Friday, June 24, 2011

Wildlife Watching Tip: Look for the Little Guys

A distinct lack of wildlife... but appearances can be deceiving!

All wildlife watchers have run into this problem before: where the heck is the wildlife? You started out on the trail eager and excited with your binoculars and camera in hand.  But a few hours later you came back sweaty and disappointed.  Nothing interesting showed its face, not a single deer, fox, raccoon, snake or even rabbit. You encountered a million mosquitoes, but the biggest animal you saw was a gray squirrel just like the ones you see in the back yard. It's very discouraging, especially if you’re trying to encourage a love of nature in any reluctant companions.  But there are a few tips  I’ve picked up in my own nature explorations.  Since one of my goals with this blog is to get other folks outside and enjoying nature, this entry is the beginning of a series of wildlife watching tips.

The first secret to wildlife watching satisfaction is to expand your definition of wildlife.  You’re probably walking past tons of wildlife and you don’t even know it. Instead of grumbling, "Where'd the wildlife go?" you can discover all the bizarre but tiny creatures that lurk nearby. I still love seeing big charismatic and/or cute animals too, but they're often really hard to find. They may be nocturnal, or are just very shy, and especially if you have kids with you it’s hard to be quiet enough to sneak up on them.  Even birds are tough sometimes.  They're great fun to watch, and are certainly easier to find than most of the larger wild animals that live in my area. But often they too are frustratingly hidden, even taunting me from high leafy treetops. So my latest strategy for trailside happiness is something on an even smaller scale.  I'm watching bugs and spiders!

The Rabid Wolf Spider, totally harmless to humans.

A Flower Longhorn beetle.

Many of the spiders and insects that I have found trailside are beautiful, weird, and totally fascinating.  They’re small and unobtrusive, but there’s actually just as much color and conflict in the insect world as in the world of larger animals. Until recently I had focused my insect interest almost exclusively on butterflies.  Then this summer I decided to look a little deeper. During the past couple weeks I’ve found some weird and wonderful beetles, spiders, dragonflies, and many others that I can’t even identify yet.

Pink-spotted Lady Beetle. Also known as: "Wow, a pink ladybug!"

I have no idea what this bug is. It's pretty fierce looking but only 3/4 inch long.

The best places to look for bugs tend to be meadows and marshes.  Marshes are abuzz with dragonflies and damselflies, all hunting prey, pursuing each other, mating and laying eggs.  If you’ve ever seen a dragonfly repeatedly dipping the end of her tail in water, you’ve watched her lay eggs.  Dragonfly and damselfly nymphs grow up underwater, voraciously hunting other aquatic bugs and tiny critters just like the fierce predators they’ll be as airborne adults. When they’re mature they crawl out of the water and molt into adult form.

There were tons of dragonflies and damselflies in this marshy spot.

An Eastern Amberwing at rest, along with unidentified damselflies.

A female Ebony Jewelwing. Males don't have the white spots on the wings.

These two male Amberwings were chasing each other all over the place.

Meadows with their numerous wildflowers are chock full of insects like beetles and butterflies eating sweet flower nectar, munching on succulent leaves, or hunting other bugs, to say nothing of mating and laying eggs.  The best weather for bug hunting is a sunny, calm summer day.  The warmth of the sun will bring out more bugs than you’ll get on a cloudy day, and a calm windless day is ideal so the bugs themselves aren’t sheltering out of your sight.  But even cloudy or breezy days can hold lots of amazing bugs. Many of this entry’s photos were taken on a totally cloudy day.  

Streamside meadows are ideal for bug watching.

I found a lot of mating bugs recently too, like this pair I couldn't identify.

Hummingbird Moth enjoying the milkweed flowers.

I do recommend using a good set of close-focus binoculars if you want to go bugwatching, by the way. You'll probably be able to get within a few feet of most bugs, but some of them are so small you'll still need help getting a really good look. A magnifying glass may come in handy too.

I have no idea what this tiny bug is! Very weird looking. It jumped, too.

Of course some insects will sting or bite, so please be sensible and use caution. Also, I apply plenty of bug repellant when I go hiking since mosquitoes and ticks are vicious in my area. But I’m careful to keep the repellant off my fingers and palms so that if I do touch a bug, say a sleepy butterfly, a praying mantis, or a brightly colored beetle, I won’t cause them any harm.  I hope you will consider doing the same if you go bug hunting.

And of course, the best part of bug watching is even when you're looking for the little guys, sometimes you'll get lucky and still see one of those bigger animals too. Hooray for watching all of nature!

I was totally exhausted and heading back to the car when I saw this buck.
Happy wildlife watching!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blogger Widget