Wildlife Viewing Tips | Alberta Wildlife Photography

by on April 25, 2014

Wildlife viewing can be one of the most spectacular adventures you can participate in outdoors. There is much to learn and enjoy from wildlife observations, and it’s important to know some of the things we should and should not do before heading outdoors.

Alberta wildlife, large bull elk quietly eats food during the strong, early autumn morning light in Jasper National Park.

tips: watching wildlife

While there are hundreds of tips for wildlife viewing and hiking in the great outdoors, I thought I’d share a handful of basic tips off the top of my head. Hopefully these will be of use to you.

  • Learn your target species. Even knowing the basic biology of a wild animal can help you safely view wildlife while causing no stress to the animal or yourself.
  • Bring your binoculars. Having these with you can help you accomplish a couple of important things:
    • alert you to animals lurking in the same vicinity as you, but you may not be able to spot on your own
    • allow you to safely observe and enjoy wildlife behaviour from a distance; this is especially useful for viewing larger predators such as bears or small alpine animals such as pikas.
  • Be prepared at the probability of crossing paths with a wild animal as you shuffle along the trails. This will probably be one of the highlights of your trek, but it’s important to know what to do when you encounter a wild animal. Whatever you do – do NOT run away. This goes hand-in-hand with learning about wildlife in the area and how to react should you encounter these animals on or off trails.
  • Give the wild animal some space. They are always aware when we are in their hood, so it’s up to us to respect them and their territory and learn to happily co-exist. No amount of stress to a wild animal is worth any photograph, video or viewing. If they are disturbed by your behaviour, you are too close and you need to move back or in some cases, move on.
  • Educate yourself on any local regulations and rules and obey posted signs with respect to wildlife distances you should keep, staying on designated trails and away from any protected and restricted areas. Respect these signs and closures. Ecosystems are often fragile and even footprints can damage an ecosystem. Know where you are walking and the impact each step you take can have.
  • Never feed a wild animal. Ever. Not even one you see as possibly being in distress or starving. The damage can be irreversible in a number of aspects.
Alberta wildlife, Richardsons Ground Squirrel is standing guard at Elk Island. Copy space horizontal.
  • Report any of the following to park officials if you are within the boundaries of a park or reserve: an animal carcass, especially in predator country; a seriously injured animal; any animal who appears to be too acclimated to human presence and has stalked / charged / attacked you or someone else. Also report any person(s) you see harassing wildlife.
  • Leave baby animals as they are. Chances are they are not abandoned or orphaned, but rather placed in a specific location by their mum. Coming too close and bringing attention to these animals can also invite unwanted attention to the babies by predators.
  • Research the area you are visiting and the season you will be there. Many animals participate in an extremely aggressive, exhaustive and stressful mating season, therefore altering conditions and behaviours. Calving / birthing / nesting seasons and other critical times for animals and birds often result in an area being temporarily closed off to public access.
  • Ask questions. There are numerous resources available. If you find yourself in a reserve or provincial / state or national park, ask the staff and they will be able to answer your questions. If not, visit your local library for books and magazines, as well as the unlimited wealth of knowledge online.
  • Encourage others to follow your lead with respectful and responsible wildlife viewing. Be an ambassador for ethical wildlife viewing and photography and the leave no trace philosophy.
  • REPORT A POACHER – 100% of the time
  • Most importantly, practice patience and perseverance when out in the field. Be observant and enjoy your time outdoors and really soak up the atmosphere of being in wildlife country. As Michael Mauro always says, “Patience provides opportunity.” It’s truly amazing to be able to wander the same trails as our wild animals and observe them in their natural habitat. The experience can be truly rewarding.

There are of many more tips for successful wildlife viewing and photography, though hopefully this is a good start.

If you have any questions, ask away! You can contact me through the site or Twitter. I have a number of resources available and I always welcome the challenge to learn more about our wild species and will try my best to find you what you need or point you in the right direction.

Stay safe, enjoy your time outdoors and think about the impact you can have on our wild world.

See you in the field!


Photographer. Podcaster on hiatus. Edmonton Oilers lovah. Cinematic Star Wars fan. Fond of wildlife conservation, animal rescue orgs, and all things Johnny Cash. Gen X. 

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