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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Moose at Big Springs, Headwaters of Henry's Fork

We have long been fascinated by this massive animal with the strange, homely, primitive looking face, and the impressive rack of antlers on the males. Despite having seen a number of moose, we had found the moose elusive to photograph.

Moose at headwaters of Henry's Fork below Big Springs ~ Jean Bjerke

One afternoon in early July, at Big Springs, at the headwaters of the famous Henry's Fork, a bull moose walked across the river as we were watching the huge trout in the sparkling clear water from Big Springs. Big Springs produces 120 million gallons of water a day and forms the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. This moose had chosen a lovely area to live.

Moose lying in grass near Henry's Fork of Snake River ~ Randy Bjerke

Having crossed the river and stepped out onto the bank, the moose walked only another 20 feet or so before lying down to rest and chew his cud on this warm afternoon. We watched him for close to three hours during which his only change of position was to walk another ten yards to lie down in another spot. During most of this time the tall grass obscured his face sufficiently to prevent good photographs, but he did raise his head a few times.

Moose raising head from grass ~ Jean Bjerke

Our patience finally paid off when, at about 5:30 PM, he got up and walked through the woods, across a marshy area of deep standing water, and back to the river, browsing on willow leaves and grass, feeding on submerged vegetation in the river, and climbing out to chomp on the bushes on the opposite bank. It was thrilling to watch him and he did not seem concerned by our presence at a respectful distance.  

This 47-second video captures his behavior as he waded the river, fed in the river, and walked along the opposite bank browsing on leaves of the bushes.

Moose browsing on willow leaves ~ Randy Bjerke

Moose walking towards camera ~ Randy Bjerke

The moose is a huge animal, standing up to seven feet tall, and males can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. The males’ enormous antlers can span up to six feet - the record sizes usually come from Alaska. The antlers are shed each winter, and begin to grow again in the spring, reaching complete growth in September. Each set of antlers grows larger than the prior year’s until the moose reaches its prime. 

Moose walking through woods ~ Jean Bjerke

Moose have a long face, and a flap of skin called a bell hangs from their throat. Their range extends across much of the northern part of North America.

Moose walking by Henry's Fork below Big Springs ~ Jean Bjerke

Moose are herbivores, and are equally comfortable in the water where they swim well and often feed on aquatic vegetation, or on land where they can run up to 35 mph. They are often seen in streams, lakes, wetlands, or browsing vegetation such as willows. When a moose feeds on underwater vegetation, it submerges nearly the whole head, and when the animal raises its head, water gushes from its mouth, and often strands of green vegetation can be seen trailing from the mouth.

Moose drool ~ Jean Bjerke

Moose are found throughout the Greater Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park areas which are home to about 600-800 of the animals.  They are seen much less frequently in Yellowstone than in Grand Teton, which offers more of their preferred and wetter habitat. Sightings are more common in certain months such as October and November. They are also regularly seen in Island Park, the location of Big Springs.