Wildlife is everywhere and practicing your observation skills at a refuge may help you find equally wonderful experiences just outside your own door. Even the parking lot can be full of life! Here are a few tips that can be used anywhere:
There is never a bad time to view wildlife. Animals are always around but time and conditions will change how easily they will be to find what you get to see them doing. This means every visit may offer something new!
Animals are especially active such as the early morning, late afternoon, and when the weather clears after a storm.
Warm spring and summer days will bring out cold-blooded animals like pond turtles basking on logs in the water and harmless garter snakes warming themselves along the trail.
Cold days may offer sights of animals finding shelter among trees and bushes or birds drying their feathers after a hard rain.
Spring bird migration usually goes from mid-March through mid-May. Visitors during this time often see elaborate mating displays and parents teaching young ones how to survive.
Fall migration from September through December brings flocks of ducks, geese, swans and families of sandhill cranes using the refuge to rest and recoup from a long migration.
Camouflage comes in many forms and is the best way an animal protects itself. It can take time to train your eye to catch slight movement and shapes. With your natural curiosity and some patience, you will be spotting things that others just walk right past.
Be sure to look along the "edges" between habitats, such as the tree lines and where water meets the grass.
Remember to look high and low, not just at eye level.
Do not overlook fields that look “empty.” These are great place for wildlife to hide from predators, as well as great places for predators like hawks to hunt for food!
Being a good observer outdoors is a skill you can learn and improve at any age.
You will see more animals if you are quiet. This is not always easy when you are with people you enjoy or have young ones with you. However, more people means more ears, so being in groups can sometimes make hearing wildlife easier.
Be sure to listen for animal calls and songs, or the rustling of small animals like rabbits hiding from you in the bushes.
Even footsteps create vibrations that can be heard and felt by wildlife close by. Move softly when you are trying to observe an animal without it noticing you.
Use “wide angle vision” by letting your eyes lose focus. Softly look at a wider area for movement to key you into bird and other small animal activity. You can then narrow your focus to find that specific animal.
Let the youngest in your group be your wildlife spotter. Children often see more than adults as they look at things from different angles and with different expectations.
What to Bring
You really do not need anything to watch wildlife. Here are some recommendations that may make it easier and keep you comfortable:
Dress for changing weather and temperatures. The temperature can change enough to make you too cold or warm as you walk into the shady trees or out into the sun.
Binoculars or spotting scopes are helpful for observing wildlife, but they are not necessary. Many birds, especially raptors and waterfowl are easily seen without special equipment.
A field guide will help you identify what you see and can be checked out by a local library. If you don’t want to carry one with you, take a picture or write yourself a note so you can look it up later. There are even free phone apps that help you identify plants and animals.
It is always best practice to make sure you have water, snacks and even some basic first aid with you just in case.