Mister Moose and Bullwinkle Invade Colorado

Most of us have never seen a moose up close. OK, so maybe you have—at a zoo. But have you ever seen a moose on the loose? You’d certainly remember if you did. They are HUGE animals.

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Steer clear if you encounter one, especially in the fall (during the “rut” or mating season) and in spring (the calving season). A simple rule: avoid pestering the ladies in the spring, and the men in the fall. They both have important business to tend to, and neither involves shopping or football.

Believe me, after an unfortunate run-in with a moose, nobody will quiz you at the hospital about the proper grammar or spelling, i.e. whether you were “hooved” or “hoofed” to near-death by this seven-foot-high ungulate. They’ll just advise you to keep your distance in the future. Moose won’t eat you like a grizzly might; they’re herbivores. But they can certainly put a dent in your infrastructure.

Safe to say, most of us Baby Boomers learned what a moose looks like on TV, watching “Bullwinkle & Rocky” and “Captain Kangaroo.”  Here’s a video clip to bring you back….

Captain Kangaroo at the mercy of Mr. Moose:

 

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Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and command respect because of their enormous size, great speed and broad velvet antlers (on bulls). They have a dark brown coat, offset by white lower legs, a strong, distinctive scent (not pleasant), hooved feet, and a unique feature under their chins, a loose flap of skin called a dewlap. (I wonder … are they related to the turkey?)

One thing’s for certain– they will not remind you of Bambi, despite their inclusion in the deer family.

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If you see more than one, don’t embarrass yourself in front of your local wildlife guide by proclaiming “Holy cow! Look. There’s a flock, I mean a gaggle, of meese over there.”

A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and a moose is a moose, you silly goose. But even a moose’s extended family is, uhhh, moose. All of them. Together.

I know, I know. It’s all very awkward and linguistically redundant. But you know that singular/plural animal thing. It’s as convoluted and confusing as Latin. But once you master it, you’ll be regarded as highly as Marlin Perkins and Jack Hanna, and get more dates with athletic, outdoorsy types.

My cousin Steve is a talented poet. He shared with me one of his catchy poems while I was visiting with him this summer. His house in situated in a densely wooded area in Rochester, N.Y. After sighting a slew of animals around his property, I asked him how I was to refer to a group of woodchucks. Several of them were playing in his yard. He pulled out the poem and rambled through a litany of strange words I had never heard. (And I grew up with animals.)

It was a delightful play on the singular and plural names of animals and animal groups. It was intriguing, whimsical, educational and confounding all at once. (His poem is available at the end of this blog post).

After reading his poem, you won’t confuse a flock of geese with a herd of moose. You’ll never shriek at the sight of a lone mouse in your house, but you might if you see its sisters and its brothers more than once, or twice, or thrice. In that case, it’s mice. You’ll never again say you saw a flock of gooses fly over some dark, furry mooses. Just read Steve’s poem once, and you’ll be the pride of your grade-school grammar teacher and you’ll have a new appreciation for irregular plurals.

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When I moved to Colorado at age 28, I soon started many back-country forays, to explore terrain, get a feel for my new environment and capture nature & landscape photos. It wasn’t long before I encountered my first moose. Singular, in this instance.

My dad was with me. This was appropriate and fortunate for me, as his foremost duty as a father was to protect his children from bodily harm. I think I reminded him of this calling as I jumped into his arms when I saw my very first monster moose. They weren’t lying — he was BIG! Even worse, he was loose, and he was very close. I felt like I had just seen my first dinosaur.

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We were in the town of Gould, Colorado, in North Park. This was near where wildlife officials first introduced moose to Colorado in 1978. The few breeding pairs that ventured off into the wild that year, and several more pairs the following year, have now blossomed into a population approaching 2,000. Needless to say, Colorado suits them well and they are here to stay. Their proliferation is due to amenable habitats and the lack of predators.

After seeing the tall beast in the creek, and apologizing to my dad for acting like a wuss, I ventured into town to the local saloon, where I asked some burly locals about our state’s new inhabitants, while sipping some nerve-soothing whiskey. That’s when I learned about the wildlife transplant program.

The moose have indeed propagated and migrated around the state. I started seeing them near Vail in the past decade or so. I recall a very unusual photo in the Vail Daily in the early 90s. It showed a moose strolling around the Lionshead parking structure, lost, trapped in a maze of cars and concrete, ramps and stairways. The poor thing. What a bad dream. I know how much I hate parking garages, so imagine this bull’s dismay? The image was so surreal, so bizarre, I expected to see ping-pong balls all over the pavement.

Since then I have seen moose a few times while camping in the Upper Piney River Basin. One memorable sighting was on a chilly, clear morning, as the sun broke over the jagged Gore Range and reflected across a large pond in a marshy area near the river. It pays to get out of the tent early — that’s when you see magical things in nature. Photographers know this. And sure enough, that was the case on this September morning.

Off in the distance, on the edge of the pond, I saw three moose wading knee-high in the water, munching on the weeds and reeds in the golden morning light. It was a wonderful sight. I didn’t have my camera (major faux-pas), but I did have binoculars. I still recall the shimmering drops of water dripping from their dewlaps.

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In August 2011, my brother and I hiked down to a river connecting Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby in Grand County. He was looking for a spot to fly fish. As we passed through a parking area, a man emerged from the willows, and startled us with his sudden and unusual appearance.

The guy was wearing fishing waders and sporting other fishing apparel and gear, but you could barely tell. He was frantic, exhausted, beside himself and quite flustered. Most of all, he was covered with mud from head to rubber-covered toe.

“Are you OK,?” we asked, as he headed toward his truck.

