Watching Wildlife

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

A heavy fog brought the sky down and closed us in. Snow geese banked their flight and set wings and feet for a landing in the pool beside the viewing tower. I shouted a greeting over the deafening honks to the person near me.

There were hundreds of thousands of snow geese at Squaw Creek National Refuge that weekend, and I was in the thick of them, watching, observing, absorbing every sound, smell and sight. Hours went by like minutes. Hundreds of visitors came past and many lingered, amazed, not wanting the moment to end.

Wildlife watching provides perspective on a great and powerful world. To most people, watching wildlife is, a wonderful escape from routine, fax machines, e-mail and all those little emergencies.

Missouri has a wealth of opportunities for watching wildlife, and they only require being in the right place at the right time. There's nothing scientific to watching wildlife, but a few techniques can maximize your discoveries while minimizing your impact on nature.

Plan the Adventure

Oh, where to start! To help you learn about locations and available activities, the Conservation Department offers the Missouri Conservation Atlas, Missouri Nature Viewing Guide and Outdoor Missouri Map.

When you're planning, don't try to pack too much into a trip. A couple of nearby areas for a day trip is probably the best compromise. Call ahead to the site, where you can, and ask about migration activity in spring and fall or possible restrictions due to hunting seasons and migrations.

Take into account local conditions and weather. If you're going to a wetland, stream or prairie in summer, don't forget insect repellent. Come prepared with clothing and footwear to suit the trip. Remember that many roadways to wildlife are unpaved and that conditions are usually primitive.

Time of Day

Visit sites when animals are likely to be busy. In general, most species (especially mammals) are active in the hour before and after sunrise and sunset.

The peak of songbird activity begins one-half hour before sunrise and continues for four hours into the morning. Hawks and falcons are easier to view in midday as the air warms. Insects, amphibians and reptiles like the heat of a summer day, too. Nighttime offers "sound" rewards from owls and coyotes. See if you can find a sunrise and sunset chart in a calendar or almanac to improve your timing.

Know the Season

Spring and fall

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