Watching For Wildlife
Finding and watching wildlife doesn’t have to be restricted to camo-clad experts or on extravagant, expensive, far-flung safaris. It’s not only for twitchers or photographers with all the latest gear, lugging tripods to custom built hides.
No No No.
This is not the case at all.
There is wildlife around us everywhere, and it’s super simple to spot. Whether it’s a dunnock skulking around in the hedgerow, the white rump of a roe deer picking through a farmer’s field, or the starlings congregating on your TV aerial. It’s there and once you’ve opened your eyes to it, you’ll find it hard to not see it.
Now, I don’t have many skills in life, but I do like to think I have a knack for spotting wildlife. I’m not talking about spending hours camped out in one spot, battling the elements (although this is a BIG part of wildlife watching, and if you do that in the right spot then you are going to greatly increase your chances of sightings), I’m just talking about being more aware. Tuning into the wildlife that is present on a day to day basis.
I’d like to share my very simple tips for becoming wildlife aware, and spotting some of the creatures that you may not realise cross your path daily.
Tip 1: Look.
Yep, that’s it.
I’m well aware that it’s nothing profound, and it’s probably a bit disappointing to hear that the first bit of advice on the list is simply just to look. But, honestly, how often do you really, properly look at the environment you are in? A short cursory glance will show the more obvious wildlife that’s about; perhaps you’ll pick up the rotund wood pigeons on the garden fence or the black bird pulling up worms on the lawn. That’s great, that’s a wildlife spot right there but what about looking deeper.
What would you see if you scanned each element of the environment? You might pick out a gaggle of house sparrows hiding in the hedge as a sparrowhawk sails over the rooftops overhead. Or you might be lucky enough the catch rustle of a wood mouse as it scuttles for cover in the overgrown grasses at your gardens edge.
It’s always worth checking. If you find yourself with a spare 5minutes then scan your surroundings. Take the time to trace out the tree branches with your eyes. Or follow the length of the fence with your minds eye. Be aware of what stands out, it might be a slight movement, or a shape that you weren’t expecting to see, maybe a flash of colour that catches your eye. Those are the things to investigate, take a closer look at them and you might just be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t just look for animals either. By spending all your time scanning ahead and above, you may be missing out on the clues right under your feet. This is probably the less glamourous side of the wildlife watching, but it is just important. Be sure to look out for droppings, foot prints, remains of food, tufts of hair or flattened patches of grass that indicate an animal has passed through or laid up in the area. All these little indications can be used to figure out where to put your efforts into looking.
Tip 2: Do Your Research
If you don’t know what to look for or where to look for it then tip one will be much less effective. So, it makes sense to do your research. This way not only will your time spent looking will be more productive but your i.d. skills will greatly improve, which will come in really handy when you’re faced with one of the little brown bird, that you can’t quite get a clear view of but it could either be a chiffchaff, or a willow warbler. The more knowledge you have the better your chances of a successful i.d.
It’s not just identification that research can help you with, but it’s a great way to get familiar with the behaviour of U.K wildlife. You can learn all about the different environments that you might find certain species in, what they like to eat, what times of the day they are most active, or what they are doing at certain times of year.
When you start to combine all this information you can paint a picture of any animal in question and channel your looking skills to find you some wildlife.
So, if you’re going for a Sunday afternoon stroll through a farmer’s field then you’ll know to keep your eyes open for roe deer picking at fresh shoots, hares laying low in their scrapes or a flash of yellow on the hedgerows as the yellowhammer calling out about bits of bread and no cheese.
It’s worth getting your hands on a few good field guides, they have buckets of really useful information and some also have some great wildlife watching tips. My favourites are;
Also, pretty much anything by the Field Studies Council
Tip 3: Be Patient and Persevere
You’re armed with an arsenal of wildlife knowledge, you know what you’re looking for, where to look for it and you haven’t overlooked all of the little details either. You’re starting to notice the flattened tunnels of grass that criss cross through the field and into the hedgerow, as well as the deep footprints indented in the slick mud patch by the river bank. Your eyes are scanning the skylines and your field guides, and the slightest shudders of tree branches catch your eye, but this is the point you that you need to remember that wildlife doesn’t necessarily want to be seen.
Animals are great at evading humans and in order to have those truly memorable encounters this is where you need to call on your greatest wildlife watching power of all…..patience! Sometimes it’s the patience to just sit in that one spot for a little bit longer, go on just five more minutes. Other times is the patience to keep looking, even though the white blot on the hedgerow is just a rogue plastic bag and not the rump of a roe.
It’s frustrating, and yes there are times when you will go out and not see anything. People often fail to explain that there is a huge amount of luck involved in seeking out wild things. A lot of the time it’s just a case of being in the right place in the right time (hey, you’ve done you’re research now so you know where those right places are don’t you?). But, and this is a big but, you certainly won’t get lucky if you don’t get out and look.
So, there you have it, my suitably simple tips for watching wildlife. I should probably tell you at this point, although I’m sure you are more than aware by now that wildlife watching is addictive. I can lose hours just staring out of the windows, flicking my eyes over the tree line, the horizon, the trails of overgrown graze by the fence. I’ve certainly put the practice in at looking, and now I’m rewarded with the knowledge that we are constantly surrounded by wildlife wherever we are. Whether I’m popping to the shops or we are out and about in the van, I can’t help but pick it out, the kestrel hanging over the motorway verges, or the trail of ants soldiering on together to carry the husk of a beetle back to their camp. It’s there. It leaves clues all the time and once you’ve seen it, you certainly can’t un see it.