I walked into the boreal woods by myself today, but I soon realized I was not alone.
He wasn't exactly making a secret of his presence. I encountered several scrapings in the wet mud - some so recent that water was still seeping into the hoof prints. He'd scraped the bark off of trees, crashed through speckled alder thickets, and left hug footprints in the sphagnum moss of a bog. The message was clear: if you were a rival, you'd better stay away... but if you were a receptive female, you were quite welcome.
I wasn't out looking for moose, but rather for wetlands - in particular bogs and spruce swamps. I've been spending a lot of time in the Victory Basin lately, a remote part of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, characterized by incredibly cold winter temperatures and harsh granite-derived soils. The ecosystems in this basin are similar to those hundreds of miles north in the boreal forest of Canada... and while moose occur in most of Vermont they are especially abundant in this northern cold setting.
Above: Lowland Spruce-Fir forest, a landscape often inhabited by moose.
After fighting through some dense vegetation I emerged on the shores of a large beaver pond. I began taking notes on the spruce forest when I noticed two brown 'lumps' across the pond to my south. The first was the root mass of a fallen tree, but when I glanced at the second I noticed movement. Was it a brown leaf flicking in the wind? The movement repeated, and soon the entire lump moved slightly.
With the movement I saw a head, ears, and yes, two large antlers. I made eye contact with the very moose who had marked this area as his territory (if it were a different male moose I'd be instead witnessing a fight between the two!). I'm sure he soon realized I was not a moose. We watched each other for a time. He wiggled his ears a few more times, and made a soft, repetitive grunting sound. I'm not sure if he was directing the sound towards me, or was still hoping there was also a female moose nearby.
I certainly wasn't going to walk closer to a rutting bull moose, so after we watched each other for a while I disappeared back into the thick fir forest along the pond.
Above: A moose jawbone found in a different part of Victory Basin. A moose biologist told me that this moose was perhaps two years old when it died.