Moose on the move
The phone rang on a Monday evening. The 12-year-old boy down the road was calling to tell our 12-year-old boy that there was a moose in his yard.
Half an hour later, our daughter called from New York City to tell us we had a moose in our neighborhood. Apparently her buddy, who lives next door to the 12-year-old down the road, had texted her when the moose strolled over to his yard.
News travels fast. So do moose.
The next day, several people in the next town over had reports and photos of the moose — it was seen walking down the sidewalk toward the high school, swimming in Lake Luzerne, strolling by the music camp on the other side of the lake. If it was the same moose as the one in our neighborhood, it probably had taken another swim, across the northern tip of the Great Sacandaga Lake, on its way to town. Or maybe it took the South Shore route and crossed nearer to where the Sacandaga meets the Hudson.
A few years ago, my mother-in-law saw two moose, a mother and child she thought, while she was taking an early morning walk down our road.
It’s hard to mistake a moose for anything else. It’s the largest of the deer family and, even if it’s a young one, like the one spotted up my way, the humped shoulders, downward sloping back and long legs are unmistakable.
A full-grown bull moose can stand over 6 feet at the shoulder, weigh more than a thousand pounds and sport a rack of antlers 5 or 6 feet across. Females are a little shorter, and weigh in at 500 to 800 pounds.
They can eat 40 pounds a day of brush and twigs — the word “moose” comes from an Algonquin word that means “twig eater,” according to the website NatureWorks. Because they are so tall, moose prefer eating brush and high grass rather than bending their heads down to graze on low grasses. And they like standing in water to graze on shore plants and aquatic plants.
Moose can swim for miles, and submerge themselves completely under water for up to 30 seconds. “Moose are similarly nimble on land. They can run up to 35 miles an hour over short distances, and trot steadily at 20 miles an hour,” according to National Geographic.
I guess it was nothing for our moose to get over to Lake Luzerne, five miles away, and swim across the lake to check out the music camp.
Moose sightings in our area are rare enough to cause excitement. Our towns were buzzing with moose news, moose photos and people who wished they’d seen it themselves. From the photos I’ve seen, our moose is young. It’s tall, but it doesn’t have that drooping skin flap under its chin, called a bell, that marks a mature moose. It has no antlers, but bull moose grow new antlers each spring, starting in March and April, and shedding them in November.
The state Department of Conservation estimates there are about 500 moose in New York state, but also notes there is no real way of counting them. Most of New York’s moose are in the northern Adirondacks and in the Taconic range, along the Massachusetts and Vermont borders, the DEC says. But moose wander back and forth between states, so it’s not easy to keep track of who lives where.
Because moose have such long legs, hitting one with a car is a lot more dangerous than hitting a deer. Deer are short enough that their eyes will reflect headlights, making them easier to see, and if you hit one with a car you’ll generally hit it square in the body. Moose are tall enough that their eyes won’t catch the light of a car, and if one gets hit by a car it generally is hit in the legs, causing its massive body to crash through the windshield. The DEC says between 1 percent and 2 percent of car-moose accidents cause fatalities.
This time of year is calving season, and a mother moose will have one or two calves, who stay with her for a year. That probably makes our lone moose a yearling, just starting off on its own. Moose tend to be solitary in the warm months, traveling to find good food sites — low browse found in swamps, on the edges of forests, or in areas that have been cleared through logging or burning. They can live 20 years or more — if they don’t meet any cars.
The 12-year-old down the road really has the perfect spot for a moose — a forested mountain behind his house with an open field on the side, with a few apple trees, a stream and a little pond. And a nice wetland with a big pond across the street.
Sounds like a good home for a moose, but I think it’s already left town.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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