Wildlife Watching in NH
- Tools and Techniques for Wildlife Viewing
- Viewing Ethics and Responsibilities
- Photo Tips
NOTE: This article is excerpted from the New Hampshire Wildlife Viewing Guide by Judy Silverberg, Ph.D, the former wildlife viewing coordinator for the state of New Hampshire. The book is available for purchase from Fish and Game - order a copy.
Wildlife Watching in the Granite State
Every day is a good day for viewing wildlife, whether it is in your own back yard, a neighborhood park or a new place you are exploring. This is especially true in New Hampshire, for it's possible to see a moose in your front yard in Concord or listen for a Bicknell's thrush in the rugged terrain of Dixville Notch. From Mount Washington -- where the worst weather in the world has been recorded -- to the 17 miles of ocean coastline dwarfed by the two hundred mile coastline of the Great Bay estuary, there is a diversity in the New Hampshire landscape rivalled in few places. More than 450 species of fish, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles as well as countless insects and marine animals are part of our wildlife heritage.
New Hampshire is more than eighty percent forested, which offers some challenges for viewing wildlife. It is easy for animals to remain secretive and only allow you a glimpse as they turn and blend into their surroundings. Increasing your knowledge about what animals live where and at what season of the year they are most visible will help you have successful viewing experiences. Listen in April and May for the choruses of spring peepers and wood frogs as they sing from wetlands trying to attract a mate. Early June is a good time to see bear grazing on the ski slopes of Cannon Mountain. Osprey are sure to be spotted in July and August along the Androscoggin River. A crisp, clear day in late September on Mt. Kearsarge affords views of hundreds of broad-winged hawks as they migrate south. Winter is a great time to search for bald eagles along the lower Merrimack River in Manchester or to read the stories of winter survival by looking for tracks in the snow.
New Hampshire is home to some of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States and the first National Forest. Our tradition of land stewardship in the 20th century has allowed many special places to remain. Public land and wildlife management agencies, private organizations and businesses are working in partnership to ensure healthy wildlife populations for the future. Their work is supported by people like yourself, who have an appreciation and understanding of the natural systems and diversity of wildlife surrounding us. So whether you experience the excitement of watching a peregrine falcon diving from a building in downtown Manchester... marvel at the sound of coyotes howling on a moonlit night... or feel awe at the sight of the morning mist rising from a bog, know you are partaking of the essence of this place called New Hampshire.
Tools and Techniques for Wildlife Viewing
There is nothing quite as exciting as seeing animals in the wild. The fact that you can never be sure of what you will see helps making watching wildlife a rewarding experience. Watching wildlife can be a goal in itself or it can be a nice addition to a fishing or hiking expedition or any outing. There a number of things that you can do that will greatly increase you chances of seeing wildlife.
Binoculars are one of the most helpful tools a wildlife watcher can have. Binocular selection can be complicated, so learn all you can before you buy. The best all-purpose binoculars are those with power and dimensions of 7 x 35. This size binoculars gather a lot of light, allowing you to use them in the morning and evening. Finding what you are looking at can be made easier if you first locate the object with the naked eye. Then without moving your eyes bring the binoculars to your eyes and focus.
Clothing: Wear lots of layers so you can adjust to changing weather. The color of your clothes may affect what animals you see. Birds can see color well, so go with drab, earthy colors to help avoid detection.
Field Guides: Use field guides, checklists and other resources to identify wildlife and learn about habits and habitats. These reference materials can open up a world of information to enrich your experience.
Go out when wildlife is active: Plan your visit around peak viewing seasons or times of activity. There are several activity peaks in New Hampshire. The first is during April and June, when large numbers of migratory birds return and animals are busy raising their young. A second peak occurs in September and October as migratory birds begin to head south and mammals prepare for winter. The time of day also plays an important part in whether you will see animals or not. In general, wildlife is more active in the first and last hours of daylight.