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine, I guess. A little worn out.”

My brother was giggling under his breath and smirking.

I couldn’t resist: “And a little muddied up, eh? That must have been one BIG fish out there, wherever you just came from.”

“Oh… no… had nothing to do with any fish,” he explained. “I just ran, stumbled, fell, slithered in, slopped around in, ran through and fell again into a few muddy areas along the river. It felt like Basic Training in the military all over again.”

“I guess that’s great exercise, but I try never to do such a thing while fishing. It shakes up my beer,” quipped my smart-ass brother.

“Ha. Ha,” said the man. “You’d do it if you saw a moose as big as I just saw coming full-bore at you along the river’s edge. I’m lucky mud is the only thing I have all over me. I’ve never run so fast in my life.”

“Oh,” said my brother. “My apologies. Forget the beer joke. In fact, nobody deserves one more than you do, my friend. Here’s a cold one. Good to see you in one piece. Oh…by the way, how’s the fishing back in there?”

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After moving back to Vail recently, I quickly learned that the moose make regular cameo appearances in the area, even in town. A Vail Daily photo showed two moose calves trotting down a paved road in Lionshead, right past the police station! No tickets were issued and they escaped back into the woods.

 Moose on the LooseI spotted these calves the day before, while driving at dusk on the dirt road on Vail Mountain.

 

They were scruffy-furred, clumsy, playful and entertaining–vastly different from their adult counterparts, who tend to be all-business. These youngsters reminded me of our poster-boy for moose, Captain Kangaroo’s “Mr. Moose” — fuzzy, funny, and relatively harmless (except for the ping-pong balls.)

The photos on this blog post were shot in August, as my friend Karen and I approached a favorite camping spot near 10,500 feet in the White River National Forest, north of Vail. These two big boys were waiting for us, and took up evening residence within 50 yards of our tent site. Karen didn’t plan on partying with neighbors like these.

IMG_3852 - Version 2 I had just enough time before darkness fell to grab my tripod, position myself safely on a slope above them, and get these images.

We saw one of them the next evening near the same location, as we drove back to camp after a peaceful hike along Piney Lake in late afternoon. Earlier, as we followed the lake-shore trail toward Piney River Ranch, we heard a rustling behind and above us on the slope. The sound abruptly ceased, and we spied two moose–a mother and her calf–in a frozen standstill, staring intently at us. Funny…we were in the same deadpan, motionless position. All parties were in a state of surprise at the unplanned encounter. But after a few more seconds, they determined that we were not a threat, and trotted down the hill to the lake to eat.

Karen and I sat down on the grass and were treated to a delightful 20-minute nature movie, starring mamma moose and her young calf feeding on the vegetation in the lake. The little one was watching her mother intently, following her every move, staying close for protection, and trying her best to learn the tricks of the moose trade. The golden sun cast a sensational light on them — their dark brown coats gleaming against the variations of green in the weeds, willow bushes, water and trees.

IMG_3944 They could have cared less about us. It’s obvious these large animals are getting use to people. Just like the elk. I regularly had multiple elk grazing and resting just feet from my deck in Evergreen, Colorado. (See my blogs on “elk.”)

Since moving to Colorado, I have seen more elk than I ever wished for. Their numbers are growing exponentially, also because of the lack of predators. They are a nuisance in many areas, causing a number of problems. So moose have provided me a welcomed diversion. For a few more years anyway, they will be a pleasant, unusual surprise in the wildlife-encounter experience.

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Many Colorado folks worry the same thing will happen to the moose as has happened to the elk. Fast-growing populations and negative impacts. Balanced ecosystems depend on the presence of all players. The lack of grizzly bears and wolves in Colorado means these hooved animals have a command of the land. Hunters are their only threat.

Moose are an intriguing addition to the wildlife landscape here. They represent yet another reason to keep looking over your shoulder when you wander in the national forest. If only I can get past my ingrained tendency to wince, cringe and cower while I wait for the falling ping-pong balls.

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Here’s to Bob Keeshan!

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Collective Chain

by Stephen Schickler

"That's an exaltation of starlings" was my remark.
She googled collectives
found chatterings and murmurations for this volery in the park.
but exaltation is an ascencion of larks!
"sorry, not starlings my darling."
A fall of woodcocks and peckers descent!
  Kittens are a litter, a kindle, a kendle of cats
they grow to become a glaring, nuisance, a clowder a clutter
a pounce, dout, destruction to a plague of rats!
a mischief, swarm, colony, horde or pack
that often become a picnic, a snack....to an aerie, cast, kettle
of hawks on attack.
The fields are full of dissimulations
 of birds
like crocs in congregation.
An unkindness of ravens might bite off ones nose.
like a storytelling, or murder of crows.
  I wonder..how many bobolinks are in a chain?
What charms of finches do in the rain?
Do they covey like grouse or just brood like chickens,
Sounder of boar or form flights like pigeons?
  When flushed... a bouquet is all pheasant
and to a nye on the ground...under glass is unpleasant.
  The swans are a wedge as they fly in a "V"
but smack of jelly fish float in the sea.
  Does it take a siege of herons
to catch a glint of goldfish?
  Is a prickle of hedgehogs
a lead of foxes dinner dish?
  A warren, leash
a husk, down, trace
a trip of hares and a shrewdness of apes.
  Common are the herd of antelope, deer ,horses
and llamas too
maybe even chinchillas and mobs of emus.
  But what are the chances?
that a sowse of lions...like a pride..not on booze.
catches and downs an implausibility of gnus????
hmmmm pretty good.

Enriched by Traci
In the hills of Cortland County
Quick, left,and lean
and so sweet to me.

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