WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

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You hear a branch crack, leaves rustle — it may be the wind, but maybe not. The woods are bustling with wildlife, but it’s often only by happenchance that you actually see any.

“For many wildlife sightings, it’s a matter of getting lucky,” says Tish Gailmard, wildlife curator at Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center. “Winter is a great time to be out in the woods with the leaves off the trees. You can see all types of squirrel nests in the trees…the forest is a little more open, so the winter is a great time to start looking for wildlife.”

Although there is an element of right place, right time in the business of wildlife watching, here are three tips to increase your chances of spotting something wild on your next hike.

HIKE-SPIRATION

Modern day adventurers Helen Thayer, 63, and her husband Bill, 74, prove that it’s never too late to embark on the journey of a lifetime in Walking the Gobi: A 1,600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair.

The couple walked the more than 1,600-mile length of the Gobi Desert, facing 126-degree heat, sandstorms and the real threat of dying from lack of food and water.

Along the way, they encountered Gobi nomads, a people who call the barren land their home – giving readers a heartwarming and profound picture of a little known culture.

1 Keep your head up

Some hikers make the mistake of keeping their eyes on the ground while they traverse the trails. Instead of focusing on just your footpath, be sure to stay alert and scan not only the ground, but the trees and skyline for wildlife. “Look at all levels of the forest, including the sky,” says Gailmard. “I see redtails sitting way in the tops of the trees all the time. Animals have excellent camouflage so you have to really look.”

2 Do your homework

If you aren’t seeing the type of wildlife you’d like to see, you might be looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Different types of habitat provide different animal experiences,” says Gailmard. “If you’re looking for a specific type of wildlife, the best thing to do is to learn some natural history about it to learn where their habitat is so you can go there to look for the wildlife you want.” Wildlife watchers should also consider time of day, as most animal sightings happen early in the morning and later at night. Gailmard recommends referencing tnwatchablewildlife.org before planning your hike to figure out when and where you will be most likely to see certain animals.

3 Stop to listen

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Wildlife can be missed entirely just because we aren’t paying attention. Take a break on your next hike and find a spot to sit — one behind some brush or trees so you aren’t easily spotted by any animal that might wander by. Try to stay as quiet as possible and listen to your surroundings. “You can listen to the forest,” says Gailmard. “A lot of the times it will tell you where things are. Like if the crows are raising Cain, they are probably fussing at a bird of prey...if you hear the little chickadees, there is probably another bird nearby that they’re worked up about. If you just listen, the forest will tell you where the animals are.”

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