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The restless moose is searching for ... what?

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By Sylvia Brockner

August is upon us with its hot, muggy weather. Totally unlike most Colorado weather, it is my least favorite month of the year. Monsoon winds coming up out of the gulf or from Southern California are moist enough to bring humid air but unfortunately are all too often not moist enough to bring rain. It has already been a hot, dry summer, so we really need some rain.

August also brings the full fall migration of many birds. Already local family groups are moving about and will soon be joining with other family groups to form flocks that will move south together. Soon the spotted sandpipers and the soras will leave the lake, and fall migrating ducks will begin to arrive.

While I was lollygagging in the hospital for the past two weeks, it seems a small moose wandered into the Evergreen area. This too is probably an indication of changes to come. These huge animals, the largest member of the deer family, take a few years to mature. Females first breed when 2 to 3 years old. Presumably it takes about the same time for the males to mature. They live a long life of 20 years or more.

Immature males do a lot of wandering around. Their long-legged stride covers a lot of miles, and they tend to wander great distances. They also travel at a good, steady speed. I recall when we were in Alaska several years ago, we were traveling along a paved highway that crossed a marsh. A cow and calf moose were grazing near the road, and something frightened her just as we came along. She and her calf took off running parallel to the road. We paced them at 35 mph for some distance before she turned away from us and moved deeper into the marsh. Their long, thin legs reduce the drag from the water, and they seemed to keep the pace effortlessly. Not apparently winded, they just turned away from the highway, apparently seeing or smelling greener pastures.

Like other species of young male animals, immature moose seem to be restless and travel about looking for something. Only they know what. September and October is their rutting season, and when mature they wander looking for mates. Even then, they seem to not be too sure of what they are doing, for there are several instances of a bull moose spending anywhere from a week to a month in a pasture trying to woo a cow.

Moose were occasionally sighted in Colorado in past years, apparently drifting south out of Wyoming. Then the Colorado Division of Wildlife introduced a small group into North Park along Willow Creek. They have done well, and some have been moved to other areas where the habitat is right.

People frequently ask me where they can see moose. They can be seen along Willow Creek in North Park and in the Rabbit Ears Pass area, as well as in other Western Slope willow-lined streams. However, if you re expecting to see “herds” of moose crossing the highway, as you are accustomed to seeing elk, you will be disappointed. Moose are usually found singly, or by twos (cow and calf) or occasionally by threes (bull, cow and calf). Seldom are they found in even small groups.

They are associated with water and usually eat succulent water plants in summer. In winter they browse on many twigs, bark and saplings and are most commonly found along streams and ponds that have good stands of willows.

It has always amazed me how an animal that can weigh as much as 1,400 pounds, stands up to 6 feet high at the shoulders and has scoop-shovel antlers that measure 2 yards across can simply “disappear” in a willow thicket. One day Bill and I counted five moose on a trip over Rabbit Ears Pass to North Fork. When we mentioned it to friends who followed us over the same route, they said, “Where? We didn’t see any.” We had stopped at every available pull-off along the way and scanned every willow thicket through our binoculars. They had just driven. If you want to see wildlife, you must learn to stop, look and listen.

Thanks to my many readers who sent me get well cards. I hope we have finally beaten the pneumonia that has plagued me for so long and that I will be able to continue writing for you, my many friends.