Moose are the ghosts of the forest
Moose are these amazing creatures that can be really close to us, and we would never realize it because they can blend into the landscape even though they are over seven feet tall and can weigh up to a ton (2,000 lbs.) and have antlers that can reach six feet across!
The odds are stacked in our favor
How do we notice that they have been in an area? According to research by Sue Morse of Keeping Track, “An estimated 80,000 moose live in the Northeast, which practically guarantees an opportunity to see one.”
Where can I find moose tracks and sign?
The key word here is “habitat.” This is the natural home or environment for an animal to live in.
Moose habitat is an area that has lots of brush exposed overgrown fields and meadows and also transition areas where different forest types meet, i.e., field into oak hickory forest. There is also a lot of activity of feeding and bedding in wetlands that are regenerating after a family of beavers has left.
Another place to see moose is where there has been a clear-cut or some sort of break in the forest, like a harvested plot or logged area in regrowth and has been able to have pioneer species of low growing plants, trees and shrubs.
An important step is get to know your trees
Animals often have very special relationships to plants, trees and shrubs, and by understanding what moose feed on, you improve your chances of moose sighting and study. Do you know what a Red Maple tree looks like—we are surrounded by them; they are one of the top 10 trees in Massachusetts. The ones were looking for are between 3 and 10 inches in diameter, they have a smooth gray bark, opposite branching and bright red buds that are clustered. This is probably the tree I see that is affected by moose more than any other.
Striped maple is a shrub that is very common and is green; that’s right…the tree bark is green with white flecks and stripes in it. This is a favorite of moose, hence its nickname–moose wood maple.
Moose feeding sign
Moose have this incredible ability to be able to reach up to 10 feet, sometimes higher when they get on their hind legs or depending upon snowpack but what they’re most known for is “walk over’s”—this is where they straddle a young sampling and walk over it while feeding; then the mass of their body lowers down the tree and they just feed while they’re walking…sometimes the branch breaks off at the tip. So think about how many times you’ve walked by these and wondered; now you know that this is the sign of the moose, especially if you look at the ends of the branches and they’ve been chewed off (a deer would suckle off the ends and pull, leaving a tattered end; since moose are in the same family of deer, they also don’t have top teeth).
One of the most exciting things I have experienced is being so close up to them and not even knowing it until I pick up the movement in my peripheral vision that alerts me to seeing their ghost-like movement through the forest.
Always remember moose are wild animals and like any wild animals, can be unpredictable; it’s important to be careful when interacting with the wildlife.
Enjoy the outdoors,
We had a lot of fun with this game!
Will you answer the call?
Why the River?
So what’s going on down by our rivers and streams? There is so much happening as rivers have totally shaped our world. They are constantly moving along the earth—creating habitat, moving mountains, building webs to connect us all. We have built our communities near them—as well as our farms; rivers were the “highways” of our ancestors, and today they still help us travel and navigate. They are such an important place for all wildlife’s food and shelter as well as migration routes for birds. Rivers also help generate power for our homes and industry. All of this helps connect us as a community…we even have festivals involving rivers! We learn valuable lessons about all of nature because it is all connected. This carries with it an importance of conservation, restoration and stewardship to take care of our wild neighbors and also ourselves. Let’s not forget all the fun we have too. We play and recreate on rivers–paddle our canoes, kayaks and inner tubes, swim, fish and even renew our spirit. These waterways create so much on so many levels. So let’s go down to the river together and see what is happening.
As we walk through the woods, we hear the sound of the water as it flows through the land and draws us in to get a closer look. We may hear the rustle of the leaves under our feet, feel the sand or hard-packed soil along the banks. There are all kinds of bird songs, and perhaps, one in particular that hunts the rivers—the Kingfisher is making a head-first dive, fishing with its beak. As we get close to the edge, we move slowly, so as not to startle any of the wildlife because we know that even the fish in the water can see our approach. We see the signs of our neighborhood beavers and how they may have shaped this part of the river, and there are raccoon or mink tracks in the mud. We are walking on all the stones that have been placed at our feet by the power of the river. Ahh…we have arrived; let’s take off our shoes and feel the warm stones and cool water and mud spread between our barefoot toes. We look up and around, and notice the branches leaning over the waterway to get full light; it creates a natural shady spot for many creatures from which to retreat the hot sun…and for us too.
What we notice
Surrounded by trees—sycamores, alders, basswoods and willows—we are reminded of the amazing diversity of plants in and around the water—like cardinal flower, Japanese knotweed, cattails, watercress and many algaes—in these important watersheds. Looking around, we see the riverbanks covered in many sized stones—from boulders all the way down to grains of sand and even smaller particles, such as clay, are present too. As the earth is transformed, there is a natural sorting that happens along the river bottom and the banks that we see.
