings of Christmas lights, though. Two days later, I realized I needed one more string of lights… and guess what? Apparently I needed a moose too, because there it was, right where I had left it in the store. Waiting patiently, glassy eyes sparkling, red nose acting like a beacon as it drew me down the aisle of this, that and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t need or want.

Moose with an HDR filter

Did I need a moose? No, of course not. Did I want something that makes me smile every time I look at it? Well, maybe. Did I have a vehicle in the parking lot big enough to carry a small moose? Well, yes I did. Was The Car Guy willing to carry the beast through the store and out into the parking lot? Well, yes he said he would.

Moose with a cartoonish filter

Does red plaid clash with my decor? Not at all.
Going, going, gone – another Canadian Tire Moose gets a home!

Moose needs a name. I’m thinking ‘Bruce’. What would you name this moose?

Moose Tracks in my Alberta Yard

AlbertaThis past winter a new set of tracks appeared on the edge of our woods – Moose. These tracks were made by several moose, likely travelling together.

Exciting, but moose can be very dangerous during certain times of the year. One of them has already challenged a car on the road out front, I hear.

I’m not too concerned about my personal safely, however. I have an early warning system – the chatty birds – Magpies. I’m not the only creature they harass! Owls, deer, coyotes, crows, fox, skunks – nothing slinks through these woods without being vocally assaulted by the magpies. All I have to do is listen carefully and I’ll know in advance if there is something I should be aware of.

AlbertaJust how big is a moose?  This is a close up shot of one of the tracks in the snow. The two little holes on the right side of the track are left by the animals dew claws which are two small extra toes that are situated a bit higher up the back of the leg. This track would be about 5 inches long.

The moose in the photo below is standing next to a fence that is 4 feet tall (and I am just over 5 feet tall) so you can understand why I would not want to be near a moose if it was having a bad day! I feel much safer with my trusty Magpies on full alert!

Musings about Moose in my Alberta Yard

Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing ‘Embraceable You’ in spats.
– Woody Allen –

If I was asked to describe typical moose habitat, I would NOT say it was where I live – a prairie landscape dotted with a few stands of aspen and a small body of water that can  hardly be called a lake; farm land and various size acreages; a city of 40,000 people just a mile away, poised to swallow us up.

No, I don’t think of this as moose country, yet every so often a moose or two or three trot past my back yard. They are not there by accident. They are our neighbours.

Right across the road from our house is the hay field where the hawk kids hung out this fall. A few mornings ago we spotted the moose family grazing  there.

There were five of them all together, slowly mowing the pasture in the same manner as a herd of cows would. It was a remarkable sight!

A few days later I was wandering around our property and just inside our northern windbreak I found ungulate tracks in the snow. Looking a lot like a deer print, but much bigger, I decided they were moose tracks. Just then the magpies raised an alarm, I spied movement in the woods, and then the crack of branches breaking as something charged through the trees. I was relieved to see a few white tail deer exit the forest and bound off across the field, and I hoped it was me that had startled them, and not a moose!

Every time I step out my front door I think about the creatures that also call this land home: coyotes and the deer that eat my garden; stinky skunks and a lone weasel; rabbits that also eat my garden; and a family of moose!

It is only a matter of time before all of us have to adapt to the encroachment of the city, or move elsewhere. It will be harder for some than others.