Crammed in the back of a two-seater plane, Roger Stevens Jr. of Lincoln spotted more than 100 moose while soaring over the woods of northern Maine last weekend. A wildlife photographer and lover of flying, he couldn’t have been more excited.
“It was the most incredible experience,” Stevens said. “I never would have thought there were that many moose around.”
Hanging his camera lens out of the plane’s open window, Stevens captured hundreds of photographs, as well as video clips, of moose as they lumbered through areas recently harvested for timber. With these images and videos, he’s sharing his experience on Facebook with others who might not be so keen on hurtling over the treetops in a lightweight plane.
“I just love it, but it’s not for everybody,” Stevens said. “[The pilot] said that most people who go up in the plane to take photographs don’t last very long because of the motion [making them sick].”
The pilot of the flights, Nathan Theriault, is a registered Maine guide and the owner of OMM Outfitters, based out of Eagle Lake in Aroostook County. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he took Stevens up over Fort Kent and the surrounding area in his Husky A-1B, a tandem-seat bush plane designed for exploring the backcountry.
The sunrise seen from a bush aircraft in northern Maine (left); Roger Stevens Jr. gets comfortable in a two-seater plane for a moose tour in the Fort Kent area. (Photos courtesy of Roger Stevens Jr.)
“We were in the air before the sun came up,” Stevens said. “We had to have the perfect wind and weather for it.”
The lighter the wind, the easier it was to maneuver the plane at low altitudes and keep the ride smooth, Stevens explained. Fog delayed their flight on Saturday, but otherwise, the weather was perfect.
The best time to find moose out in the open was between 6 and 8 a.m., Stevens said. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the animals disappeared into the woods. That left them only a short window to search, but it was more than enough. In just two hours on Sunday, they spotted 72 moose, two bears and seven deer. And over the course of three days, Stevens believes they spotted over 125 moose, though it’s difficult to know if you’ve counted the same moose twice.
At first, the moose appeared as little black dots in a sea of green and brown, Stevens explained. To photograph them, he used a 150-600 millimeter camera lens, which is a zoom lens that is frequently used by wildlife photographers to shoot subjects that are far away.
“That’s why you look like you could ride them on their backs,” Stevens said. “But we really weren’t that close to them.”
Moose are photographed from a small airplane in the Fort Kent area. (Photos courtesy of Roger Stevens Jr.)
In fact, the moose didn’t seem to mind the plane at all, Stevens said. On the other hand, the bears they saw hightailed it in the opposite direction.
“I learned a lot about flying and moose a lot in a short amount of time,” Stevens said. “I don’t like the rides at the fair, but I could [ride in that plane] all day.”
A professional wildlife photographer for the past 21 years, Stevens has published eight books of his photos and stories, the most popular of which are “June the Loon: The Story of a Maine Loon Chick” (2014) and “Maine Moose on the Loose” (2015). Currently, he’s working on a hardcover coffee table book of moose photographs, and he hopes that his trips to Aroostook County can contribute to that project.
In addition to returning to Aroostook County to photograph moose this fall, Stevens is interested in working with Theriault longterm to make moose photography tours more accessible in the Fort Kent area — both by plane and foot.
“Up in around Fort Kent, they have a huge moose population,” Stevens said. “And the scenery up there is just beautiful … I’ll tell you, there are people who go all over the world on safaris. We should be tapping that market.”
Big bull moose are photographed from a small airplane in the Fort Kent area. (Photos courtesy of Roger Stevens Jr.)
Northern Maine is already a destination for big game hunters, Stevens said, and wildlife photography is a very similar activity. Both avid hunters and photographers are often willing to travel to find specific animals and outdoor experiences, hiring guides and spending money on lodging, food and gear in the process.
“Instead of hanging a head on the wall, [in photography] you place a giant, beautiful picture on the wall,” he said. “I call it catch and release hunting.”
Stevens’ recent adventures up north wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for COVID-19, he said. Other years he’s tied up showing his photography and books at the Fryeburg Fair. This year, when the event was canceled due to the pandemic, he decided to treat himself to a guided wildlife tour instead.
And he’s happy he did. Now he knows firsthand just how many moose the Fort Kent region has to offer, plus he’s formed a connection with a knowledgeable local guide.
Sometimes when one door closes, another one opens. In this case, it was the door of a two-seater plane and an unforgettable weekend of moose seeking by sky.