By Bertie Cowen 

Whether you’re going diving with sharks, trekking to Alaska to catch a glimpse of grizzly bears, or of just checking out the birds in your own backyard, wildlife watching is an enjoyable experience that offers the perfect blend of excitement and tranquility. Here’s a handful of tips to help you maximize your chances of success.

1. Know where (and when!) to go

The easiest way to guarantee animal sightings is to go to a wildlife sanctuary. It’s not the most exciting way of doing it, but if you feel you absolutely need a close up photograph of an animal, it’s an option!

Another way to go is to head to a wildlife area. There are dozens all over Canada, ranging from a few hectares to hundreds of square kilometers. It’s as simple as checking out the relevant website to see what’s what. You’ll have a good chance of spotting wildlife in natural habitats, but you may also find some places a bit busy.

 By far the most exciting and unpredictable approach is to spend time hiking in an area. Pick up a wildlife map for where you want to visit and do your research. It’s worth targeting specific species, finding out what their habits are and spending time hanging out in the right sort of places. Time, patience and a bit of smarts is often all you need. And if you get stuck, you can always ask around the local area.

2. Blend in with your environment

This possibly goes without saying, but you stand the best chance if you are neither seen nor heard. Taking your dog with you won’t help. Leave your jangling jewelry at home. Avoid wearing heavily scented cosmetics or perfumes. And move as silently as possible.

An even better option? Pick a spot, sit, and wait for the wildlife to come to you.

You should also attempt to blend in with your environment by wearing clothes in earth-tones. This hat with built in no-see-um net will help keep you comfortable. This Fjallraven jacket won’t set the night on fire clubbing in Calgary, but it will keep you warm and make you less visible in the backcountry. The same goes for your bottoms. In winter you can’t go wrong with something like these Icebreaker pants (Icebreaker are the bomb!). And in the summer you might want to choose something lighter and more flexible like these Equinox convertible pants.

3. Keep a respectful distance

When you’re watching animals, be sure to keep a respectful distance and preserve local habitat by following “leave-no-trace” principles. The ideal situation is to see creatures behaving normally. You don’t want them freaking out because they know you’re there. And you definitely don’t want them disappearing out of sight!

Using a hunting blind can be really helpful if you are going for the sit, wait and watch approach.

Another really excellent way to get closer to nature without bothering wildlife is to travel by water. As you are probably all-too-aware, walking is extremely difficult to do without making noise and announcing your presence. But moving on water means you can move almost silently. A kick-ass inflatable kayak (like this one from Aquaglide which can fit in your backpack) can really increase your chances of some premium wildlife viewing. Going kayak camping overnight will give you an even better chance of a great experience as you get to wilder places and get the additional benefit of viewing at dusk and dawn.

And don’t forget a good set of compact binoculars. (You can go for a larger pair if you plan to be in one place, but if you’re on the move, there’s no sense in hauling around extra kgs).


4. Consider investing in a tour - but be smart about it

Community-based wildlife tourism is a great way to increase your chances of high quality viewing experiences. By outsourcing to local experts who are really familiar with where creatures tend to be and how they behave is likely to have a greater chance of success than a DIY approach.

Of course, challenge and planning could be something you really enjoy, in which case skip this tip! But if time is tight or you if the viewing experience is the most important thing for you, it’s well worth considering.

Try to select an ecotour that is just as concerned about animal welfare as you are. A good outfit will support conservation for future generations. And spending your tourism dollars wisely by investing in local tours can be a great way to protect the local environment.


5. Let someone know where you are going, and be prepared

Always follow good safety guidelines when you head out into the wilderness - even if you’re only headed out for a quick backyard jaunt. Bring an emergency kit with you, and let someone know where you are going.

Have you had experience of amazing wildlife viewing? Tell us your story and feel free to add in your tips below!

Bertie Cowen is a passionate outdoorsman. He blogs over at where he writes about anything from bears to beach tents. His mission is to help more people enjoy the outdoors and the benefits nature can bring to health and happiness. He truly believes that braving the wilds doesn’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable!