Monthly Archives: August 2012

Searching for Moose, or, Searching for “The Shot”

I have wanted to photograph an adult bull moose for some time.  Yes, I did that years ago with film, in Yellowstone and the Tetons, Banff-Jasper, and in Alaska.  But those photos are now not mine (through divorce), and I wanted this subject as digital files.  I’ve camped in North Park (or near it, near Gould, CO), haunted the Long Draw Reservoir road, checked the Colorado State Forest, and hung around Cameron Pass.  Yes, I did see moose…….but not that my 200mm lens limitation could handle.  Since then I have added some millimeters to my focal length arsenal.  I have had to be content to watch female moose and their partly-grown calves.  Even dogsledding in the Michigan River area in winter had only netted moose tracks and fresh droppings!  I drove the Vasquez Creek Road in Winter Park last fall, hoping to find moose during the rut.  I did find them (the first big-antlered bull I’d ever seen in Colorado!), but they dashed into deep timber and were gone in a flash.  I was a moose-photographing dud!

Moose are often seen on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and yes, I’d seen them:  females.  Once I managed to photograph a bull moose at some distance across a pond near the Kawauneechee Visitor Center.  This moose’s budding antlers were tiny, but I was definitely thrilled to get this shot!  He was near a cabin with a sign that proclaimed:  “Moose Crossing”…….and how prophetic.  But still not quite what I wanted.

For years, my only bull moose capture

That’s not to say the above photo wasn’t a thrill.  It truly was.  It’s just that I was certainly not satiated by this experience.  I went back time-after-time, summer and fall, and never again caught this fellow around this spot.  The sign remained, so I assume I was merely unlucky.

Earlier in the summer, a friend and I had planned a trip to the Grand Tetons and a wildlife photographing tour.  We were outfitted and ready, and then I was laid off my day job.  Would I ever get an opportunity to do the moose photography I’d hoped for?

Since their introduction in the late 1970’s, moose have thrived in Colorado.  They are most common near North Park in the north central part of the state, but they have infiltrated their niche in many places throughout Colorado from the northern mountains to the San Juans.  They have even crossed the Continental Divide and are found in suitable habitats on the east side of the mountains!  I was talking to a wildlife photographer friend last week who mentioned seeing moose in the Indian Peaks during the month of August.  I suddenly was determined to see and photograph that elusive bull moose without the outlay of money a trip to more sure opportunities would cost.  A friend and I decided to try an evening jaunt where we had heard up to seven moose were seen in the willows near a popular recreational lake.  It would be a dream come true!  But……it turns out our trip was on the very first day in August the moose failed to appear at this popular watching spot!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was determined to try early in the morning.

The very next weekend, another friend and I left here at 4 a.m. to make the two hour trip to try for moose photography.  We planned to go hiking in case of a no-show and went with no real expectations.  We were lucky!  Not seven, but a nice three bull moose were munching on willows around the lake, and we joined about twelve other photographers in the early morning light to get some very nice photographs:

Bull moose in velvet, early morning light

The first moose we encountered were feeding near one another:  a younger bull with a beautiful, lighter-colored male, still with velvet on his antlers:

Moose buddies in the willows

We spent some time photographing these guys from the top of my friend’s mini-van.  Moose have very long legs for a reason.  The willows they feed on are high, and tough to navigate.  Those long legs help in the effort of feeding.

Reaching for the tidbits

We traveled over to the end of the lake, where most of the photographers were set up, photographing a big guy, whose antlers were huge, and bare of velvet.  This rather wary big guy enjoyed keeping his hind end toward us, but keeping a blood-shot eye in our direction:

Note that blood-shot eye. . .

Eventually, the big guy moved deep into the willows, and we decided to return to the first two moose we had encountered.  We knew they would eat only until their stomachs were full, and then they would move from the willows to cross the road to chew their cuds in peace, somewhere deep in the forest.  We wanted to be by the roadside when they crossed to see the total immense size of this largest member of the deer family.

As this moose prepared to cross, he hesitated near the edge of the willows to give us some good looks……at almost too close a range.

Munching tools: moose teeth exposed

We sure did get some close-ups as the moose got close to the road, about to emerge from the willow sea!  I stayed on top of the car, but several photographers gathered on the road to watch the moose cross.  Had I been alone, I might have been more prone to get close.  As weird as that might sound, I feel that a respectful distance kept by a lone photographer has got to be a lot less stress on the wildlife than a group of oglers all crowding too close…..I felt pretty secure on the car and was determined to photograph any “action” the moose might provide on his crossing.

