Wildlife Observation Tips
I never, ever take the ability to see a tremendous amount of wildlife for granted. Steve and I went turkey hunting this morning. We didn’t see a single turkey but we did see four bears (more later!), a moose, a fox, three snowshoe hare, 100+ red stag and fallow deer and seven bison. Yes, you read those last three right. We knew about the red stag and fallow deer but the bison surprised us. They’re on two farms. The farm with the bison is large enough to give them a lot of room to roam. We’ve been by them almost daily for two weeks and hadn’t seen them until this morning. Anyway, on to wildlife observation tips. These tips will help you find and see more wildlife.
Look any time. Look all the time. Walking by a window? Look out. These days it isn’t uncommon to see wildlife in city limits. Coyotes in NYC and Cambridge aren’t unusual anymore.
Early morning, as early as dawn, and early evening are great times to see wildlife on the move. Wildlife moves during bad weather but not so much in a downpour or snow storm. They’ll be out and about after the weather clears.
Migration is an excellent time to see birds you don’t otherwise see.
During black fly season they’re moving into clearings as soon as the black flies are up. They’re looking for a heavy breeze the black flies can’t fight.
Where Should You Go for Wildlife Observation?
Look in fields. In a big field you’ll want to look for small dots. A rabbit is hard to see, a turkey easier, a bear certainly even easier, but in a very large field a bear can look like a small dot. Scan the entire field and take your time to slowly move along the edge of the field.
Logs and rocks are sunning places for turtles, water fowl, snakes and other critters that like to warm up or nap in the sun.
Look down side roads as you pass them. If you’re driving you should keep your eyes on the road and have your passengers be on the look out. You can turn around to go back if they see something.
What Do You Look For in Wildlife Observation?
Look for something that looks out of place. The black spot at the edge of a field might be a bear. Or a boulder.
Movement. A flash across a field or crossing a road might be a fox. A white bouncing object could be the “flag” of a white-tailed deer.
Tracks and signs tell us a lot about what wildlife is in an area. Tracks, scat, hair, chewed plants – all good places to start.
Once you’ve gotten familiar with spotting whole animals or birds you can start looking for body parts. Steve taught me to stop looking for a deer and start looking for a deer’s ear, tail or leg. This morning I spotted a moose in the woods because I saw its shaggy, shedding rump through the trees and recognized it for what it is.
How Do You Do This?
Good wildlife observation skills start at home. Don’t load up on scents. Avoid perfume, aftershave and smelly deodorant. Use an extra rinse on laundry or forego fabric softener (or both).
Find a place that’s safe. Wildlife observation can take a little getting used to. You want to start out safe and sound before you start dealing with animals. The city park, private land, your backyard, great places to start. If you don’t feel secure alone you should take someone with you.
Sit with the sun at your back so you don’t look into it.
Find a place to sit. Good wildlife observation calls for comfort. Bring a small folding seat or pad if you don’t want to sit on the ground, a rock or a stump. If you can sit inside the treeline at the edge of a field you’ll have cover while looking into open space.
If you’re in a spot where it’s allowed, build yourself a blind with evergreen boughs.
Now that you’re in your spot, settle in, sit still, be patient and wait. You’ve disturbed the area by showing up even if you were as quiet as possible. Birds and squirrels will return to normal first. Once you see an animal you should avoid eye contact. Don’t look it in the eye and don’t lose sight of it. On our way back from a woodcock singing ground survey last night our truck was charged by a cow moose. She’s probably pregnant and nearing the end of her pregnancy, hormonal and becoming protective. Keep an eye on animals.
Listen. Do you hear twigs snapping, leaves rustling, bleating, bird calls? What do you hear? Now look for the sound. Yes, really. Look for the sound. Where did it come from? Where did it go?
What Tools Do You Need?
I like to have a pair of binoculars, a camera or three, paper and pen, something to drink, maybe something to sit on, bug spray (you can buy unscented bug spray), sunglasses, and appropriate clothing. Avoid bright colors.
During hunting seasons you’ve absolutely got to develop and use common sense. Don’t traipse around in the woods in tan during deer season. Put on a florescent orange vest and hat. White mittens resemble a white-tailed deer’s tail. Overall, hunters are incredibly safe but just like everyone else, stuff happens.
If you pull over to observe something you’ve spotted you must be sure to pull out of the travel lane. Don’t forget to look to see what’s coming before you open the door. It’s easy to get excited and forget what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and double check your surroundings. If there isn’t a good place to pullover, forget about it. You’ll see something else in a safe place at another time.
Don’t approach animals. We know we’re not supposed to bother a sow with cubs but don’t forget the little things. People get bitten by mice and squirrels and it hurts.
If your presence is making the wildlife uneasy you need to back out safely and leave. I watched a herd of deer this morning until they spotted me and were uncomfortable. Watching me is fine. Watching me and leaving the area or approaching me isn’t alright. Wildlife observation ends when the wildlife leaves so be the first to go and let them be.