Monday, September 11, 2006

September is Rutting Month. There were 8 moose in a mudflat below Mount Engadine Lodge. A older bull with a grand set of antlers, a younger bull who did not look as if the words, "mine is bigger than yours" was on the tip of his tongue, six cows, and two yearlings. The mudflat is popular every evening, more so I'm advised in the spring, when up to a dozen congregate to enjoy whatever it is in the mud that they enjoy. Salt? Aquatic plants buried in the mud? Each other? I asked the staff at the lodge, I read an entire book on Moose by a fellow who spent his academic life studying them in Denali in Alaska, and I looked up Moose in the Ben Gadd book, but no definitive answer. Some of the cows allowed themselves to sink in to belly level. A mudbath at a Moose Spa? When I woke up the next morning, only the young male was still there, lying down, layed back in the mud. I captured a photo of the big bull with this unique soundless posture. He looked as if he was making a noise, but if he did, the sound was not for my ears. In the Denali Moose book I saw the same picture with an explanation. During rutting season, the bulls drink female urine and then adopt this posture to allow the hormones in the urine to stimulate chemical sensors in the hard palate. Apparantly, this allows the bull to know which females are ready to rut. Wow. A urine connoisseur. My kind of story! You just know this will find a place in my next talk on voiding problems.

Great bird weekend. Townsend's Solitaire, typically perched on top of a pine tree. Yellow Warbler and American Tree Sparrow, both on the way South, and my first Alberta sighting of the latter. The brilliantly rufous crown, grey temples, and yellow lower beak were all too obvious in the autumn sun. Spruce Grouse. Stellars's Jay at the Lodge, my first sighting on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies. Both the Slate Grey and Oregon Junkos. A Horned Grebe and a Coot in the slough at Sibbalds Flats. This solitary Canadian Dipper was in a marsh, not the typical habitat, and I caught the white eyelid closed in this photo. The usual suspects were in the area. Ravens, Crows, Robins, Grey Jays, Chickadees.

I climbed this Pine Tree. Not for the view, which was quite good at the base. Rather, I was watching a Townsend's Solitaire, when I realized we were not alone. I heard a large animal moving through the brush about 100 meters below me. Earlier, I had stepped over this bear scat.
I was alone, which is not the
recommended situation in the mountains but an absolutely perfect situation for the imagination to run rampant. I strained my eyes for about five minutes, could hear the animal moving in some brush, but could not see a thing. I would like to tell you that I climbed the Pine Tree for a better look, and indead the view was much better for the extra 4 meters, but security was the larger issue. I placed my pack about 25 meters away, took my bear spray, binoculars, and camera with me, put on my gloves, and discovered that Pine Trees are perfect for climbing. Lots of room between the branches, strong but springy footholds where the branch emerges from the trunk, and capable of supporting a 150 pound man at almost the top. I spent about ten minutes in the tree, never saw a thing, and climbed down after the absence of noise for about 5 minutes. Several hours later, on the way down, I came across the likely culprit, this moose, feeding in the same brush. There were two females browsing the brush within a half a kilometer.

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