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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Moose Safari in Sweden

For once, I turned into a wildlife traveller in Europe.  I visited Sweden to see moose - the largest deer on planet Earth.  Here is my trip report.  But first, a short note on tapering of quantitative easing (QE) in the US.

The US Feds have dropped hints that they might decrease the quantum of QE.

The QE Santa Claus has visited many homes - commodity markets, bank balance sheets, mortgage markets, auto industry and the treasury in the US, the European Central Bank (via euro-dollar swap lines), emerging market corporate and sovereign bond markets, global equity markets, groups that spearhead human rights around the world - the list is long.

The ECB remains in need of the swap lines.  The US mortgage markets remain afloat mainly due to continuing QE.  Increasingly, the US fiscal and trade deficits are  being financed by the QE as China is seeking more and more real assets as a payback for its exports and petroleum-rich Arab countries continue to diversify away from US-based assets following the twin geopolitical shocks of 9/11 and the Arab Spring.

The QE quantum stands at $85bn a month.  I think in the immediate term (about 1y) a tapering of the order of $15-25bn a month is possible, mainly as the rise of shale gas has induced a fall in trade deficit and the US banking sector has regained a fair bit of stability.  For a materially larger taper I would watch out for the following; without one or more of these significantly greater and sustained tapering is not possible.
- material increase in taxes,
- sharp fall in trade deficit,
- sustained weakness in the Dollar vs other currencies,
- high consumer price inflation
- willingness on part of the ruling elites to accept material deflation in asset prices
- tapering of currency swap lines with the ECB
Yours, Traveling Ec0n0mist,
One night?  Sure.  You can slip into a sleeping bag in a 7 x 9 ft wooden lodge or spend the night in (again) a sleeping bag in a 6 x 7 ft observation tent.  That will be £160.  How would you like to pay?
I bet this would make people drop the idea, hang up the phone or reach out for their delete button.  Well don't.  Here is why.
Jan and Marcus run Wild Sweden tours.  Jan brings with him intimate knowledge of local wildlife, their habitat, their movement patterns and what an enthusiast must avoid in order increase her chances of spotting the animals.
A moose can hear you zip (or unzip) from a kilometer.  Those with large antlers have even better hearing.  It can smell you from about the same distance.  You can spot a moose in darkness by shining floodlights into its eyes as they reflect rather bright.  Shining light into their eyes does not startle them.  Those who like alcohol while they wait for the moose to turn up, Jan will include some.  Having told  the Do's and Don'ts, he will leave you in an observation tent with a sleeping bag, a chair, a pair of binoculars, boots and a basket of food and drinks.  To my delight he made sure the food included local flavors.  After about 3 hours of waiting I saw a moose calf and then, a moose bull. To see them in the wild is thrilling. You also feel an immense sense of achievement in that your presence went unnoticed by the moose's sharp senses.  Once a moose is there it could easily spend 2-3 hours grazing in the same area.  This will give you enough time to photograph and observe Moose behavior.  I clicked a few hundred photographs of which about 10 turned out to be decent.  This speaks more about my fledging skills at wildlife photography than about the real difficulty in photographing moose.  Time permitting I will make another post about tips on Moose photography.  I wish I could pick those up before I got into the tent!  
After it got too dark to photograph, Jan drove back to the tent to pick me up for a drive by the forest and nearby fields to see even more Moose.  Armed with a floodlight we spotted eight more of them.  I was rather pleased with his patience as late at night as I frequently struggled to mount my camera on my new tripod in the darkness.  Finally we drove back to Kolarbyn Ecolodge.
Andreas runs Kolarbyn Ecolodge.  In the right season the place is abound with blueberries, wild mushrooms and croaking frogs.  He has fashioned it to be so eco-friendly that apart from a layer of plastic sheets to keep the rainwater away from dripping into the lodge, there is little else about the lodge that would leave a mark on the environment. He prepares the charcoal needed for fire, uses untreated wood to build the lodge in order to prevent chemical leakage and sources eco-friendly food from local suppliers.  Building lodges with untreated wood means that he has to build them afresh every 2-3 years.  Buying from local suppliers is rather expensive as the decade long move towards integrating European agro-markets has driven Swedish farmers out of business.  Those who remained in business became substantially more expensive as farm support systems have weakened considerably and consumer profile has changed from an average Swede to those who choose local produce to ensure what they eat meets the highest standards of eco-friendliness.

I joined Jan for a Moose tour though he does regular wolf, bear and beaver tours as well.  He mentioned it is often difficult to spot a wolf though his visitors often get a chance to hear wolf howls as they howl back at his imitation of the howling sound!
The place is 2.5 hours from Stockholm Central station by train + a bus ride.  In order to arrive at the starting point take a train to Köping (pronounced as 'sherping') and then a connection bus to Skinnskatteberg (pronounced as 'hvin-skatt-bare'). If you tell him your arrival time in advance, he will likely be able to arrange a pick-up.
For the service you get, the rather unique eco-friendly living experience, local food and the (near) guarantee of spotting Moose, the largest deer on planet Earth - I think you should pay Andreas and Jan a visit the next time you are in Sweden. 
All pictures were taken with a Nikon D7100 and a Nikkor 18-300 lens  mounted on Velbon ultrek ut-53d with QHD-53d head.  The moose was about 100 meters from the observation tent.
A mouthful: Just like a cow, a moose's stomach has four parts.  It can eat about 30 kg of vegetation a day.

Grazing posture: A moose spreads or bends its forelegs while grazing .  This moose is rising back to its normal posture just after taking a mouthful.  

Moving one ear: A Moose can move its ears independently.  I had set the camera to slow shutter speed as natural light was dim.  Therefore I fortuitously captured the motion blur of its right ear flapping.  

Looking straight at the observation tent: Its not the look that will get you but your odor or the sound you make.  A moose's eyesight is not only poor but it has a huge blind spot right in its front view.

Night shot: This looks like a relatively young moose as its coat is still light in color.  

Moose Shine: A moose's eyes reflect light particularly strongly in the yellow wavelength.  Human eyes reflect the red wavelength.  Therefore cameras are equipped with red eye reduction feature. 

Moon light: The moon barely rose above 40 degrees.  Conifers look stunning with a full moon in the background. 

Kolarbyn Ecolodge: I am told that the ecolodge concept draws heavily on how miners and loggers lived for centuries when they would camp out in the woods. 

Blueberries: They are all over the lodge.  They are ready to be plucked in August.

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