posted: August 27th, 2008 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Historically, the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park has always been one of great wildlife concentrations. Today, despite the huge lodge bearing the same name and that attracts large concentrations of visitors, the valley remains home to bears, mountains goats, bighorn sheep–and to the moose.
While camped this past week in the valley in our Airstream, we saw all four species, but the one that I was able to photograph with some success was the moose. Last year, some of my readers may recall I had similar luck (Holding its breath ) at a tiny lake in Two Medicine (See my entry on place names ) Campground.
Though no one has been able to provide me with any population estimates, park naturalists say moose populations probably are expanding, not only in Many Glacier but in the park as a whole. Certainly the terrain in this valley can accommodate large numbers, something you can determine yourself simply by taking the trail from the Swift Current Motor Inn and hiking about four miles along the trail toward Swift Current Pass. As you hike you’ll pass lakes with names like Fisher Cap, Red Rock and Bullhead. Look and you’ll see all these lakes share similar characteristics.
IDEAL MOOSE HABITAT
First, all were made by glacial action and because that happened in the recent geological past, they are all shallow. What’s more they all have an abundance of vegetation that moose can harvest in their own unique way. Look even closer and you’ll see that there are lots of huge tracks in the mud along the shores and lots of tracks in the water. Obviously, they are made by the same creature, Alces alces, the moose. Stick around, and if you are lucky you’ll see one of these huge members of the deer family. Such at any rate was our luck.
For several days we had made the ¾ mile hike to Fisher Cap and though we knew moose were nearby, they remained elusive. Suddenly, however, they were there, and not just one moose but a cow and her yearling calf–and then a large bull moose which materialized from the dense green willows. Though the bull always maintained his distance, not so the cow and calf.
SHOOK LIKE A HUGE BEAR
Before long the cow and the calf had moved from the far shore to the near shore. Both sunk their heads into the lush vegetation on which they thrive, but what made the setting for me were some of their actions just prior to departing the lake.
Trying to rid herself of water the cow shook like a huge dog, or perhaps a huge bear. Then because the lake bottom was so rough, she lurched forward, so that progress is best described as a step-lurch, step-lurch.
Though it may appear that my photographs were taken close up, such was not the case. Photo equipment consisted of an 840mm lens attached to a Nikon D-300. Probably I was about 75 yards away, and because the animals were moving toward me and showed no signs (ears reared back, ETC) that my presence disturbed them, I remained where I was.
In my 40 years of meeting wildlife biologists as a wildlife photographer and author such a proximity seemed to be acceptable. Several years ago in Denali National Park a ranger watched as a Dall sheep moved toward me until it was within 30 feet. Because it moved toward me and not the reverse, my presence was considered acceptable. The moose at Fisher Cap were much, much further, something I took comfort in, as moose can often be dangerous.
A LITTLE ON PLACE NAMES
From the wonderful little book on Place Names of Glacier National Park by Jack Holterman Janie and I have learned the following: Fisher Cap is the Indian name for George Bird Grinnell, a man for whom many park features derive their name. He explored what once became the park in the 1870s and later became the editor of Field & Stream. Red Rock Lake and Falls derive their names from the red cliffs nearby. Bullhead Lake is also known as Ladyhead and Jealous Woman’s Lake. I offer that information as even though you may be fanatic about moose photography, knowing more about the surroundings can often make the country seem even more wild and, hence, more exciting. This then is the country of bears and sheep and goats–and of wild populations of Alces alces, the American moose. It’s the country Janie and I seek out whenever we want real wildlife experiences.