I attended my first Maine moose tour recently thanks to Northeast Whitewater guide service of Shirley Mills, a small town just south of Greenville, and our group was lucky enough to spot six moose and a young black bear — as well as a porcupine, a family of ducks, an osprey and a loon.
The late afternoon trip started by van and transitioned into a canoe expedition on a pond northeast of Greenville. Here is a short video (although a bit shaky, being shot from a canoe) that I managed to capture of two moose, taken with a Canon 75-300 mm telephoto zoom lens:
The video starts with a large cow moose (weighing perhaps 1,000 pounds, according to the trip’s guide). The moose is eating aquatic plants, which makes up the majority of their diet in the summertime. The plants are rich in minerals the animal needs.
Nearby, the cow’s newborn is bedded down in the grass. (Someone in the tour group caught sight of the calf before it bedded down, so we stayed away from that area, not wanting to get between the protective mother moose and her offspring.)
Then, to our surprise, a male yearling (1-year-old) emerges from the woods and tries to enter the pond to eat the vegetation. The cow moose — which is much older and larger than the yearling — perks up her ears and grunts at the yearling, probably telling him to give her space. Moose are solitary animals.
The yearling male then trots along the shore, close to our canoes, crosses a shallow area of the pond and eventually trots off into the woods. The cow starts grunting, likely communicating with her newborn, then she swims to the shore, climbs up and disappears into the woods.
The whole interaction took a while — 30-45 minutes, I’d say — and involved a lot of pausing and munching on plants by both moose. The animals moved slowly and did not seem alarmed.
After the scene, our guide told us that the male yearling may have smelled our human scent and therefore left, which caused the female to follow suit. Another possibility is that the female intimidated the male yearling, causing him to leave for another section of the pond. When he walked off, he passed near her newborn (which was bedded down in the grass), and that may have made her nervous.
The experience of seeing so much wildlife on the tour was absolutely thrilling, but I later learned that the moose tour business is a little more complicated than it first appears. After reading my story about the tour, “Moose Safari gets lucky in the Moosehead region” (published online by the BDN on June 30), a Greenville area resident emailed me to offer another perspective — which I greatly appreciated.
Apparently moose tours are a little controversial in the Moosehead area. Some people think that the tours can be disruptive to wildlife, as well as other recreational businesses (such as sporting camps) and local traffic patterns.
On the other hand, the tour guide from Northeast Whitewater seemed very respectful to the wildlife we encountered. We kept our distance. And our guide told us about moose and other wildlife during the van ride to the pond so that we wouldn’t be talking while on the water.
So, to me, it seems complicated.
People want to see moose. Maine guides want to offer people quality experiences that help them understand and form an appreciation for wildlife and natural environments. But then there are local residents who don’t want to be stuck behind a slow-moving moose tour vans. And there’s a genuine concern about the tours’ affect on wildlife.
Wildlife tours have to maintain a very delicate balance, and I imagine that can be difficult.
What I’ve learned in my time photographing wildlife is that there’s always this balance to maintain, and a lot of it has to do with giving wildlife sufficient physical space. It also has to do with respecting people’s private property (not trespassing for a photo). And it requires being patient enough to create authentic photos (without the use of bait or lures and without chasing down an animal).
The moose tour I attended did not use any bait or lures. While moose often feed on the pond we visited, there was no guarantee we would see any moose that day. The pond was a place open to the public, so we weren’t trespassing. All and all, I felt good about the experience. However, I do wonder if our scent caused the moose to stop eating before it normally would have — or if it was simply a normal interaction between two moose we were observing. It’s hard to say.
In conclusion, this experience has reminded me to be thoughtful and respectful — of wildlife, but also of people’s livelihoods and opinions. Sometimes things aren’t as simple as they first appear. Watching moose and other wildlife isn’t a simple affair — but it certainly can be a fun and educational experience.