Wild Moose Chase
As a kid, I remember my country veterinarian father going on late evening ranch calls. Sometimes the cow would not be tethered with a rope but the rancher would swear on the phone to my mother that “she’s down on the ground under the big oak tree and she can’t get up. He can drive right up to her.” Two or three hours later my father would return and report he never found the cow. My mother would say “well, that was a wild goose chase.”
Jenni claims I took her on a wild MOOSE chase when we traveled through New England.
Last fall we failed to find any moose on our trip through the Tetons and Yellowstone. I thought for sure we could spot one in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine this year.
Almost every evening, if we had cell service, I would search online for “where to see moose in my area”. We had plenty of freedom built into our schedule so we spent one day almost exclusively on the “hunt” for a moose in upper Vermont. I read about a viewing platform built just for the purpose of watching these huge mammals so we headed that direction. Around midday our GPS told us we had found it. This platform was situated just on the edge of the ditch that paralleled the highway. While we had been promised by some locals that the moose think nothing of crossing the road, I found it hard to believe they would do so at this location with 18-wheelers cruising by. Then Google Maps showed a nearby hiking trail called the Moose Bog Trail in the Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. It was about a mile hike through the boreal forest emerging at a lake, or pond, with a bog. It was close and sounded promising so we did our third U-turn of the day and traveled down a dirt road to the trailhead.
Here’s a fun fact for you. In parts of New England, bodies of water seem to use the title of Lake and Pond at random. On some maps, the ponds are larger than the lakes. Sometimes the two are side by side. We never seemed to have a cell signal when we wondered about the difference, but now that I’m at home I’ve learned that sunlight will penetrate to all depths of a pond while a lake will contain deep water that the sunlight does not penetrate. Okay, I’ll accept that explanation. So, the body of water at the end of Moose Bog Trail was likely a pond from what we saw. But I digress.
We parked at the trailhead, read the available signage, maps, and camping rules, and let Annie have a walkabout. We put her back in Wanda, made sure there was cool airflow, and grabbed our walking sticks to begin the hike.
Ten feet into the hike (I kid you not), a nuthatch landed on a branch above Jenni’s head and began singing to her. I raise my cell phone to take a picture and the bird flew to the phone and hovered above it. We were astounded by the behavior. A few more feet down the trail, a pair of nuthatches were now flittering around us. I wondered if this was a wildlife version of Lassie, and Timmy had fallen in a water well. Jenni picked up a small branch and one of the birds landed on the stick! We continued the hike, often seeing the nuthatch pair in the first quarter mile. When we had gone about a mile, we reached the clearing for the pond and our little feathered friends returned with quite a raucous chirping. Having collected a few tiny huckleberries (blueberries), Jenni held them out in the palm of her hand and one of the birds swooped down and selected the smallest one before flying up to a branch. They weren’t overly impressed with the natural diet we had chosen for them.
After admiring the pond and spotting some carnivorous plants (but not a single moose), we headed back to Wanda at the trailhead. We pulled a few peanuts out of our pantry, crushed them, and went back to the beginning of the trail. In no time the nuthatches were swooping in for bits of peanut. Soon a chipmunk and a couple red squirrels were cautiously approaching. Jenni looked like Snow White with the forest creatures all around her.
It became apparent to us that we were NOT the first to feed these birds. I still wonder how it first got started. And, yes, we did feel guilty for feeding wild animals but this seemed different from bears (which we do NOT feed.) Essentially, they were getting food like what they would have found in a feeder. We did make the decision at that point to stop feeding by hand.
After a return trip to the van for more peanuts, we spread them on a downed tree trunk to watch the fervor of activity. As I was taking pictures, a pair of Canada Jays swooped in for meal. From watching some wilderness survival shows, we knew these were also called Whiskey Jacks or Camp Robbers. I related to the latter name the way they dominated the log and devoured the peanuts.
The afternoon had been perfect. No, we didn’t find what we started out looking for—we found something even better. We thought about sleeping there to look for moose in the morning, but decided we didn’t quite meet the posted requirements. There was still plenty of sunlight to move down the road so we made our way back to the asphalt and then drove on to New Hampshire for the night.
In fact, we slept at a roadside park that night. Twenty feet from our van we found fresh moose tracks in the mud! Turns out that was closest we got to a moose the entire trip.
But now, even at home in our yard, when we hear nuthatches chirping we think of our little friends and joke that the same pair has followed us home!
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