Getting a closer look
As we look closer, we notice things have patterns. We are tracking the water, time and weather to understand the river ecosystem that we are currently seeing. Think of the channels of water—through rain, runoff, snow and flooding–that created the Grand Canyon. We are standing and witnessing a microcosm of that wonder of the world right in front of our eyes!
Reading the water
The water flows through in shallow areas called “riffles,” and it runs where you see turbulence in the water; this also is where the water has the most oxygen and can be the coolest part of the river in the summer. It is where the aquatic invertebrates such as caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies and others are very active in their day-to-day lives.
The miracle at the river
There is a display of nature, and it is one of the most amazing things you can experience seeing on a river as the aquatic insects spend between several months to several years under the surface of the water, feeding and living their lives. There is a term called an “emergence.” This is where there is a constant journey of insects—from being underwater for their whole lives up until the point of cresting the surface of the water and starting their adult lives, flying for the first time and experiencing the gift of flight above the place they lived before. Being able to witness this miracle is truly breathtaking and is one of the reasons to go to the river often to “Catch the Hatch.”
Don’t miss the action
These are great spots to watch just above the surface of the water and see the insects dancing, mating and falling, creating a concentric ring that signals the fish to feed. This is where you see a phenomenon called a “rise”–the trout rise, coming to the surface; you see the cresting of the water, and if in a clear pool, in middle or the tail of it, you can actually see the fish itself…size, color and grace as it moves.
Time for a river trip
So put visiting the river on your schedule and experience this miraculous occurrence with friends and family. What kind of values do you think are instilled in your children when you create experiences and opportunities to have nature astound them? I am feeling grateful, and hope I see you down by the river.
Are you ready for New England weather?
When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).
(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)
As we walk into the forest, we see all the different types trees, and we know, somehow, that they all have a purpose in life, just like we do. We notice many have lost their leaves this time of year, and the forest looks completely different—kind of empty because you can see so far, and it is very open. However, that is just the surface; let’s look closer.
The conifers take center stage with their deep green and contrast to the snow; while they do shed their needles, they are primarily green all year, which is why they are called “evergreens.”
Using touch—reach out and feel the needles
When we reach out and feel the needles, and when we rubbed them in our hands and smell, there is that amazing pine scent reminiscent of a Christmas tree—that strong aroma that can remind us of the holidays.
Visual things to watch for
As we look even closer, we notice really short needles (less than an inch) that are flat and on the underside, there are distinct white lines like racing stripes; this is an excellent identification characteristic. It also has the tiniest little stem you can barely see. In botanical terms, when you look it up in your field guide, this is called a “petiole.”
Feel the texture of the bark
These trees have really smooth bark when very young, and as they get older, it becomes stiff and deeply furrowed (creating indented grooves). Look at many different trees—young and old—and compare the feeling of the bark, and how the young ones are really tender and the older ones are like a rock.
In the 1800s, Eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadenses) was used heavily; these trees would be anywhere from 250 to 800 years old. They were harvested in great numbers and were sought after for a special quality they possess: great amounts of tannic acid—up to 12%—used for tanning hides and preserving leather; the outer bark was used and soaked. Some of the hides were kept in vats (barrels of soaking tannins) for up to six months in order for them to turn the dark tea color and create a preserve and coloring for the produced leather. Hemlock tanneries were all over the Northeast, and they shipped the hides from here all over the world.
What I have personally seen, and you can too!
In the picture, you can see the needles and the bark. You can see underneath the very outer light brown bark, there is a dark purple color; this is a great characteristic for being able to identify Eastern hemlock.
What use are these trees now? They are a tremendous resource for wildlife: the needles create shade to give animals and birds cover. So they are used for nesting, denning and protection from the elements.
I often find many deer and moose in these areas…tracks, signs and tons of “browse” (feeding sign). This is where deer “yard up” (all stay in same area communally); this helps create safety in numbers and helps avoid being surprised by coyotes. It also makes it easier for them to move, because they pack down the snow to conserve their energy during these hard winter months.
I’ve also found coyotes’ beds, which look like circles; the heat from the coyote’s body melts out the impression of its nose where he/she is melting snow with the breath.
Outdoor challenge and scavenger hunt you can do with your children
See if you can find the interior bark that is purple. Hint: When you look around at the base of the tree, you can see the flakey bark chips; look under there.
Tracks and sign: if you look on the very tops of the branches, close to the trunk, you will often see squirrel territorial teeth marking sign, or going up a mature tree, you can see the claw marks and sometime bite marks of our black bears climbing since they use Eastern hemlock as babysitter trees (mama sends her cubs up them in times of danger or when she is away for long periods).
And at the bottom of the hemlocks, underneath the dense needles protecting from the wind and elements, you can find deer, fox, moose and bear beds. Let’s not forget the calling cards of raccoon and porcupine too—scat!
If you find little holes and black powder on the ground and through the roots, it’s possible you have found Truffles (fungus).
Can you find the little Hemlock cones that look like little tiny pine cones—about ½ inch. Can you find the racing stripes on the underside of the needles?