"You have to do what you can, do your best with what you are. And you have to believe in wilderness. If you do that you can’t go wrong." – Kirk Albert Walter Wipper
Increasing Your Chances Of Viewing Wildlife In Their Natural Habitat:
Growing up spending summer holidays interior camping in Algonquin Park with my parents, I (Fiona) had the opportunity to view lots of fauna in their natural habitat. Over the years we have had the pleasure (and luck) to view many a Black Bear, Moose, Deer, Fox, Rabbit, Raccoon, and many other forest creatures as well as the Loon, Wood Ducks, Turkey Vultures, Eagles, Ravens, Heron, Grouse, Mink, and more. Some of these creatures we happened upon unwittingly and to the surprise of all parties involved. Others we waited for hours to see, tucked away in our boats in the swamp of some back bay. If you are wanting to see wildlife on your trip into any wilderness region, the following tips will definitely help to increase your chance of success... so get your camera ready!
|Not far from our campsite, we found a small snake den.|
Time of Day:
Although it is possible to spot an animal at 2 in the afternoon, it is much more likely have success if you watch for wildlife at dawn and at dusk. I cannot remember all the countless evenings, and the very early hours after dawn, when we sat in a swamp, not uttering a word (sometimes giggling either from the boredom of the silent wait - or my Grandfather's soft snoring - which really annoyed my Grandmother). And so we waited... and waited... and waited for some creature... any creature... to come to to water's edge from the dark and silent forest. Thankfully, we were rewarded many times for our efforts. And in my impressionable youth, I was altered by each and every experience in some small way. A love for the wilderness was really getting deep into my blood.
|Scanned picture of old photo of a moose|
(from Fiona's younger years). Taken at dusk.
Be Quiet, Be Still, Be Patient:
At a place like Algonquin Park, if you sit quietly in a small bay (or even at your campsite) for 15 to 20 minutes, you will have a much better chance of spotting a wild bird or mammal. You will also realize just how loud and hungry those mosquitoes can sound! But remember: no sudden movements. Even to lift your arm to scratch your nose can make noise that an animal can hear (clothing brushing against itself). Try to keep all movement and sound to a minimum and speak in whispers if possible. If the animal doesn't notice you at first, enjoy the moment. Because as soon as you click that camera or cause any motion or other disturbance, they will be aware of your presence - and therefore change their behaviour (or most likely move away from the area and you).
|This grouse thinks he is still camouflaged by his surroundings.|
Location, Location, Location:
In Algonquin, it is not unheard of seeing a moose or bear* walk right thru your camp site. But you will probably increase your chances by finding a bog, field or shoreline to follow. Animals go were people go. Explore beyond your campsite, walk a trail, portage, or old logging road and you will see lots of signs of animals because animals use the same trails as we do. If you see an animal while you are driving, remember to stop and pullover off the road (there is no need to block traffic or create a dangerous situation for other drivers). As for more natural environments, meadows or flat low lying wet areas like swamps or muskegs, are great places to watch for wildlife. When you paddle, staying close to shorelines is also a great tip or choose to do a river. In larger Ontario parks, don't be surprised if you spot a beaver, martin or even a little mink along the shore. We have!
|Swamps and wetlands are prime locations for wildlife.|
This tip is to remind you to bring binoculars. You will be thankful to get an extra close up view of the wildlife without invading their space - they will linger longer if you respect them from a distance. Note: it is possible that a camera's zoom feature will also let you see more detail.
|Herons are shy and amazingly prehistoric looking.|
Converse with a Local Outfitter or Old Boy:
Talking with a popular and knowledgable Outfitter, like Algonquin Outfitters, or an Old Boy**, can give you a great window into the best places to view the regional wildlife. For example, they can tell you things like how: "Fill In Name Here" Trail has lots of deer at a particular time of the year; or "Fill In Name Here" Lake has plenty of moose in the back east bay after the first inlet; or even that Highway gets lots of moose along the road side in the Spring licking the salt from the winter roads, etc., etc.
|Algonquin Outfitters is a perfect example of a local resource|
for local wildlife viewing tips and best locations for success.
The Bigger, The Better:
When there is a larger habitat left intact, there is a much better chance of spotting a wildlife. Larger parks or conservations areas are better then smaller ones. And usually, the deeper the route takes you into the interior of a large park, the less people and the more wildlife you will encounter. In the years that we have been wilderness camping, we have countless memories of many a bear, sometimes even with cubs, and deer with their young too. We have seen a loon fight an innocent but confused wayward moose to drive it away from it's nest. We have witnessed deer drink by the shore's edge and disappear the moment they noticed we were there. We have watched moose dive for it's food at the bottom of a lake. We've seen families of ducks, loons and even some mice. We have watched a bear swim from one island to the next in search of food. We have been surrounded by a swarm of Tiger Swallow Tail butterflies and watched a fox romp playfully thru a field. We have accidentally startled sleeping bears at Captain Dennison's old farm on Opeongo (Algonquin) and have been shocked into fright by countless partridge on numerous portages. We have heard a jackrabbit scream and the cries of a wolf pack. We have seen snakes, frogs, crayfish and some crazy big leaches. We've had a bear drag it's body down the length of the tent we were sleeping in on Tea Lake (Algonquin) and have even experienced that moose that walks thru campsites. We've watched beaver work and otters play. My father (a.k.a. Poppa Badger) has even been lucky enough to actually see the elusive wolf. Most, if not all of these events, took place in large parks and conservation areas like Algonquin, Temagami, and Quetico.
|A doe and fawn by the water's edge.|
Luck Be A Lady:
In the end, you will also need a little bit of luck. You won't always be successful. More often then not, you will come away without a close-up wildlife experience even if you do everything right. But don't give up. In my personal opinion, one of the most pleasurable experiences about canoeing and camping - in most parts of Canada - is being able to view and co-exist with the local wildlife. Seeing a moose, unaware, tromp down to the shore edge of a bog, and make his way into the water walking thru the deep mud without a struggle, is a surprisingly exhilarating experience. One you will never forget. And if you follow these tips, you too, may be lucky (like we have been) and will experience many chances to see wildlife in their natural habitat, enjoying their existence as the free creatures they were born to be.
Fiona was so inspired by her wildlife encounters that she took to painting
wilderness scenes on canoe paddles when she was in her late teens.See more examples of her work here: Badger Paddle Art Gallery
*It is also not unheard of to have a bear visit your camp in the middle of the night to pilfer your edibles if he/she can. Never try to attract animals with food. And don't try to domesticate any critters by teaching them to feed from your hand. Keep your supplies in a smell proof container and make your site as bear/critter proof as is possible.
** An "Old Boy", as Mike refers to them, is a euphemism for an older gentleman who is known to be a long time resident and who has years (and years) of local knowledge and interesting (and not so interesting) facts about the area. Old Boys can often be lured into a conversation with the offer of a cold beer.