moosylvania all that was missing was a flying squirrel

The weather in the city was horrible so I decided to head to Moosylvania.

It’s kind of a loosely organized place, more like a collection of municipalities than an actual country, sort of roughly centred around the Dogpound Creek drainage north of Cochrane and west of Didsbury.

So I figured I might as well head there to see if I could find anything interesting to photograph - like, maybe a moose - in the heavy, wet snow.

Turns out, though, that out in Moosylvania, there wasn’t any heavy, wet snow. The moose, however, were there.

Moose like damp, boggy places, meadows with standing water where willows grow in abundance. They especially like them at this time of year before everything starts to green up and the willows - moose love to nibble on willows - are in blossom and starting their yearly growth spurt. And the countryside around Dogpound Creek is full of places like that.

Given how heavily the snow was falling in the city, I was surprised to find that there was absolutely none just a little ways north. The sky was thick with low cloud and there were little spits of sleet once in a while but the only snow on the ground was left over from a couple of days before.

I didn’t mind at all, really. The soft light really brought out all the earthy tones. The yellow of the winter grass, the brightening red of the stands of willows, even the blacks and browns of the newly turned-over fields, all seemed to glow. And it was while slowing down to check out a stand of those glowing red willows that I saw the first moose.

I could barely pick it out among the tangle of twigs but through a gap I could see the tall shoulder hump and the ears. It’s amazing how an animal that big can be so hard to spot. I watched through the lens as it walked out toward the open water of the slough it was beside, paused for a second or two and the idled back among the willows. Nervous because I was there? Hard to tell.

The countryside was really looking lovely despite the gloomy weather. Aspens are well in bloom now and they’ve turned the hillsides out this way a pinkish silver. In places where the pastures have been nibbled down, bright, new-growth green is starting to show. Runoff and snow melt ponds dot the low spots in fields, pewter-coloured where they reflected the sky, tea-coloured where they were shaded.

And the Dogpound Creek valley, well, it’s one of the prettiest valleys around.

I love coming out here at first light in the springtime when all the birds are singing and mist lays over the land but even on a day like this, mid-morning and grey, it’s still an amazing place.

The slopes abound with deer, mulies and whitetails. I must have seen a hundred or more of them in just a few short miles. They grazed unperturbed on the pastures or lazed among the aspens, does just a few weeks away from giving birth, bucks sporting fuzzy little nubbins on their heads where their new antlers are starting to grow.

When I was last out this way a week before photographing the northern lights at two in the morning, the air was filled with frog song. They were silent now, though. Not sure why. But ducks abounded.

There were ring-billed ducks, American widgeon, green-winged and blue-winged teal and, of course, mallards on nearly every little pond. The deeper waters held pairs of buffleheads. I watched a duo of merganser drakes chase each other along the bends and twists of muddy Dogpound Creek while a beaver narrowly avoided being photographed.

The fence lines held bluebirds and swallows while song sparrows sang from the shelter of the tall brown grass. Red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks were all over the place and I was able to get a picture, later in the day, of a lovely chocolate-brown dark-phase red-tailed hawk that posed stoically for me.

There are several small creek drainages that empty into the Dogpound, some with running water, most just damp, especially to the west. Open pastures fill in the spaces between stands of aspen and balsam poplars while diamond willows cover a lot of the slopes. I’ve seen elk here a couple of times before and deer always. Today, I saw moose.

This time it was a pair of juveniles, youngsters maybe a couple of years old judging by their size. They were standing right out in the open by a wetland. Not feeding, not looking like they were on their way anywhere, just standing. After glancing at me, they went back to staring off to their left.

Turned out they were staring at two more moose, these ones a mom and her yearling calf. She and the baby started to move off when they saw me and the other two decided to follow. Not too closely, though. Momma didn’t look pleased.

So as not to bother her too much, I didn’t linger. But as I pulled away I saw two more moose - another mom and baby - run out of the willows and into a nearby field. Six moose at one bog! The Moosylvania parliament?

I cruised on north and east, sort of following the Dogpound toward where it runs into the Little Red Deer River and as I went, I saw more moose. They were all far off, barely visible through the thin, grey mist hanging in the valleys, some just glimpses of long legs heading into the brush. But by the time I’d passed the eagle nest east of Cremona and the blue herons hunting in a slough they shared with shoveler ducks just west of Didsbury, I’d seen five more Moosylvanians. The last three were a momma and two youngsters standing in one of the smallest patches of willows I’d seen all day. Those guys sure do like their willows.

It was late in the afternoon now and the light was still dull so I headed back toward the city. I was out in open farmland, now, passing flat sloughs filled with coots and Canada geese, harriers hunting the cattails hoping to snag the blackbirds singing from atop the brown stalks. More deer, too, the whitetails more common than the mule deer out this way. A quartet of trumpeter swans formed a bouquet for me as they preened on the banks of a small creek.

But no more moose. At least until I got back to where I’d started.

The one I’d seen earlier in the day was still there, still standing among the willows. Moosylvania border security? Fine, I always carry my passport anyway. Passed by without any problem.

But as I rolled back into the snow on the north edge of the city I realized one silly little thing. I’d seen more than a dozen Bullwinkles. But not one Rocket J. Squirrel.

Guess I’ll have to go back to Moosylvania and have another look again.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

APRIL 24, 2017

Photographed with the Canon 7D Mark II and EOS M5 with Sigma 150-600C.

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