This is another experience that must be shared…
Today, I was in the midst of surveying this large wet meadow when to my delight I dipped into this forested alcove and hit the spotted frog tadpole jackpot. I was so engrossed in catching tads that I wasn’t paying any attention to my surroundings or to where I was wandering. Not the best idea. Suddenly, I saw this massive black shape right in front of me so I looked up to get my bearings only to find myself standing in the path of one of the most enormous, majestic and beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen. It was like seeing a unicorn.
Just feet away, in the meadow with me, stood a female moose with her calf. I stayed calm and scampered away as fast as I could, all the while bargaining for my life and imagining myself being gored to death. Moose hurt more people than bears each year and here I was nearly running smack dab into one with a newborn calf. So as I was making my exit, I braced for impact and avoided looking over my shoulder at the sight of her quickly closing the gap between us. But she never bothered with me, in fact, she seemed relaxed with me there and made me feel like my reaction was, in fact, an overreaction. Her and the calf then bedded down. It was surreal.
The one thing I’ve learned these past few days is to just remain calm. Don’t panic or scream or thrash about or even run because you’ll just freak the animal out. They’re going to think that whatever is after you is after them as well. Amazing things can happen if you just go about your business and act like you’re supposed to be there.
My partner was across the meadow so I motioned to her that something was wrong. Safety in numbers, so she came out to meet me and we were able to view the pair from a reasonable distance. The irony is that we were both talking yesterday about how we’d love to see a moose. They’re becoming increasingly rare in these parts due to habitat loss and disease so seeing one is such a treat. Ahhh, just ask and you shall receive in Yellowstone.
About an hour later, I’m surveying a small wet meadow nearby when I hear my partner yell my name. I whip around and she’s not there or answering my reply so I just figured that she was giving me a heads up that she was stepping away to go to the bathroom. Not a minute passes when I look back behind me to discover that a young male moose had joined my survey. He happily grazed nearby while I looked for tadpoles and slowly made my way back to my partner. When I rejoined my partner, I asked her how come she only said my name once and it was because all she saw was a large, brown animal walking past her to join me in the meadow so she was fumbling for her bear spray in a frenzy. It’s reassuring to know that she at least cares about me somewhat.
We obviously cut our survey short and decided to leave the fella in peace but he fancied himself our escort. As we backtracked through the large meadow, he walked through the trees next to us. There’s nothing more amazing than seeing such a large creature move so elegantly and effortlessly through such difficult downfall and dense undergrowth. It was indescribable. The mother and calf were still relaxing where I left them and the young male greeted the baby by touching noses. Calves stay with their mothers for a year so we actually got to witness the one-year old male affectionately greeting its younger sibling.
All-in-all, it was a pretty freakin fantastic experience. Once in a lifetime, I’m sure. This field season has been full of these kinds of surprises. I feel like I’m in some kind of Disney movie. When it was all over, we returned to Yellowstone’s human chaos to find that a tour bus had overturned in the middle of the road leaving all of the passengers injured and a few severely so. This left outgoing traffic backed up for literally thirty miles. It was unbelievable. As luck would have it, we were going in the opposite direction so we were able to zip on by and view the extent of the jam. Many people just left their cars and wandered off into the woods so when it came time for traffic to move, the drivers were nowhere to be found. The rangers were losing their minds and their patience. Some people literally set up an entire camp in the middle of the road with chairs, barbeques, radios. It was a mess and such a contrast to where I had just been. Get me back into the woods with the moose already!