I want to do a series of articles about finding, seeing and photographing wildlife. I hope these articles will help you better enjoy the beautiful wilderness and wildlife in our backyards and countryside.
How to Spot Wildlife
I was raised on a small farm in Northern Alberta and we hunted for our table fare. Without moose, deer or grouse, our large family would have gone hungry more often than not. Our ability to feed our family depended upon our knowledge of the woods and our ability to see our prey. I enjoyed many experiences in the forests and hills looking for animals to eat and to photograph. I have taught my kids and my wife to become very proficient at finding animals as we drive around the countryside on day trips or holidays. The ability to spot animals has added a new dimension and broadened our enjoyment of any outing. I now spend my summers as a wildlife guide showing people from around the world all the fantastic critters we enjoy in B.C.
Some of the easiest and most common things to see here are birds. My incomplete bird species list has over 120 different species that I have seen around the Campbell River area. Birds are easy to spot, they are on every street, in every garden and lining the beach wherever you walk. I don't think you can go for a walk anywhere in town, along the sea walk, the Quinsome River or in Beaverlodge Lands in any season without seeing several different species of birds.
Camouflage helps to conceal this robin in the crab apple tree until it moves.
Get yourself a good pair of binoculars to help increase your pleasure. Binoculars are one tool that is worth whatever you pay for them. The more money you spend, the better quality you will have. Better quality glass will allow you to look through them without any eye strain, once they are adjusted to your eyes. Get a set that are light enough to carry around your neck. Waterproof glasses are a necessity here on the west coast. You may not need a powerful glass such as 10x or 12x, as a quality pair of 8x will do very well as the shake from your body will not be as magnified as much as the higher power. As important as the power, you need to be able to gather as much light as you can. For example, a pair of 8 x 50 will be brighter than a pair of 8 x 42, especially in shadows or at dawn and dusk. Binoculars can be used to find birds and animals as well as isolating smaller parts of a big scene. You can get a good sense and feel of a snow capped mountain from down here on the dry road with good glasses. They will last you many years and provide hours of free entertainment as you try to identify a bird species list of your own.
You do have to practice in order to be able to spot birds and animals as you wander the wilderness. The more time you are out there, the easier it will be to see animals. The quicker you spot an animal, the safer you will be as you are walking down a trail along the river. Imagine you have to get out of a boat along a forest trail and you are unable to spot a bear and her cub. You will get to know the places that animals like to feed, walk or sleep. Get used to watching edges. Edges are the borders between different habitats such as a field and the bush, Animals use edges as security. They can wander into a field to eat where they are exposed to many eyes but can quickly step into the forest if they feel threatened. Another edge is the beach. Bears often come down to the beach to feed on inter-tidal life but with a few steps can be into the security of the dark woods if they feel insecure.
Can you see the mother and the cub in this picture?
Birds are famous for utilizing edges of all sorts for their favorite hangouts. Most bird species are found very close to the habitat edges that they are designed for. Smaller birds such as a winter wren will flit about in the lower brush. Shore birds are most often found at the edge of the water picking through the mud for insects and seeds. You will hardly ever see an Oyster catcher from from the waters edge as the tide drops.
You will also get to observe many different types of textures as you spend more time in the outdoors. Animals and birds have a different texture to their fur and feathers than trees or rocks and stumps. Even though camouflaged, there is a subtle difference when you are used to seeing it.
Your eyes will notice movements, especially out of your peripheral vision. Quick movements are more noticeable than slow movement. Watch for ripples in the water, tree or branch movements and the actions of other animals or birds around you.
The ripples in the water forewarned me that something was wading in the river toward our group. Get ready! Do you see the bear emerging?
You also need to look for parts of animals. Not often does an animal show it's whole body. Most often you will see the ears or horns sticking up out of the grass. Sometimes it will just be the silhouette of it's back or head that you see. Many of us expect to see some preconceived notion of, say a bear; this huge raging beast running all out toward you, rather than a benign solitary animal grazing grass.
I spend a lot of time every year showing people from around the world our plentiful wildlife. It can be most exasperating when someone can't see the animal that is grazing right in front of us. Most people are amazed that a large bear can hide on the beach right in front of us just by standing still. It just takes practice to better enjoy the gifts of the wilderness.