Tips for spotting urban wildlife

So many people are amazed at all the wildlife I see and photograph in my inner-ring suburb of St. Paul, MN. They say that the only wildlife they see, other than squirrels and bunnies, are road kill. Actually, urban wildlife is plentiful, but here are a few tips for seeing more of it.

1. Get out and start walking: Although you might see a family of deer stroll across your back yard, you’ll have a better chance if you turn off the TV and computer, put on some hiking boots and go out in a wooded area, wetland or prairie. Not sure where to go? Most city and county Web sites have information about local parks and hiking trails.

2. Put down the iPod and mobile phone: Often before I see a wild animal, I’ll hear some rustling sounds, or a cry, and when I follow the sound I see the animal. Smell can also be helpful. Sometimes when deer are near, particularly on a damp day, I notice a smell like a sweaty horse. The more you listen, the more you learn to identify the sounds of each bird, each animal, even the rustling of a deer vs. the rustling of a turkey or a squirrel.

3. Hone your powers of observation: When I started hiking I know that the animals were all around me, but I didn’t see them. Look along the edge of lakes and ponds and you’re likely to see turtles sunning themselves, herons fishing, and maybe a doe and her fawns drinking. Look into the underbrush at the side of a trail and you may see a deer or a turkey or a coyote watching silently. Binoculars or a camera with a good zoom lens can help you determine if that blob you see is an animal, or just a blob 🙂

4. Leave the dog at home (at least occasionally): I know, you and the dog enjoy a good romp through the woods, but most wildlife won’t come near if you have a dog with you. Take the dog, but go out once in awhile by yourself if you want to see wildlife. (OK, I do have to admit that a friend who hikes with his three spaniels got a better look at a coyote than I’ve had while hiking, but generally the dog will keep wildlife hidden).

Just a note about wildlife photography… best case, the real pros have digital SLR cameras with great zoom lenses, and they sit and wait for the wildlife to come to them. However, I’ve done pretty well with a Canon SX10IS “near SLR” camera with a 20x optical zoom, just taking pictures on the fly as I hike. I can’t always get the picture, but it’s amazing how often I do get really good pictures. The most important thing is to follow steps 1-4, since at the heart of good photography is observation and having a good eye for composition.

About Pat Wolesky

I'm a renaissance woman in some ways. Professionally I do Web content management, knowledge management and communications. I also do watercolor painting, compose and perform music, do nature photography, and am the devoted slave to two cats and a moderator of the About.com Cats forum.
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