“Animals are where you find them.” How many times have we, as naturalists, heard that? Some professors and researchers I have worked under in the past seem to have adopted that phrase as their personal mantra. I agree that, at times, luck is the only reason certain creatures are spotted. Most of the time, however, there are ways to increase the chances of seeing wildlife. I’m no expert in finding animals, but I have explored quite a few places in this country and want to share some tips on how to increase your chances of seeing cool critters.
Research, Research, Research! – The best way to find rare or unusual animals is by researching them as much as possible. I used to go to our state archives in high school and read through old journals to find sites for reptiles and amphibians. That might be the nerdy extreme, but that is what it takes sometimes to make interesting finds. Check local message boards, read journal articles, and familiarize yourself with the specific needs to the creature you seek. The more you know, the better your chances of coming across it. Fact.
Time And Weather – Searching for animals early or later in the day is a good idea. Yeah, I know it can be a pain to wake up at the crack of dawn but birds and mammals are really active at those times. Additionally, unusual weather makes for unusual finds. Warm spells in winter or cool spells in summer can be great for increasing animal activity. Some of my most productive outings have been in the middle of torrential downpours in the middle of the night.
Drive! – Not all animal-searching needs to be hardcore. You can cover far more ground, see many more different habitats, and be less tired if you stay in the car. Snakes, for example, are far easier to find when basking on the road than by flipping a hundred rocks on a steep hillside for hours. Birds and mammals love habitat edges. Guess what? Roads are habitat edges.
Interesting Microhabitats – If you are in nature, trying to find animals, keep an eye out for habitats that don’t seem to fit with everything around them. If you see a seepage on a hillside, a cave entrance, a wetland in the middle of a drier area, or an unexplained opening in the middle of a dense forest…be on alert. There could be animals around that may not be found in the rest of the area you are in.
SHH! – I know that it can be tempting to belt out your favorite Creed song on the trail (just kidding, Creed is terrible), but noise is a big turn-off for most animals. Walk carefully, avoiding sticks and dry leaves when possible. Resist the urge to go, “Oooh ooh, guys look at that!” as soon as you see something interesting (guilty…). This is probably the reason why I have far better luck finding creatures when I’m alone.
Follow The Food Chain – When you are out in nature, keep your eyes peeled for abundant prey. If you see a large number of tadpoles, insects, or fish in a pond, you can bet that birds, mammals, and reptiles will be in the vicinity. As annoying as they can be, biting insects are also good indicators. There are times I have been driven close to the point of insanity by deer flies and black flies, but you have to think about what these insects feed on when humans are not around. Clearly there are plenty of other animals around!
Hopefully this little guide helped. The one tip I didn’t mention, but that is probably most important, is experience. The more time you spend searching for animals, the better you will get at finding them. Just go out, explore, and have fun.