Quick Tips for Wildlife Watching and Photography

Tips – Introduction

Here are a few tips for anyone setting out to enjoy spotting wildlife and perhaps hoping to take a few photographs too. It is not intended as an exhaustive guide, just something to set you off on a helpful track. Oh, and there’s an amusing yet illustrative anecdote that I’ve included. The tips are intended to be relevant to everyone from the Sunday afternoon walker through to those more dedicated observers who may be going on a trip to watch their favourite species. I shall split the tips into small groups, feel free to add extra useful tips in the comments section:

General Courtesy

  1. Always keep in mind the welfare of the wildlife & surrounding environment – this is more important than any photograph.
  2. Make sure that you have any relevant permissions for where you are going. Also be aware of local laws that restrict interactions with specific wildlife / areas.
  3. Consider your own safety beforehand – take navigational equipment, proper clothing & footwear.
An adolescant Badger cub climbs in to a tree whilst frolicking around his mother, late one spring night.
An adolescant Badger cub climbs in to a tree whilst frolicking around his mother, late one spring night.

Tips for finding Wildlife (or not scaring it away)

  1. Try not to cause disturbances, so..
  2. Keep any dog or pet close by your side, not running 50m ahead – all the wild creatures will have run for cover before you get there. Better still, leave the pets at home.
  3. Similarly, try to keep any noise to an absolute minimum.
  4. Do wear drab clothing, many creatures will spot your bright colours quickly. That includes brightly dyed hair, so perhaps pop a beanie hat on.
  5. Don’t wear artificial scents, these are a huge giveaway and carry easily on a light breeze.
A fox uses an old log to scan for his dinner. (Observed via IR camera trap).
A fox uses an old log to scan for his dinner. (Observed via IR camera trap).

More specifically

  1. Know your quarry. Where do they hang out? Are they particularly sensitive to anything? What is their typical behaviour?
  2. Try to think a little like your quarry, try seeing things from its perspective – this may help you anticipate its behaviour.
  3. Let the animal come to you. Chasing after a quarry is rarely a good thing, rarely successful. Find a promising spot, then wait quietly.
  4. Visit a reserve or region known to have a healthy population of whatever you wish to see.
  5. Support conservation groups – that way there will hopefully be more creatures for all to enjoy in the future.
A seal pup peacefully suckles from its contented mother. They were fully unaware of my presence upon a clifftop overlooking this small offshore cove.
A seal pup peacefully suckles from its contented mother. They were fully unaware of my presence upon a clifftop overlooking this small offshore cove.

Where relevant (more photography orientated)

  1. Beforehand, consider what type of photograph you are looking for. Take the right kit but don’t over-burden yourself.
  2. What camera setting will you need? Try pre-setting an approximation of what you’ll need – it’s extremely frustrating to find that rare shy creature, only to miss the shot because you’re adjusting aperture or focus mode.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. If you are going on a special trip, practice any techniques you may need before setting out. For example, photographing birds of prey in flight will require you to pan with the flight-path – practicing this before your first encounters will avoid much frustration.
  4. Consider using further equipment to help you. Tripods will give you a stable base. Camera traps can help locate and learn about elusive quarries. A hide may allow for better observations (and perhaps a little more comfort). Always assess what is suitable to the situation and seek permissions where necessary.
  5. Don’t forget to have fun; enjoy the wildlife and nature herself. It is all too easy to only experience things through the viewfinder, try putting the camera down occasionally.
A Red Kite wheels around in front of snow laden trees.
A Red Kite wheels around in front of snow laden trees.

An anecdote to illustrate a few points

One of my favourite fauna photographs (the badger cub in the featured image of this article) resulted from many nights spent watching a group of rather wild & not human accustomed Badgers. I had initially used IR camera traps to watch their habits. This was followed by first hand observations with a night vision monocular whilst lying camouflaged on the forest floor. Finally I started taking a few flash illuminated images to allow them to become a little used to this. Anyway my tale is of one night whilst I was watching the Badgers through the night sights.

A footpath ran close to where the Badgers were at this point and I was aware that some visitors to the area were being taken on guided night time walks to see Owls & Badgers. I was currently prone amongst ivy, about 10 feet off the woodland path. My quarry, a big male badger, was happily foraging up & down the path in front of me; occasionally stopping for the odd scratch.

I first noticed bright torch light appearing over the crest of the hill, perhaps about 1/2 a mile away from us – the badger carried on scratching. Then I heard the rather loud hushed conversation of the group, they were about 100 metres away, the Badger quickly scrabbled under a bush about 20 feet from me. As the group walked closer & then past, I could smell the array of lotions & potions being worn. I listened as they remarked how disappointing it was to have seen so little, walking right past the Badger & myself without realising we were there! A few minutes past, the night became still again. Badger reappeared from his bushy cover and continued his nightly ablutions. Perhaps 15 minutes passed before an owl swooped overhead on his way to hunt for voles.

Those few organised walks were a short lived thing and I came across comments about ‘how it was dreadful that there was so little wildlife, probably the fault of farmers & country folk’. Please don’t miss out on our wonderful natural heritage like these unfortunate people did. It’s not necessary to resort to my full camouflage & night-vision; just apply a little care, follow some tips, have some forethought – see the sights, enjoy your time.

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