Close Encounters: Spotting Wild Animals

Every time we set out on a hike we nurture expectation of meeting an animal of some kind. We sometimes spend a whole day in the woods without seeing any: although we know, “they” are all around us. Meeting them is essentially a matter of luck, but knowing their habits and holding a respectful behaviour may raise our odds.

We found these tips useful:

  1. Go out early in the morning or in the evening. This is the time when animals move in search of food and are easier to spot. Note that when I say “early morning”, I do mean dawn. An encounter with a forest inhabitant is something magic and precious and like all desirable things it requires a little sacrifice.
  2. Be in small groups of maximum three or four people. Animals are scared by noise. For the same reason it is better to choose winter time and, when possible, weekdays when other hikers and picnic-goers are fewer.
  3. Look into which species are typical of the area where the hike will take place. It’s easier to find something if you know what to look for, as I have discovered in this recent hike. Also tracks and scat you find on the trail can give you a hint on which animal frequent the place.
  4. Know animal calls. This is especially useful with birds. For instance, a bird of pray flying high in the sky isn’t always easy to identify without  binoculars, but if I hear the unmistakable screech of a buzzard then I can discard all my hypothesis on different species.
    Also, ungulates make distinctive mating calls during the breeding season. You can place yourself on a hill and direct the binoculars towards the sound.
  5. Stop every now and then and stand still. You must avoid brisk movements in order not to be seen or, better said, to be seen as late as possible. On the other hand wearing dull shades is not very useful, unless you’re wearing an actual camouflage: animals can’t see colours as well as we can. It could be better to put on bright coloured clothes, so at least you can make yourself visible in case any hunters are around.
  6. If you are going to lay in wait, place yourself downwind of the spot where you expect to see the animals. It is well known that their sense of smell is highly developed. Usually, by the time we enter their visual field they have already heard or smelled us for a long time.

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