3857 Where the wild moose are | Natural History Museum
Settled in © Ryan Miller

Settled in © Ryan Miller

Where the wild moose are

The city of Anchorage in south-central Alaska, USA, has a special relationship with wildlife.

Ryan Miller shares what it's like to get up close to and photograph the metropolitan moose population.

Moose are the largest members of the deer family. Males can weigh up to 700 kilogrammes and sometimes reach over two metres in height - and that's not including their impressive antler crowns.

Although the animals are wild, residents sometimes see them wandering the streets of Anchorage.

Ryan Miller's image, Settled in, was captured as the city slept, when a large bull (or male) moose bedded down amid heavy snowfall. The serene shot has been shortlisted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice award.

Subtle as a moose

An estimated 1,500 moose are thought to be regular visitors to Anchorage throughout the year. But despite their sheer size and number, Ryan explains that the city-going moose can be difficult to spot.

'It is so easy to lose track of them once they enter neighbourhoods,' says Ryan.

'It seems contradictory, I'm sure - how do you lose track of a 1,300 pound animal in the city?' But it would seem that the moose are a sneaky bunch.

Ryan explains, 'They hop fences and feed on ornamental apple and berry trees in the yards of private residences, often bedding in yards, out of sight.'

The large bull moose, Hook

It isn't uncommon to spot moose wandering the streets of Anchorage neighbourhoods © Ryan Miller
 

Fortunately for the photographer, a bull moose decided to hunker down in plain sight, offering an opportunity to spontaneously photograph of him in the wintery, early-morning light.

'When I arrived, he had already moved out of a yard and bedded right there on the sidewalk as the snow began to fall.

'I've never seen an image like this. While moose are common in Anchorage, where hundreds of photographers live, it still takes a great deal of work and luck to capture an image like this.'

Hooked on Hook

Ryan has spent the last few years getting to know one particular moose - a large bull called Hook, the subject of Settled in.

'Getting to know an animal is about time. Luckily Hook is a very docile beast. He is comfortable in the city and around people - quite remarkable for a wild animal this size,' he says.

'I first photographed Hook in 2013. He was a healthy bull with a large set of antlers.'

'In 2015 I photographed him as much as possible, starting in June when his first great rack began to take shape. That continued during the early winter around when he moved from a more wooded area into the city.'

The urban environment offers unique photography opportunities, which Ryan continued to take advantage of in 2016.

As Anchorage slept, Hook bedded down and became coated by the heavy snowfall, although still proudly displaying his full antler rack.

Hook's shed antler

Ryan later followed Hook's footprints to find that the moose had shed his first antler of the year © Ryan Miller
 

But less than an hour later, the moose shed his first antler. This process takes place each winter.

Male moose antlers regrow through spring and summer to be used during the rutting season in autumn, when they joust in competition for mates.

Working with wildlife

Ryan can spend upwards of 200 days of the year in the field, giving him ample opportunity to witness scenes that are rarely captured on camera.

'I started seriously photographing wildlife due to my seasonal job in the construction trade,' says Ryan.

'In the early 2000s it occurred to me that I'd seen a lot of interesting things that I would've liked to have captured with camera gear. Things I hadn't seen before, like wolverines dragging Dall sheep down the side of a mountain after a successful hunt, or antlers being shed by a bull moose.'

The bull moose, Hook

Hook shed his first antler of the season less than an hour after Ryan photographed him hunkered down in the snow © Ryan Miller
 

But for Ryan, although nature is always unpredictable, successfully working with wild animals relies on respecting them.

He says, 'When you are able to spend time with the game you understand that in time the images that you want to make are going to present themselves as opportunities in one way or another.

'Give them respect and they'll repay you several times over.'

For budding wildlife photographers, Ryan shares this advice:

'Knowledge, work and patience. Learn as much as you can about your subjects. Put that knowledge into work and work hard. Then you can trust that the patience is going to pay off in images.'

Vote for your favourite

Voting for this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award is now open.

Visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year website to have your say on which image should be crowned the People's Choice. Voting closes at 12.00pm GMT on 5 February 2018.

 

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