Be patient, learn to be still and silent: You can improve your chances of seeing wildlife by slowing down. Take a few steps, stop, listen and look. Sharpen your senses by paying attention to sounds and smells. Look for changes in shape and movement all around you. Avoid making noise by not stepping on brittle sticks and leaves or talking out loud. If possible, walk into the wind. If you arrive at a wildlife viewing site expecting to see a lot of wildlife right away, you will probably be disappointed. You need to allow yourself time. In some cases, sitting motionless next to a tree or bush will allow you to blend into your surroundings and in turn the wildlife in the area will go about their daily routines.
Use a blind: You'll increase your chances of having a successful viewing experience if you can conceal yourself. This can be done by simply standing behind a tree or bush instead of out in the open. Cars, boats and canoes make excellent viewing blinds. Animals who are used to seeing these things may not feel threatened or disturbed unless you try to get out.
Prepare for your outing: Learn everything you can about a wildlife viewing site before you visit, and check for warnings about road conditions and weather. If it is a site you are hiking into, make sure you know where you are going and have water, proper footgear and clothes. During the spring and the summer, expect insects. Bring along repellents and wear protective clothing. A hat with a brim and good sunglasses can protect your eyes from the sun while use of a sun block will protect your skin.
Viewing Ethics and Responsibilities
Most people who spend any time outdoors care a great deal about wildlife and wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, even the innocent act of observing wildlife can have a great impact on the animal if it is not done properly. Observing a few guidelines will help us put the needs and safety of wildlife first, to conserve wildlife and habitats and respect the rights of others.
Enjoy wildlife from a distance: The goal of successful wildlife watching is to see animals without interrupting their normal behavior. Wildlife send clear signals you are too close when they stop feeding and raise their head sharply, move away, change direction of travel or appear nervous or aggressive. These disturbances may result in an animal abandoning its young, injuring itself as it tries to escape, quit feeding at a time of critical energy need or displaying aggressive behavior toward you.
Don't feed the animals. While it may seem exciting at the time to have an animal eat out your hand, there are potential serious consequences. Some animals that become accustomed to handouts may lose their natural fear of humans. This may cause them to become aggressive with visitors who refuse to feed them. This situation may lead to human injury, which in turn usually means the death of the animal involved. Human food does not meet the living requirements for many animal and may seriously harm them. Animals who have become accustomed to handouts may be faced with starvation once that food source is no longer available.
Never chase or harass animals. In some cases, valuable energy resources needed for survival are used when animals are chased. Your wildlife viewing experience will be more successful if you leave your pets at home.
Don't pick up orphaned or sick animals. Wild animals rarely abandon their young. In most cases the adults are nearby, wating for visitors to leave before they return. If an animal appears to be sick or injured, behaves oddly or appears to be tame, leave it alone. There are a number of wildlife diseases including rabies that can affect humans. See Fish and Game's Wildlife FAQs, which answer some common questions about human/wildlife interaction.
Honor the rights of private landowners. Always ask permission before entering private property. Leave no trace that you have been there.
Respect the rights of other recreationists at a site. Be considerate when approaching wildlife that is already being viewed. A loud noise or quick movement may spoil the experience for everyone. Remember -- you share the woods with many other recreationists including hikers, snowmobilers, mountain bikers and hunters. Most public lands are open to hunting and fishing. See hunting season information.
- For general wildlife photography use medium-speed films such as ASA (ISO) 100 (Fujichrome or Ektachrome) or ASA (ISO) 64 Kodachrome. For print film, use ASA (ISO) 100 or 200.
- Slower-speed film is better for landscape/scenic shots. Use films such as Kodachrome 25, Velvia Fujichrome ASA (ISO)50, or Ektachrome 50HC. Kodak's Ektar ASA (ISO) 25 print film is great for enlargements.
- Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph.
- A wide-angle lens (20-28 mm) can capture your scenic shots. Use the greatest depth of field possible.
- A telephoto (200-400 mm) lens is best for close-ups of wildlife. Make sure you give enough space to the animal you are photographing so they will be more natural.
- For sharp pictures, use a tripod. Consider using a tripod and shutter cable release for shooting in early morning or late evening light.
- Do not leave your film and camera in a closed vehicle during hot weather.