the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wildlife Camera update - When "Mooses" Come Walking!

A handsome bull moose with velvety new antlers visited our camera!
An iconic creature of the north - New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Canada, Alaska - moose are not the animal many think of when they picture our Commonwealth.  More and more, however, moose are calling Massachusetts home!  One of our ultimate goals when we acquired several wildlife cameras a year ago was to photograph one of these elusive ungulates.  And it has taken an entire year of placing these cameras on properties near the places where we saw their tracks, scat, and signs of browse (feeding) on favored trees like striped maple.  I'm pretty certain one even made fun of our attempts a few months ago by leaving a pile of scat BEHIND one of our cameras at the vernal pool of bobcat and bear fame, then purposely not walking in front of it.  Another even showed up by our office at the Doyle Community Park and Center to snack on wetland vegetation in the pond last fall, but quickly found his way out of busy Leominster back up to the nearby state forests.  A lucky neighbor shot the photo below.  Last week, we finally captured one on a wildlife camera in the southwestern-most town in the state, Mount Washington, MA (a real town not to be confused with the famous NH mountain, or with plain old Washington, MA), bordering both Connecticut and New York. 

A moose stops by the Doyle Community Park and Center, September 2013.

Many are surprised to learn that moose are here at all, as they luckily don't show up to cause confusion and environmental police roadblocks in greater Boston very often, but prefer the forests of Central and Western Mass.  If you want to see one, your best bet is heading to northern Worcester County, and a little further west in the deep forest surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.  A population also inhabits the Hilltowns and Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.  Moose crossing signs installed in recent years on Route 2 through Central MA warning drivers of the rare but real risk of hitting one in a car in that region!  Over the last few decades, headlines have been made when one wanders in to large Central Mass cities and towns like Fitchburg, Worcester, and one even was sighted in Wellesley in 2012 (click for story).  My high school cross country team once surprised a trio of moose (a bull and two females) on a run in Ashburnham - actually they surprised us, we turned and ran the other way, they didn't seem to care - my most memorable encounter with these giants of the wilderness besides the frightening night-time experience of nearly colliding with one when driving in the Berkshires. 

An alarming moose population decline has emerged in recent years, on which wildlife biologists are hard at work.  Moose populations in New England have recently declined, precipitously, even in New Hampshire and Vermont - nearly half the population has been lost over the last two decades.  The Massachusetts population, growing over the past several decades, has not been as heavily affected and has stabilized at around 1,000 animals.  Some have even wandered south into Connecticut, currently the southern extreme of their range, and there's a good chance our handsome bull made his way down across the border through the deep forests and high ridgelines of the Taconic Range.  Perhaps he even dipped down the mountain to visit Rene at Bartholomew's Cobble along the way. 

An irony of potential changes in climate is that moose are now returning to the great habitats that our heavy forests and wetlands provide, only to be faced with rising temperatures.  Even when the temperature rises merely into the high 60s or into the 70s, moose begin to get hot!  They tend to seek wetlands to feed in and cool off in on summer days.  Like a lot of us, they get overheated and grumpy and just want to lay down in the shade or go swimming when the mercury reaches the 90s and humid.  They already think it's a little too hot down here, so if average temperatures keep rising, they may return to points farther north, making their southern incursion to Massachusetts and Connecticut just a short cameo appearance!  Let's hope they stick around at least a little bit longer so more of us get to see them!   

Moose profile with Dewlap!  What's a Dewlap you ask?  (Click to read up on it!)

Want to look for signs of moose on Trustees' reservations?  Some decent bets are Notchview in Windsor, Tully Lake and a hike on the Tully Trail in Royalston, Bear Swamp in Ashfield, or Brooks Woodland Preserve or Swift River Reservation in Petersham!  Places to look?  They're known to enjoy feeding on wetland shrubs on summer days, and also enjoy the young growth in early successional (recently logged and regenerating) forest habitat.  Then there's the fall mating season, where the bulls begin to roam and may show up where you least expect them!  Boston Common in the near future?  I wouldn't rule it out!  MassWildlife has plenty of information and advice on co-existing peacefully with the majestic moose, so read up, and put on your high beams when possible if traveling Route 2 through Worcester County at night! 

Most importantly, and also speaking of the Berkshires, Arlo Guthrie has made it okay to use "mooses" as the plural of moose, in his children's book "The Mooses Come Walking," so feel free to do that from now on, and he also advises what to do if you find a moose staring in your window at night.  (Psst, you should probably actually heed MassWildlife on this one, particularly if you live in a heavily populated area!)  We'll leave you with the twelve lines of his wise little book -

Mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses come walking. They rarely stand still
When mooses come walking, they walk where they will.
And mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses look into your window at night.
They look to the left and they look to the right.
The mooses are smiling; they think it’s a zoo.
That’s why the mooses like looking at you.
So, if you see mooses while lying in bed,
It’s best to just stay there, pretending you’re dead.
The mooses will leave, and you’ll get the thrill
Of seeing the mooses go over the hill.