One of my greatest joys while we shelter in place is to keep a closer look at the wildlife around my home. On this Earth Day 2020, I invite you to help scientists around the world better understand the distribution of species on the move as climate changes by documenting which species live in or travel through your garden. Here are my top tips for watching wildlife at home and how to contribute these data to global efforts to study so we can protect wildlife in our changing world.
Sit and Watch
Take a quiet moment in the garden without moving and look, listen, and even smell—I think you’ll be surprised how much the of the wildlife world is buzzing around you. Listen for birds, look closely at flowers or leaves for small insects, turn over a rock or dig into the soil with a trowel. Just see what catches your eye and snap a photo and share it on iNaturalist.org to help build a global database tracking where animals—large and small—are active this spring. If you see something you don’t recognize, you can still post a photo to iNaturalist and let the online community of naturalists help you identify the creature. Submitting a photo of both common and rare species helps scientists track the distribution of animal populations which is essential to their protection because we can’t protect something if we don’t know where it is! I also recommend eBird as an excellent way to share your backyard checklist of all the birds that visit your corner of the planet.
Let a Camera Do the Watching
A carefully placed trail camera by a bird bath or feeder will reveal so much about the full range of species in your garden. Many mammals are active at night and your camera can do the watching for you while you’re cozy in bed. I recommend visiting TrailCamPro.com to find a camera that best fits your interest and budget, they helped us find the perfect cameras for our Border Wildlife Study.We are using the Browning Strikeforce HD Pro to keep a watch on the wildlife moving through the Huachuca and Patagonia Mountains this spring. I also personally love the Google Nest wifi camera that gives me alerts on my phone when wildlife passes by my camera, something that has rapidly become my favorite thing to check when I wake up in the morning.
Search for Animal Tracks
All you need is a ruler, curiosity, and attention to detail to search for all the many signs that animals leave behind when they move through the landscape around us. I love to look early in the morning when the light is still low in the horizon for the characteristic tracks and pawprints of coyote and bobcats that roam through my garden. The best places to look for animal tracks is mud, sandy, and dusty trails and roads. Even if you don’t know who the track belongs to, put a ruler for scale down next to it and take a photo where the ridges of the track impression are visible and submit it to iNaturalist.org. Read more about the art and science of tracking wildlife on our blog series covering how to count animal toes in tracks, learn about the anatomy of a footprint, and how each animal’s mode of locomotion influences the prints they leave behind.