Excitement was responsible for my not getting the bottom of the moose’s feet in this emergence shot…..(considered a grave no-no in wildlife photography). It happens.

It was time for all the boys to retreat to the woods…..and I wanted to get the big guy doing it.  He obliged, making his way from the end of the lake, to cross near where his fellows had crossed.  To do this, he had to travel out in the open, and afforded the best shots of the day……a full body shot with nice environmental background.

Our big guy making his get away…

I’ve spent a lot of space telling my moose story, but there are some photographing tips I’d like to impart concerning moose photography.  The first is always respect for the animal.  If you don’t have a long enough lens to properly keep your distance, do not try for photographs of moose eyes or close up portrait shots.  Be content to get in the environment.  Utilize your car as a blind, to get higher, to keep the wildlife from feeling cornered or stressed.  Most wildlife will ignore a car, but show panic when an upright, two-legged animal stalks them.  Moose are very dark.  They may end up as black blobs in your photograph.  You might need to use some photo editing to make your shot work.  If you meter off the dark moose part of the scene, your camera’s aperture may open to to expose for the moose and over-expose your scene.  Go for a variety of shots:  feeding behavior, long legs, telephoto close ups, long shots showing the scene, etc. as long as your subject cooperates.  Never force these things.  Generally, you won’t have the opportunity if you force things, anyway, and you might just have an animal “encounter” on your hands if you do that.  To end, my two favorite shots show a couple of things:  the first is just how big moose are compared to humans.  When our moose finally crossed the road, I was photographing at about 300mm.  Some of the photographers, opposite of us were down to very short focal lengths. . .

Some had lenses too long to even attempt a shot at their distance to the moose. I was all ready to pick up an “encounter” shot! Thankfully, there was none.

The day’s prize, for me, was this final shot:  Mountains and lake behind, with a big bull in his element.  It might have been better in low light, with a reflection in a large sample of lake, but I was pleased, none-the-less!

Categories: Wildlife Photography | 3 Comments

Trail Lessons, Abyss Lake Trail

The trail goes all the way to Abyss Lake; that lake deep in the gorge between Mts. Bierstadt & Evans seen from the Mt. Evans Road.  What a compelling place that is!  The trail is really long……over 8 miles one way.  Most people do it as a backpack.  We decided to go as far as the Rosalie Trail Junction.  My 14 month old Samoyed puppy, Spirit,went along and got quite a few new wilderness lessons.  This time it was stream crossings over pretty big water, on some “interesting excuses” for bridges.  It was a lovely day:  fairly cool, sunny, with intermittent clouds that were refreshing while panting up the path.   The trail was similar to the Three Mile Creek trail, just one valley south of Scott Gomer Creek (named for an early logger in the area).  Scott Gomer and Three Mile Creek have similar geology, similar stream (though, luckily, not as many crossings as the Three Mile Creek, for Spirit’s sake!)  The valley was broader, and there were large areas of willow growth…….and, piles of dried MOOSE poop, probably from the past fall & winter seasons.  We didn’t see any moose, but they sure could have been there, remaining hidden in the willows.  John and Spirit, on one of their many side trips off the trail,  found a “kill” of some kind…..small……maybe a squirrel killed by a pine marten?  Hard to say, but the country at that point was very cougar-looking, open brush on a rocky, cliffy hillside.  A perfect place for mountain lions to stalk mule-eared deer.  While a squirrel would be just a snack for a cougar, we became a bit nervous in that area.  I accidentally left my poles at one point, and had to hike back down a-ways to retrieve them.  John, McLorrie & Spirit waited for me at a stream crossing.  When I got back, all were safely across, but with a tale to tell…….apparently, while attempting to cross the stream on a jumble of logs placed across it, Spirit slipped off slippery log into the deep part of the creek & went all the way under….twice!  Head and all!  It took some fishing to retrieve him out, but he finally got across fine…….no need for artificial respiration ; )    However, Spirit was pretty cautious at subsequent crossings.  Though he was a bit hesitant at first, he really did well after success at the next crossing, and then he was all confidence again!  I took pictures of him on the way down at the “bad” crossing.  The only slight problem was with trying to get around Lorrie as they both crossed together (why do dogs always do this??)  But, he did it successfully, and Lorrie remained upright.  I’ve got it in a sequence shot.  Here’s some photos from the hike:  Oh, and btw, this one would be a WONDERFUL fall hike……hillsides and hillsides of aspen!!  Most of the trail is quite gentle. I would LOVE to go the entire distance someday when the weather is perfect, and I’m in better shape!

