Spotting wildlife is an inexact science at best. All animals, from the smallest insect to the largest whale, have their own individual routines, habits and instincts. This means they’re unlikely to do what you want when you want it, and most wildlife encounters are accidental. After all, just because a herd of Roosevelt Elk drank from a particular stream the last four days doesn’t mean they’ll be there on the fifth, right?
If you speak to wildlife photographers who make their living from capturing animal behavior in the wild, they’ll tell you that success at spotting wildlife requires three major things – information, patience and persistence.
Information: Don’t expect to take a hike and have wildlife of every description pour out of the trees and then pose for photo opportunities. Most wild animals will avoid people. Also, we often hike at times when they’re not around anyway – like at the height of the day. If you want to increase your odds of seeing wildlife, first decide what you’re looking for and then familiarize yourself with that animal’s habits. For example, if it’s a browser commonly active during the twilight hours, you’ll need to adapt your schedule to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.
Patience: If you really want to see a particular type of animal, you may have to commit some serious time to the effort. Many wildlife photographers will chose a specific place where they cannot be seen, heard or smelled by animals and then hunker down and wait. Some will use what’s called a “photography blind,” a permanent or improvised structure which conceals you from sight but allows for great viewing. Many parks and natural areas offer blinds and observation platforms for their guests. If this is your strategy, remember to provide for your own needs, like staying warm and dry, having food and water, and some provision for relieving yourself as well!
Persistence: Since a large part of spotting wildlife depends on chance, persistence is a required component. You may have to return to your photography blind many days in a row before you actually get the results you want… or you may just go home disappointed every time. If you’re not successful at first, don’t give up because eventually nature will provide you with something wonderful. But you may have to wait for it.