Top tips for watching nature

Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep

Chris Packham

Nature's Top 40
Nature’s Top 40 counts down to the UK’s number one wildlife spectacle. Wildlife experts ranked suggestions from the public to compile the UK’s Top 40.

Researching your trip

  • Do your homework. Make sure that you know the best places and habitats to see the natural spectacle. Know the characteristics and behaviour of the animal, bird or insect you're looking for.
  • Choose the time of your visit carefully. Certain natural spectacles only take place during one season due to migration, hibernation or breeding. Some animals are largely nocturnal including bats and moths. Barn Owls are most easily spotted at dawn or dusk.
  • Bird sightings are particularly sensitive to seasonal variations. Most wild geese and swans only visit the British Isles in the autumn and winter before returning to their breeding grounds in spring. Seabirds such as Arctic Terns and Puffins are summer visitors, joining vast colonies to land for the breeding season before disappearing in August. Other summer visitors include Swallows and Housemartins which disappear in winter to warmer climates.
  • Check the weather forecast. Some animals and insects go to ground during wet or windy weather, especially butterflies and moths. Warm, dry days are best for these creatures.

Tell-tale signs

  • Check for tell-tale signs such as droppings, foot prints and evidence of the animal's home in the case of deer, otters and foxes. Look for animal tracks in soft mud and on forest trails.
  • Look for typical behaviour patterns in the case of birds, reptiles, insects and mammals. For example, different species of birds and bats exhibit varying flight patterns.
  • Listen up! Many animals and birds have a distinctive call which you may hear before you see them. The RSPB website features a good selection of audio clips of bird sounds - and there are also commercial CDs of bird song available.
  • Look out for group dynamics in the case of some natural spectacles such as geese flying in formation or starlings swooping across the sky. Some of these sights take place at particular times of the day - and start with a murmur of activity.

Do not disturb!

  • Keep the noise down! Many animals and birds are very sensitive to human disturbance so make sure you are hidden from sight and keep quiet.
  • Patience is key! Don't expect instant results - you may have to wait around in a hide before your target bird or animal appears. Otter watching is particularly tricky - keep downwind from these creatures because they have a keen sense of smell. Keep well hidden from sight - stand against a tree or behind bushes or find a hide.
  • Don't interfere with protected species or wild flowers and do not disturb their natural environment.

Tips continued

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