Watching Wildlife Part 2...
In one of my previous blogs, Watching For Wildlife, I discussed 3 very simple tips that I felt were really beneficial for becoming aware of the wildlife around you on a day to day basis.
They weren’t at all profound, they weren’t particularly difficult, and the only equipment required were a couple of field guides. I truly believe that just becoming more aware of your environment, and having a good look at it, from the highest tree tops to the darkest overgrown corners, is the best place to start to increase your chances of wildlife sightings.
That being said, there comes a time when you’ve honed your looking skills, you’ve got the field guides, you know what you want to see, and now you are ready to take your wildlife watching experiences to the next level. You might find that even though you’ve done your research, followed the clues and you’re putting yourself in the right place, at the time, and you are most certainly practicing your patience but some of those encounters are just slipping through your fingers.
There’s absolutely no shame in that, it happens to everybody who goes out looking for wildlife – I can guarantee you all those wildlife documentaries aren’t always successful in the first try. Sometimes all you need is a few pointers, or bits of equipment to point you in the right direction and swing those wild chances in your favour. Here’s a short list of tips; things that I found really useful for increasing my chances of success in the field.
#1 – Get some optics
The one thing I found that really upped my wildlife watching game was a good pair of binoculars. Wildlife wants to keep its distance from you, and creeping up on wild beasties doesn’t always work, they are designed to hear/see/smell you coming and getting close to them takes a lot of practice. Binoculars are a great way to bridge that gap, you can keep your distance and still get a relatively good view. They also really help with identification, look through the binos and the black blob with a couple of white patches soon morphs into a tufted duck. They bring out the little details that might make all the difference to your tick list.
Most binoculars are light weight, and easy to carry either with a neck strap or they might tuck nicely into a big pocket, that means they are always on hand. Which is why I would opt for some bins over a scope. Whilst the scopes over incredible zooms and detail they are super bulky to carry round, especially as they aren’t much good without a tripod, so they aren’t the most comfortable option.
#2 – Visit a Nature Reserve
When I got my first pair of binoculars, I headed straight for my local wildlife reserve to test them out. I was lucky in that I had a couple of really great wildlife reserves within in walking distance, Lower Test Marshes and Testwood Lakes (both looked after by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust). It was here that I honed my watching skills and I was rewarded with numerous sightings of deer, foxes, and a huge array of birds, wildfowl and waders. These reserves were amazing, they had hides that allowed me to sit for hours at a time, sheltered from all sorts of weather, information boards that told me what to keep an eye out for and when and sometimes the odd volunteer to pick the brains of.
These places are designed for wildlife, whether they’ve been built to attract it or to protect it, this is where the wildlife wants to be, and this is where you have spectacular chances of seeing it. You might be surprised to find out how many different reserves are near you, and ok they might not all be within walking distance, but I bet they are closer than you think. Head over to the Wildlife Trusts, or RSPB websites to search for their reserves near you. It’s also worth checking out things like the WWT, Woodland Trust and your local council’s websites to find out what’s in the area.
#3 – Wear Suitable Clothing
Now I’m not talking head to toe full camo gear, although if that’s what you want to wear by all means go for it, but it’s not essential. So, I think what I mean by suitable is actually, wear something that is going to keep you comfortable outside for long periods of time, because the longer you are outside the better your chances of seeing some animals.
I always check the weather forecast (XC weather is probably my favourite for weather watching) before heading out, so I know what type of clothes to wear, but my general rule when I’m out is to dress in layers. The outer layer is usually a waterproof one, but if it’s not raining when I leave, I usually put this layer in my bag just in case. Waterproofs also come in really handy if you found yourself having to lie down to get a better view of whatever you’re watching.
Sturdy, waterproof boots are essential. Wildlife doesn’t stick to well laid paths and you probably won’t either, so a good pair of walking boots or trainers will help deal with all sorts of terrain. You might want to add a good pair of walking socks to keep your feet warm and blister free.
#4 – Book on a Tour
No, not a jeep backed safari (unless you want to then by all means go for it), but one a little closer to home. Most of those wildlife reserves we mentioned earlier run plenty of events to help you get closer to nature, whether it’s bird watching or a mini bug hunt they are fantastic ways to get closer to wildlife. They are usually more than reasonably priced and led by an expert in the field. That means that not only do you get a well-trained pair of eyes to pint out things that you may have missed otherwise, but you also get an expert brain to pick. Remember, my first set of tips – the key to wildlife watching is knowledge, so this is going to come in super handy. Not only can they tell you about the wildlife you’re watching but you might find yourself picking up extra tips on field craft or other places to find the creature in question.
The more you get out there, then the more you will see. Every time you are looking and becoming aware of your environment you are increasing, you’re chances of seeing something spectacular. It’s not about whose got the best bins or the most hidden camouflage, it’s about getting out there. By being respectful of the environment and the wildlife in it will bring so much more to your watching experiences. If you see something then tell someone, whether it’s out in the field or on a forum or Facebook post, people love to hear about wildlife encounters and you never know, you might just inspire another nature enthusiast.