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Old 02-21-2009, 12:03 AM   #1
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Default Tips on Finding Wildlife

I thought it would be nice to have a thread with tips on how to find wildlife, as they can be elusive. I'll start by telling what equipment and strategies I use and ethical reasons for avoiding others.

#1 Scouting by night as well as day:
There are some animals that are just much more likely to be active and moving during the dark, so being out by night helps a lot. Driving is a good strategy as you have a "built in spotlight" going already. However, I've found foxes, bats, raccoons, flying squirrels, and owls at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Forest Park inside the city limits of St. Louis, MO while enjoying other activities, two for one. For example, I walked around a woods for 2 hours yesterday and saw no opposums or raccoons. I drove a short road around that same woods this evening and saw both right off of the roadside. I do not like LED lights for spotting mammals, to me it makes the animals hard to discern. I prefer the lights of the warmer color closer to incadescent. Don't be afriad to look for eyeshine up in trees and other places too, especially in rainforests where the canopy is hosts a variety of nocturnal creatures. I found a wolly opposum with babies in it's pouch this way which was cool

#2 Know the sounds:
Knowing the sounds animals make is very helpful. Some people just write everything off as "some kind of bird", but I've often located animals such as flying squirrels and raccoons by first hearing and recognizing their calls. I would've passed them up had I not know they were present by their calls. Calls of frogs can also be used to locate pools of water that one might otherwise not have known about.

#3 Look for signs:
Tracks are especially easy to see in wet and snowy areas. Even if the tracks are not present, you may find some other clue like a haul out area a beaver has been using, trees with the signature "beaver cuts", or lodges that let you know they are present. Although I am not much for potty talk, obviously sometimes that can be a clue as well.

#4: Hiding places
You can lay out a series of plywood boards or logs, turning these over can reveal hiding salamanders, frogs, snakes, mice, etc. Of course you need to be sure you do not injure any of them while either lifting or replacing the boards. Holes in trees, hollow limbs, holes in ground, mounds of dirt, and so on all can draw attention to animal activities.

#5: Camera traps
Once you use some of the above ideas to locate the trails and hiding places of wildlife, you know where to set your cameras to get good photos. You have two basic choices here: 35mm which is cheap to purchase and more expensive to process or digital which is more expensive to purchase but doesn't require processing. A cheapo 35mm will beat the pants off a cheapo digital camera trap. If you go digital you really either need to assemble one yourself or go at least mid-level to get good results. Otherwise the pictures are either crap or you have to fiddle with partially covering the flash and stuff to get the right exposures for small animals.

Increase your eyesight:
Binoculars and spotting scopes make it a lot easier to sneak up on wildlife. The best pair of cheapo bins I've found are Nikon Action Extreme 7x35, cheap enough that you won't care if something does happen but good enough to actually see stuff. Not sure of the best cheapo spotting scope yet.

Unethical practices

Trapping:
Trapping just to get a photo or look at a critter, is IMO unethical. Most people cannot check the traps often enough and some kinds of traps (many of those for herps come to mind) can fill up during stormy weather and turn into death traps. Trapping also greatly disrupts the animals activities and may expose it to extreme heat or cold or seperate young from mother which may be traveling together.

Driving from dens:
Some people try to drive animals from their dens with anything from sticks to gasoline to smoke. I think it goes without explanation why these practices are highly unethical.

Calls:
Opinions differ on how disruptive this practice might be and under which conditions. In general, I think this would be considered harrasing wildlife, especially during the breeding season.

Bait:
A fed animal is a dead animal. Teaching animals to come up closer to human dwellings usually results in their demise. The one (possible)exception being feeding birds (when done properly). Although handy, it's usually possible to arrange cameras over existing food sources and trails anyway or to look at more distant natural food patches/trails with a spotting scope.
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Old 02-22-2009, 01:48 AM   #2
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Midwesternerr-
Thanks for the wildlife spotting tips. Very informative.

Question for you....how do you feel about trail cameras? I have 2 of them. They are solar powered so I don't have to disturb wildlife areas very often (no batteries to change). I also use extra large SD chips that hold 1000's of pics and short video clips. My cameras are infrared, and emit no frightening flashes. I camouflauge the cameras as well.

Oh sure every once in a while I get a picture of a bear nostril or a deer toungue, but for the most part, the wildlife seems undisturbed by the trail cameras.

I only use my cameras for observing wildlife in their habitats.

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Old 02-22-2009, 02:51 AM   #3
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This is an exceptionally nice thread. Somebody should make this into a sticky.

The one thing I would add is that if you are out and about and run into any jaw traps, trigger them with a stick or by throwing a rock at them. Now them out with you and destroy them before you throw them in your garbage. Sorry. This is the way I feel about them even though they are still legal in some states. They are hideous and animals often chew body parts off to free themselves or are left to bleed to death writhing in pain.
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Old 02-22-2009, 09:34 AM   #4
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Lorax,

Thankfully those seem to be illegal here, or at least I've never seen one. If I found one I'd definitely report it to the authorties as that could take a kid's foot off! I second the motion to remove any such traps as they are a threat to public safety, or at the very least close the trap and report it to the local paper, let the parents know what some maniac is doing to put their childrens' lives at risk. Even the so-called "smooth jaw" seems dangerous and irresponsible, if I ever find one of those, I guess I'll consider it a donation and take it home with me to make sure it's never used again I don't want anything snapping my foot while I am out walking around, call me crazy.

Regarding camera traps, I am not aware of any schlorary research on the matter. I use them and mine even have flash. I do use rechargable batteries, I think it's pretty awesome that you are using solar power. Since mine have flash, I do not place them directly at den sites or leave them up longer than needed to get the photos I want. Placing the camera pointing down into a den site where the animal cannot enter or exit without being flashed each time is harassment IMO. Yes, sometimes I might have to move the camera around a bit but it's worth it not to harass wildlife more than required. As you point out, the more curious animals like bears and racoons often approach the camera. My best guess is it's all about placement, I feel the camera should not harass wildlife going into or exiting den sites or very narrow corridors that animals are forced to travel between fragmented habitats. Although these are easy ways to get photos, I don't think it is worth it outside of legitimate, scientific research designed to benefit them.
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Old 02-22-2009, 09:47 AM   #5
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They are illegal here too. I still find them. I use the other side of a pick ax and smash them before putting them in the garbage. There are people who go through garbage on pick up days. They sell things they pick out at flea markets and garage sales. I think this is great but wouldn't want them getting a jaw trap that worked or could be fixed.
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Old 02-22-2009, 02:23 PM   #6
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You can donate those traps to wildlife centers so they can use them to educate others about them. Setting one up in front of a room filled with people then dropping a 3" tree limb in it makes a big statement.
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Old 02-22-2009, 03:27 PM   #7
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I didn't realize they hadn't been outlawed in all states. They are the pits and so are the people who use em!
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Old 02-24-2009, 07:03 PM   #8
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I always look closely inside fallen trees. Take a look at this opossum sleeping in such a tree. It may not pay off for the first, second, or even 30th such tree you look into, but sooner or later you will find something if you persist. They have to find somewhere to rest!
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Old 02-24-2009, 10:23 PM   #9
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Interesting idea.
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:14 AM   #10
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I do find things in fallen trees. That's a good tip. Most people overlook them entirely. They walk on by and they can be a veritable treasure trove.
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