How to Watch
Sometimes, it seems to work like Murphy's law: when you least expect it, you'll see wildlife. If you're trying to catch a photo of an elk, you can be sure one will lumber out of the brush the moment you set down your camera. So the best advice (as any Boy Scout will tell you) is: be prepared. Decide ahead of time where and when you will go; know the area you're visiting, and the best times to see animals.
Try this checklist to give yourself the best chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat:
- Take a map. A map will generally tell you how easy or difficult an area is to get to, and what services are available. Where can you find good area maps? Start with the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Even if you're using a state highway map, look closely to find wildlife refuges and other areas set aside for wildlife preservation.
- Take a field guide. No, we're not talking about Sacajawea (although a knowledgeable local expert will always add to the experience). Try a good book that will help you identify species, habitat, what they eat and what their tracks look like. Hey, if you miss seeing the animal in person, tracks will at least let you know you're in the right area.
- Visit when the animals are most active. You know that old saying that goes "fish when the fish are biting"? Well, if you want to watch wildlife, you need to watch when the animals are on the move. The best times of day for most wildlife viewing are dawn and dusk, so plan to get up early or go to bed late if you want to catch the best viewing opportunities. Animals usually are less active during the heat of the day (aren't you?). Seasonal changes also affect animal behavior; some species are more active at certain times of the year. For example, fall migration is the best time to watch waterfowl. Of course, if you have a good field guide (hint, hint; see above), it can tell you the best times of year to see particular animals.
- Bring your glasses. By this we mean field glasses: binoculars or a spotting scope. You'll be able to watch at a safe distance. If you like, bring a camera to take the experience home with you in photos. Try to move quietly and slowly, to blend in as much as possible. Be patient, and remember you are a visitor to the animal's home.