“Moose Observation Area” was John’s name for this part of the Scott Gomer Creek Valley. Moose love wetlands defined by the protection of willow growth, the low-growing green plant in the foreground of this photo.

This is a hike to tuck into one’s mind for Autumn. The lush green aspen forests below Geneva Peak should turn into golden magnificence sometime in September.

After his headlong into the stream, Spirit is cautious on this double trunk crossing. John, his new Best Buddy, urges him on.

Whew! Okay, now all is better!

Scott Gomer Creek, taken from the middle of that double trunk crossing (hand held).

Yet another crossing. NOW we are getting the hang of it!

Spirit at our “destination” of the Abyss and Rosalie Trails, some 4 miles up the valley. From here the trail to Abyss Lake gets more serious. We’ll leave it for later.

Our lunch spot just back down the trail from the trail jct. Here, beneath the slopes of Kataka Mtn, we enjoyed the views of the Scott Gomer valley & active beaver workings.

Spirit’s backtrack across the “scary logs” he had so much trouble with on the trip up the trail. This time, other than almost losing it while passing Lorrie, he walked the Balance Beam just fine!

Categories: Red Foxes | 3 Comments

Finding Wildflower Frenzy!


It’s true our Rocky Mountain summer started out hot and dry.  Now in August, the dryness has been moderated by seasonal monsoonal thunderstorms and occasional day long drenches, but temperatures are still higher than normal. Wildflowers in the Rockies can be awesome.  The displays mimic the current climatic conditions, of course.  There are feast and famine years, so typical of the intermountain west.  We can have totally different climatic features east and west of the Continental Divide, as well.  This year, east of the Divide, we had decent snows until spring, when it turned unseasonably hot.  West of the Divide, it has been terribly dry since autumn.  As a result, finding mountain wildflower meadows has been a challenge this summer.  The blooming season began a full month early, and now, by August, it is suddenly green, but still fall-like in the high country.

We had been amazed and excited to find the flowery fields of Loch Lomand (see my previous entry).  As a result, I wanted to hike in the same general area the very next week in early July.  We chose a drainage just one over from the Loch Lomand glacial valley:  the valley of Chinns, Sherwin and Slater Lakes.  Normally, hiking to the highest lake would be a deep snow post-hole experience in early July.  Slater Lake, in particular, generally has its best wildflower show fairly late in August.  Not this year.  The second week of July was peak!

I hiked in with a friend and her son and our Samoyeds.  Our goal was to add packing points to our dogs’ working certificates, to photograph the dogs, and to photograph water and wildflowers.  The “trail” is actually an old water storage road used to build and maintain the diversion dams on the upper Fall River drainage.  4-wheelers use these roads to get in for fishing and car camping, primarily.  As a result, the roads are in terrible shape, only really advisable for high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles.  My little Rav4 made it in a ways.  When I was sure I’d lose my oil pan, we stopped and parked, and hiked on up the road.  We had a couple of miles on loose rock road, until getting to Sherwin Lake, where the trail begins upward to Slater Lake, the true destination of the trip.

The following photos show the details of our journey:

First lake is Chinns Lake, a lake dammed for water diversion. The dry summer demanded a draw-down, and the lake shore is very low. An old log cabin is usually near the shoreline.

Colorado blue columbine at Chinns Lake. Columbine is a relatively early blooming flower. Along with it, late-blooming fireweed was beginning to blossom! What a mixed-up season!

Our four dogs, all outfitted with their well-loaded packs, pose in the scarlet paintbrush found in a meadow near Slater Lake.

Hiking companions above Slater Lake.

Spirit, MJ & Avie walk through an incredible meadow of scarlet paintbrush, tansy asters and small yellow composites.

Happy hikers!

Marsh marigolds……early bloomers, and pink parry primrose grace the cascades that tumble into Slater Lake.

Categories: The High Country | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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