Six years ago I began a journey to obtain a college degree in biology. Since then I have worked for a hand full of government agencies looking for wildlife. This has provided me with a few insights that some people may not know. Though my work has almost solely focused on landscapes, it appears as a natural progression for me to begin focusing on wildlife and use some of these skills I have picked up.
So today I share a few with you some ideas.
1- Water is Key
This is the first and most important key to finding wildlife. All animals need water in some fashion. Though this may be mediated by diet by desert animals, all animals will die without it. So if you are beginning to get into wildlife photography start with river, ponds, lakes, marshes and springs. Mega fauna (large animals like deer and elk) frequent these zones to drink and to forage.
Other animals that will be found around water will of course be shore birds and water foul. These of course are very popular with many photographers as they are abundant.
On the slimy and scaly end of wildlife, almost all amphibians will be found around water sources. Those that are not come out when water is present and may show up after large rain storms. To determine your animals in your area, look into distribution maps provided by your state agency. Reptiles on the other hand are not usually tied to water and are often found far from many water sources.
2-Follow the Birds
Last summer I spent 6 months wandering through open sagebrush country, pinyon pine and juniper forests. I did this to find bird nests, particularly raptors (Hawks, Eagles, Falcons etc). When it comes to finding these bird nests, follow them. Often when one gets to close to these birds nests, they will begin making a large amount of noise. With that in mind, begin looking for a nest.
Important Note!!!– Do not approach and bother raptor nests. It could end up leaving the nest or you may get a claw to the head and a trip to the hospital.
I have also found Kestrel nests by simply seeing them fly around a particular area frequently. This tipped me to their presence, and once you know what habitats they prefer to nest in, it did not take long before I figured out where they were possibly hiding. I then spent about an hour watching and waiting and sure enough the male showed up and we found the nest.
3-Choosing your Animals
Choosing your animals may result in more useful time spent photographing wildlife. If you want to photograph Big Horn Sheep like I wanted to do, go to where they are at, east side of Zion. If you want to photograph Ospreys, go to a lake. If you want really good close ups on exotic animals go to a zoo.
How do you find out where you might find a specific animal?
Talk to biologists and hunters and ask them where they saw animals. Biologists make it a point to know where their animals are. They may be reluctant to give specific details, but they may be able to point you in the right direction. Hunters often spend a lot of prep time to find animals by setting up trail cameras. If you want to find deer, talk to your friend the hunter, he might have a couple good ideas.
4- Ecologically Important Zones
This is one that you might not see on many lists on how to find animals. But this is important. In many habitats there are specific animals that make up the base food web. Through out much of the country this can be looked at as prairie dogs and their relatives. Find a prairie dog colony and you will find hawks, badges, coyotes, foxes all trying to eat them. You will also find other animal like deer who may use these areas as points of safety because the prairie dogs will alert them of danger as well. That is a lot of different wildlife in one area.