Ultimate Wildlife Watching

owlWhat is the ultimate wildlife watching experience? It's viewing animals without interrupting their normal activities. It's seeing how animals act in the wild, not just how they react to humans. Instead of just a glimpse, you have an encounter - a chance not only to identify the animal, but to identify with it.

How can you do this? Try to "Fade Into the Woodwork:"

  • Wear natural colors and unscented lotions. Remove glasses that glint.
  • Walk softly.
  • Move slowly, smoothly and steadily - you'll have a better chance of viewing wildlife, and less chance of stressing the animals. Approach animals in a roundabout way, never directly.
  • Make yourself as small and unassuming as possible.
  • Hide your figure behind boulders, vegetation or your car, and try not to throw a shadow.
    Keep your distance. Stay on established trails and maintain a distance that is comfortable for wildlife. Chasing after an animal can endanger its life.
  • Watch where animals are most likely to show up - drinking sites, trail intersections, perches, ledges and overlooks to open areas. Wildlife often gathers at "edges" between habitat types - for instance, a deer herd may graze at the edge of a meadow near a wooded area that offers cover.
  • Bring the right tools. To get close-up views, use binoculars, spotting scope or camera zoom lens - a 400 mm lens is best. You will also appreciate a pair of comfortable shoes.
    Use materials such as field guides and checklists to identify animal species- and to learn where you are most likely to see them.
  • Watch at dawn and dusk, when most wildlife species are active enough to view.
    Resist the temptation to "save" baby animals - mom is usually watching from a safe distance.
  • Do not feed animals. Let them eat their natural foods. Your handouts could hurt their digestive systems, make them dependent on future handouts - or even kill an animal.
    Be patient. Don't expect to see everything right away. Resist the urge to throw rocks to see a flock fly.
  • Give nests a wide berth. You could frighten the parents away and leave eggs or young animals exposed to predators.
  • Avert your gaze, as animals may interpret a direct stare as a threat.
  • Many wildlife-watching lists emphasize birds, for good reason. There is often more information about birds than other wildlife at any given site, because birdwatchers (or "birders") continually record their sightings. Birds are often easier to spot, as they roost in trees or brush and take to the air. And they can often be seen at any time of day, unlike many walking animals that only emerge from cover only at dawn or dusk, or during the night. You may not always see the other wildlife, but you will almost always see birds. So, you may want to come prepared with bird watching tools: a field guide to help you identify them; binoculars, spotting scope or long-lens camera to get a better view; and possibly a checklist to record those you do see.
  • But don't forget to look for signs of other animals, even if you can't see them. Signs can include tracks, mounds, beaver dams. A field guide can help you learn what to look for, and where.

Also, many wildlife viewing areas have restrictions designed to protect the wildlife you came to see, as well as fragile ecological resources:

  • Vehicle use is permitted only on routes that are compatible with wildlife.
  • Visitation may be limited to certain seasons to protect wildlife during critical periods, such as fawning or nesting periods.
  • Travel through a special area may be limited to foot traffic only, where vehicle use could impact sensitive resources.
  • Privately-owned land may be interspersed with public lands - and require landowner approval to cross. Respect the rights of private landowners at or near viewing areas.


binocularsIntroduction- BLM California Watchable Wildlife
Watchable Wildlife IconMap - BLM California Watchable Wildlife Sites