ultramarinus – beyond the sea

WHEN MOOSE MEETS BEAVER, Algonquin, Ontario, Canada (3/3)

The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007.  After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal.  We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water.  Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects.  Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem.  We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos.  As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead.  It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes.  It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose.  It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond.  Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America.  The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century.   Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.

We saw beavers several times in Algonquin.  Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water.  But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond.  Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World.  Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975.  In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home.  As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber.  Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds.  A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish.  It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators.  The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.

Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park.  The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes.  Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north.  Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat.  Many birds frequent the bog,  and so as moose which come to feed and drink.   Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area.  A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair.  By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.

00Moose sighting is popular on Highway 60, especially in early spring when the animals gather at the highway ditches to indulge  in a feast of road salt from melted snow.

1The coniferous forest (ie. spruce) and deciduous forest (ie. maple) are two of the five major types of habitat in Algonquin.

07AL02-03Rivers and lakes represent another major habitat in the park.

2Reflection of autumn foliage in a beaver pond.

3BA small beaver dam made of timber, rocks and mud is a highlight at the Beaver Pond Trail.

4Many species, such as some waterlilies, frogs and birds, thrive in the ecosystem of a beaver pond.

5Spruce bog is the other major habitat at Algonquin.

6Life and death of spruce trees mark the boundary of a spruce bog.

8Reflection of spruce forest in the bog water.

07AL03-05Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in early morning (First visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007).

7Remnants of once a thriving spruce grove at the spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

9Spruce bog near our moose sighting location in late afternoon (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2160Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).  That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.

11Young moose gazed upon us curiously (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012)..

12This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us.  The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us.    (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

DSC_2202-2_01Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them.  (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).

13After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.

* * *

Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario

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