Michael Underwood, wildlife photographer from Colorado, packed his camera and SWAROVSKI OPTIK CL Companion 8x30 binoculars in September and set off to look for the giants of the north: the Alaskan Moose.
The Alaskan moose can stand over seven feet tall and weigh over two thousand pounds. They can be found only in the most remote and northern parts of North America, in the state of Alaska and Yukon Territory. I arrived in Denali National Park just as the seasons were changing. The air was getting colder, snow was mixing with rain, the leaves were turning orange and yellow, and most importantly: the moose rut was in full swing.
I spent four days scanning the vast mountainsides, forests, and valleys. With the help of my CL Companion 8x30 binoculars, I finally found them. I lost count of how many of them I saw the first day.
I remember seeing one cow that was being pursued by a bull. These were the first two Alaskan moose I saw. Then a fellow moose watcher told me that I should look through my binoculars onto the vast hillsides for a surprise. I could not believe my eyes when the seven moose, several hundred yards off, came into focus! This included two giant sparring bull moose.
Even watching from over a mile away, I could not believe just how big they were! I have had hundreds of experiences with the Shiras Moose that inhabit the lower latitudes of North America. And still, I just stood in awe of their size in Alaska. The moose from back home, while still giants, seem to be rather small compared to their northern relatives. My binoculars allowed me to experience and see the scene without disturbing any of the animals.
The next days were spent constantly searching for more moose, while getting soaked in the never-ending rain. Thankfully, neither me nor my binoculars had issues with the weather. Since it was the rutting season, the moose were at their most active. The bulls either chase the cows or constantly battle each other. That was some of the most active wildlife watching I have ever experienced.
Moose are usually most active at dawn and twilight, but here, time did not seem to matter. There was just always activity. Several times I was watching a bull or a cow moose, only to have another one pop out of the forest. Other times, I would hear the ‘baseball bat crack’-like sound as unseen bull’s antlers would crash together. It was such an incredible scene and experience.
On the morning of my last day in Alaska, I went into the park well before sunrise and searched the mountainside, from where the biggest bull I had seen that first day was hanging out. I was able to find him, but unfortunately, he was still far off. Since they are not the friendliest animals at this time of year, the park service (wisely) does not allow you to hike in to get closer. Thankfully, using the CL Companion binoculars, I was quite comfortably up close and personal.
I eventually left him and the group of four cows that had joined him and went further into the park. I ended up finding a Northern Hawk Owl and some caribou, but the real joy was on the way out. The bull moose, who had been hovering way off in the distance, had followed a cow moose to within just a few dozen yards off the road, eventually crossing it and giving me the chance to see him close (from the safety of a parked car!). That was what is easily one of my favorite animal encounters!
I am thankful for the role my SWAROVSKI OPTIK binoculars played in my Alaskan adventure, helping me see these animals!
Michael Underwood is a nature photographer based out of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. He has been a photographer since 2010 and owns a gallery in the town of Lake City. While most familiar with Colorado, he has traveled extensively throughout the Rocky Mountain states and Alaska, usually focusing on the animals that call those areas their home.