Wildlife photography requires proper gear, a promising location, and perhaps most importantly, plenty of time. Lately I’ve fallen short on the latter prompting an Olympic effort of time management behind the lens. Last weekend the stopwatch started at noon on Friday as I sprinted up to the Great North Woods for some marathon photo-ops. Clearly not a professional approach to photography, but an exciting way to fill my memory cards. Soon I was paddling in a sea of pickerel weed among the local herons and raptors.
Everything was falling right into place, including the resident catfish being snatched up by osprey and heron. The only break on the water’s glassy surface was the wake of my kayak as I explored the inlets of the Androscoggin river. A few short hours (and nautical miles) passed, and I was back in the truck swamp-bound for some evening moose viewing.
The cow moose were out in numbers, but my sights were set on summer velvet. With no bulls in sight I opted for a change of scenery (and altitude). I decided to spend the final hour of daylight hiking through a hillside clear-cut shrouded in heavily browsed saplings. I chose a spot along the wood line and enjoyed the sunset view. As I began to settle in and scan the landscape, my attention was interrupted by some activity behind me. The crackle of hoof-trodden twigs on the forest floor almost made me fail to notice a moose strolling across the hillside. It was, yet another cow but still a lovely sight and a nice way to cap off the night.
The following morning I found myself awake a full hour before my 5AM alarm clock, and on my way back to the water. Sadly, my enthusiasm was dampened as I came up on a troubling scene. A cow moose was lying on the roadside unable to get up. Against my better judgment, I got out of the truck for a closer inspection that revealed the bruises on her legs. Clearly she’d been struck by a vehicle and needed attention. At 4:15AM with no cell service, my only option was to drive to a gas station in Errol, NH. The store clerk connected me with local dispatch and I reported the incident. There was little surprise coming from the other end of the line as I described the scene. There are hundreds of moose collisions each year in New Hampshire making alert driving imperative.
I took this opportunity to grab a cup of coffee, and made my way back to the marsh. I was on the water by 5AM joined by some other early-risers. Among them were a pair of eagles who made several attempts at a freshwater breakfast, but failed to make a catch for the camera.
As midday approached my morning moose encounter began to feel like a distant memory. The summer days are long when you start this early, and I still had eight hours of light to work with. I decided to sacrifice an hour of it to change up the scenery. My brother was joining me for the rest of the weekend, so we rendezvoused back at the motel and headed further north to Pittsburg, NH.
This was perfect timing for a break as we got slammed by heavy rain on the drive up. It was still coming down when we reached East Inlet, but the conditions were working to our advantage. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday and we had the place to ourselves. Donning rain coats, we launched our kayaks and didn’t have to paddle far before the skies cleared up.
The pond was alive with belted kingfishers, loons, and eagles. We paddled to the far side of the inlet and ventured out the meandering creek that spills into the waterway. The creek zig-zags through thick brush rife with gnawed off branches and beaver paths. Not knowing what we’ll find around each bend keeps the suspense alive and the camera on standby. With silent strokes we approached a beaver lodge and could hear some activity stirring within. We sat in silence with eyes fixed on the crafty web of chiseled logs and brush. Relaxing into the calm and quiet scene before us, we were oblivious to the visitor approaching from behind. Just like that, the silence broke in a thunderous THWAP! A beaver delivered an impressive tail-slap on the still water right behind my brother’s kayak. In a heartbeat the mood shifted from peaceful, to startling, to comical.
With the evening closing in on us we decided to pack it in and took a scenic route back to the motel. As we navigated the roller coaster road that cuts through Dixville Notch I nearly witnessed my second moose collision of the day. A cow came hurdling out of the woods and crossed between us and a tire-screeching SUV heading in our direction. Thankfully the oncoming driver’s quick reflexes saved both her and the moose which slipped by without a second to spare. We were still stopped when a young calf sprung out of the woods, safely joining mom down the bank on the other side.
The next morning we were up at 5AM and back to the woods for our last chance at a bull sighting. Now the clock was really ticking. I had already encountered a half dozen moose that weekend, but not a single set of antlers. In desperation, we left the kayaks behind and took my brother’s Jeep out on a morning moose tour. Roadside photography is not the best way to experience wildlife, but can certainly be an efficient way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. The tactic proved effective.
We’d stumble upon a couple more cows before finally finding what we were after. Just when we started to lose hope, a nice velvet rack came strolling out of the brush. Although I was hoping to see a broader range of bulls that weekend, I’m grateful for the one we spotted. I guess this means I’ve got a good excuse to get back to the woods soon!