Mad mama moose...and her kids

In past years, it is around this time that I would be pondering a long weekend camping trip to northern New Hampshire, with moose watching of course the prime objective.

With the spotting success of a fully antlered bull discussed in one of my last posts, this post is about the far more frequently observed cow moose. Gangly, odd-looking beasts, I certainly wouldn’t make 400-miles trips to photograph them. Still, they have produced some interesting encounters, including one that gave me quite a scare...

The reader should note that I respect animals and their space, the respect enabled in part because I have always had (even before the advent of digital zooms) sufficient telephoto equipment to lessen the space between me and my subject. Unfortunately, too many others crowd wildlife. I have seen it done to bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and, on one trip to Pittsburg, NH, I saw it done to a moose. Further, like many animals, mother moose are very protective of their young. So, when I see a female with calves, I make sure I am not standing between them or in their path of travel. While abiding by this simple precaution, I ended up distancing myself from a group of people and nearly paying for it.

A cow moose with calves was grazing by the side of the Moose Alley roadway when she shooed them across it. Some moose watchers started to crowd her, snapping pictures with standard lenses and disposable point-and-shoot cameras. I was about 150 feet from her, peering at her through the viewfinder of my tripod-mounted camera with a 400-mm lens. I caught a number of pictures of her, when she started her trot across the road. As she was crossing, the shutter click caused her to turn her head, which was now quickly filling the frame. I looked up from the camera to see that she had taken a circuitous route across and was heading straight toward me. I don’t know if she was running from the crowd or at me, but I took a deep breath, tipped the tripod toward me, and leaned tightly against my car as she approached. Thankfully, she made a final turn away from me and disappeared into the woods. Without question, that was as close as I ever need to get to a moose, or any other mother protective of her young.

That encounter notwithstanding, there were plenty of other mother–calf spottings, and several cases of a mother with two rambunctious calves creating entertainment of their own. One trip resulted in my ripping through a roll of film shooting this pair of calves, as they alternately chased, butted heads, snuggled, and tried climbing on each other’s backs. Of course, I knew enough to watch from a safe distance…

Over the next few years, the popularity of Moose Alley grew courtesy of features in everything from The New York Times Travel Section to web sites. On one of my last trips there, after some minor spotting success in the morning, a large group of us sat in one spot for awhile that afternoon, because someone had seen a moose a short time earlier. We all got involved in conversation, but never saw one. That became the trend on later trips, the appearance of more tourists and fewer moose. There may well be a connection between the two.

On what I recall as my next trip to Moose Alley, a bunch of us saw one walk along it, setting up what would be some easy pictures. Then, an irate trucker came barreling along with horn blaring to scare it away. The blowing horn had the desired effect, making for some furious onlookers, myself included. I understand that the drivers have a job to do and deadlines to meet, plus moose and spectators on the roadway are a hazard for all involved, but this driver’s actions seemed out of control. I haven’t been back since.

Still, if I can get some work done on my car before the weekend, I may just throw my camping gear in the trunk and do something about that…


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