We are all attracted to the great outdoors for a variety of reasons. However, one of the things most of us have in common is our love of the abundant wildlife that surrounds us on our adventures. Many of us simply take this in as a result of seeing and hearing what goes on around us but if you’re serious about observing wildlife there are a few things you can do to enhance your experience and bring you even closer to nature.
Do your homework
Once you’ve planned your trip, visit your local bookshop, library or go on the internet to find a wildlife guide for the area you intend visiting. This will give you the best idea of the kinds of plants and animals you can expect to see as well as the best places and times to spot them.
If you have any pocketbook guides, take them along with you. If they have photographs in particular, they’ll be a valuable tool in helping you identify the plant, bird, insect or animal you’ve just spotted.
Once you’re at the location, talk to other local people. There is nothing better than local knowledge when it comes to spotting wildlife.
Don’t get seen!
Many animals have an amazingly alert sense of sight which helps them survive in the wild. To get close takes a great degree of patience and time but you can increase your chances by wearing natural or neutral colours that blend into your surroundings. Also use ‘stealth tactics’. Crouch behind boulders or vegetation and make as little noise as possible. If you’re using binoculars or wearing glasses, remember that sunlight reflects off them and at night, it’s even more difficult so keep torch use to a minimum and, don’t forget, a glow from a cigarette is another giveaway. Keep your movements to a minimum and when you do move, do it slowly and quietly.
Don’t get heard!
Walk softly and watch where you’re placing your feet so as not to snap branches or twigs or create other noise as you make your approach. Even if you have to take a less direct route, avoid walking through dense undergrowth as the animal is more likely to hear you and run away. Avoid carrying any metal objects in your pockets which will make noise. This includes things like car keys and loose change. If you’re carrying your rucksack, make sure that any items which could make a noise are wrapped tightly in T-shirts or socks. If you’re going to be ‘staked out’ in one place for some time, open all your food packets at once at the beginning of your stake out to avoid making noise later on.
Don’t get smelt!
A highly attuned sense of smell is one of the key aspects for many species of wildlife to detect where food is or, indeed, even prey. It is, for many, the most important of their senses in their battle for survival.
Don’t wear any aftershave or perfume and avoid scented soaps and deodorants. There are plenty of environmentally friendly non-scented soaps and toiletries on the market from specialist camping stores. Although you may baulk at this suggestion, wear your clothes for several days if you’re really serious about wildlife spotting. The more you wear your clothes outdoors, the more the fabrics will absorb natural outdoors scents and smells. If you smoke, it’s a good time to pack in. At best, tobacco smells are a giveaway and, at worst, a dropped lit cigarette end can quickly start a fire and ruin an animal’s natural habitat.
Always be aware of the wind direction and make sure that the direction in which you approach an animal is where the wind is blowing towards you. If it’s blowing away from you, animals can detect your scent from many hundreds of yards away.
It shouldn’t be important to get too close up to an animal to enjoy the experience and, in some instances, if you do get too near, it can even be dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. Binoculars can keep you at a safe distance from your quarry and means they are less likely to run away. Also, binoculars are the only way to view nesting birds or other forms of young wildlife. You should never get too close to a burrow, a nest or animals out and about with their young. Your scent can scare the parents away, never to return, which means that their eggs or young will be exposed to the elements and other predators and could ultimately be killed or die of neglect. For larger animals with their young, it is your own life which could be in danger as even the most gentle looking creatures will fiercely protect their young at all costs, even at the expense of your life!
A magnifying glass will also come in handy if you’re interested in examining insects and smaller wildlife alongside plants, flowers etc.
Get comfortable! You could be in for a long wait so take a roll mat or something comfortable to sit or lie on. Comfortable and warm padded clothing (if spotting in Autumn and Winter) will make it more pleasant during your vigil as well as insulating you against the ground and conserving your body heat.
Never feed any wildlife. You might think you are helping animals by feeding them and many would be enthusiastic about accepting a free meal but you could be doing more harm than good. The digestive system of many animals is not suited to the consumption of most human food. Furthermore, if animals come to depend on human handouts, then they will struggle to fend for themselves and can cause havoc by entering campsites on the lookout for free food.
All living creatures and plants have a vital role to play in the eco-system of the place you are visiting. Therefore, never remove anything or take anything with you and always leave the place as you found it. Following these tips and advice will ensure that your experience will be heightened as you marvel at all the wildlife and nature you’ve witnessed.