This is a short brief on my techniques to spotting wildlife. While there are no photography tips in this post, a photographer could use these tips in finding their next subject. These tips with a little bit of luck should give you a successful outing next time you go out exploring. So grab your binoculars and a coat and get ready to spot those animals.
- Get Outside – The first thing to be a successful wildlife spotter is that you have to go where the wildlife is. Sometimes the hardest thing is grabbing your gear and getting off the couch. Once you are off the couch and walking in nature, you will already be in the environment for studying wildlife.
- Slow Down / Move Quietly– Our day to day lives are full of hustle. We all have places to go and things to do. How much stuff do you miss on a commute, only to notice it when someone else is driving. This same thing applies to nature-spotting. When you slow down, you can visually take in more of your environment, and things aren’t whizzing past in your periphery. Slowing down gives you a chance to scan. Slowing down also means you can think and move with stealth and intention. Practice walking quietly.
- Stop and Shut Up – Sometimes completely stopping and being quiet is what it takes to find what you are looking for. Becoming part of the environment and blending in may just make wildlife more comfortable in making themselves seen. This also lets you settle and listen to things around you. Are there birds chirping or did they get quiet? Looking for changes is a key to this technique.
- Get Up Early and Stay Up Late – Most animal activity is in the mornings and evenings. They like to wakeup and feed and go down to water sources first thing and last thing of the day. During the summer, animals avoid the heat like people. You would too if you had on a fur coat! Be sure you are ready with the added equipment to help you navigate twilight-lit landscapes.
- Edge Zones – Edge zones are the areas where forests give way to meadows, or forests give way to shorelines. Roads could also be considered edge zones. ever notice deer grazing on the side only to turn back into the trees and hide as you pass. (ok, sometimes they run in front of your car and help you check the operating condition of our brakes and reflexes.) Wildlife likes to hangout in these areas because of the quick retreat into cover. These have often been successful spotting places for me when looking for bears.
- Know Your Subject – If you are looking for something specific, do your research. This is where skills in tracking and sign cutting can come into play. Tracking is a longer post blog, but starting early in the day or late at night gives the sun the right position for seeing tracks on road surfaces. Scat is also a helpful indication of what is around and how long ago it was around.
- Have the Tools – Camouflage cover can be a handy aid to have when it comes to hiding. just be sure it doesn’t flap in a breeze, otherwise being stealthy, still, and quiet could all be a wasted effort. Other things to have handy: binoculars or spotting scope, camera, reference material, water or thermos of a warm drink, warm clothes, insulated sit pad (Crazy Creek chairs are nice for this).
- Respect the Wildlife – Lastly, keep a safe distance from animals. Recent videos in Yellowstone show people harassing bison, or getting dangerously close to elk and nearly getting gored by antlers during the mating rut. Use common sense; have an escape plan and stay far enough away that you hopefully won’t need to implement the escape plan.