“Once in a while my father would find a praying mantis and show us. I always wanted to put it in a jar, but was instructed to leave it alone. All day, I would visit it. Nothing in science fiction could compete with this creature.” — Lucille N. Gertz
The EwA guides (Ref: Xplore | Prepare) and etiquettes† cover a great deal of information about wildlife watching and, nature & wildlife conservation volunteering. These guides provide essential details to help you research and assess any wildlife and/or conservation opportunities, and for preparing you to live and promote a relevant volunteering or wildlife touring experience.
Here, for the benefit of the mindful Nature enthusiast, the EwA Basics of Wildlife Watching pulls together some useful information based on questions that we get asked a lot, as well as it helps the reader navigate the EwA guides and etiquettes.
⏸ Before we start, remember that wildlife watching should be as gentle as possible on the wildlife. Wildlife watching is increasingly popular as a means to be in the wild and see wildlife. Unfortunately, this has an impact on the wildlife itself. The number one ethical rule should be for any wildlife viewer or photographer to have no such impact, and to put the welfare of the wildlife and the respect of the habitat ahead of any other consideration.
We like to say that Nature conservation starts at home. There’s so much to see and experience right where we live. Check the local wildlife watching opportunities, simply check your national parks or monuments, local sanctuaries, reservations, and recreation areas.
Traveling? Then tourist books and websites do list wildlife watching opportunities.
However, make sure that they are wildlife ethical and not venues that disrespect (either or both) the local habitats and communities. Our actions have consequences, and with the wildlife watching industry growing exponentially and a human population ever increasing, it is becoming critical that we know how to identify good from questionable venues and opportunities, so as to limit our contribution to the problem.
You can and should go any time of the year. Each season offers different opportunities, different highlights. You should even consider finding a favorite spot close to where you live, and that you will follow throughout the season so as to experience a true Lifecycle.
Follow a tree in a park or a forest, observe its foliage, its inhabitants… Stalk a bee community somewhere. Observe the bird migrations in your area. And take notes and sketch all the way through. These will help you connect deeply with your area and become great memories.
The time of the day where most wild activities take place is usually in the early morning and at dusk. Take a moment and make it a ritual to go to a favorite place and connect with the world surrounding you.
Depending on where you live, dress according to the season: don’t over- or under-dress.
Make sure to be as (bug) protected as necessary. For instance, in regions up in the Northeast of the U.S., we have to pay attention to ticks. Go prepared, and check yourself and your Nature companions after hikes and walks in regions affected by ticks carrying Lyme disease. If you’re traveling, make sure you are properly vaccinated, and that you are bringing the necessary drugs and repellents with you. Our health is not something to bargain with.
Otherwise, bring a day bag, have water, sunscreen, binoculars, Nature guides, maps of the area, maybe the list of the wildlife or birds known to reside or migrate there. Don’t forget to bring a first aid kit if you’re out in the boons.
Take a notebook with you, or your nature journal so as to make notes and sketches of what you observe…
Traveling in remote wild locations? Check our Packing list.
The first thing to acknowledge is that the wildlife we want to see won’t be posing for us. And the chances are that we won’t see what we came for. However, we might see tons of tracks, and little fascinating clues.
So the key to a great experience is to not expect a specific viewing, but instead to keep all our senses and our mind open, so that we can have an awesome connection and discovery time.
Otherwise, one good recipe to maximize the possibility of a wild encounter is to leave our lovely pets at home as they don’t mix well with wildlife. If pets are allowed then respect the leash rules of the area, and make sure that s/he is properly trained to behave in wildlife.
Also important for favoring wild encounters: Dress in drab colors and be as free as possible of unnatural odors so as to disappear into the surroundings. Then move quietly or –even better– choose a spot and stay still, and observe in silence and at a distance. Our best wildlife experiences happened when we followed the EwA Wildness Etiquette.
This concerns lion, tiger, cheetah cubs, wolves, bears, dolphins, whales, elephants —you name it… And the short answer is “no, it is not cool to pet, ride, walk… with wildlife”.
It is rather harmful as well as it perpetuates the idea that animals are there for our human entertainment –some pets of some sort. In institutions offering those opportunities, the welfare of these animals is simply degraded. In the Wildness etiquette, we go to great extents to explain why this is not harmful and more than often unethical. Please take the time to read about it.
In short, the one thing to be careful about is whether the organization is set up primarily as a business opportunity under the guise of conservation education or volunteering or whether it is a genuine ethical opportunity.
✓ A good organization can be identified through its website and will highlight clearly and with evidence the work they are doing and the progress they are making. They will have opportunities to support their on-the-ground work as an adjunct to their efforts and a means of spreading education and awareness. A good organization will have expert partners and legal accreditations.
✘ A bad organization is one for instance where they bring in people either by luring them in with the promise of animal petting or using volunteers as free labor. ✘ An even worse organization is one that actually is not about conservation (despite their claim) but is, for instance, a front for hunting or the animal trade industry. Once you’ve seen a couple of projects that you could be interested in, search their organization name followed by ‘reviews’, ‘controversies’ or ‘scandals’. That should throw up any areas of concern.
We hope you understand that it is critical that we ourselves learn how to identify the good from the bad. This means that we need to do our minimal homework, and research and communicate with the organization of interest before our visit, asking them the right set of questions.
If your wildlife watching happens in Nature (e.g., as opposed to a city park), then there will be bugs! But bugs are cool to observe and most are easy to keep at bay.
Make sure you know before you go what bugs are likely to be a health risk in the area you’re visiting (ticks, mosquitos etc) and prepare yourself accordingly. This includes being properly vaccinated and medicated if you’re traveling in remote wild areas.
Packing the right repellents is key. We recommend environmentally friendly options although aware that some people will want to take the strongest DEET. Then do ask what are the products restrictions on location (e.g., DEET is a poison that can pollute streams and are prohibited in some areas).
As for any other type of dangers: check with the organization or the park that you are visiting and make sure to follow the watching regulations of the area. Again pair this with managing yourself according to proper wildlife etiquette so as to keep yourself and the wildlife safe.
If you’re traveling, make sure you understand and comply to the cultural etiquette. Respect the law of your host country (don’t assume those laws are the same as those in your country).
Make sure that you also follow a proper environmental etiquette.
Ask the organizations or parks that you’re visiting what is their own wildlife policy & etiquette.
Prepare further and read the EwA Wildness Etiquette. Make a copy of it, and take it with you so that you can pull it out, refresh your memory as well as share it with your companions. Don’t underestimate how easy it is for all of us to forget the right way to manage ourselves in Nature when we’re in awe and excited in the presence of greatness.
In all circumstances, remember the EwA attitude rooted in Empathy, Humility & Knowledge.
Do that for wildlife, while helping good causes & enjoying yourself!