Most of the visitorsat Mason Neck State Park come here hoping to see nature and wildlife. “Where can I see wildlife?” is one of the most frequently asked questions at the Visitor Center—along with, of course, “Where are the bathrooms?” The bathrooms are in the picnic area, but wildlife is often a little trickier to find.
I’ve been workingat Mason Neck for aboutfive years, and have beenexploring nature with friends and family as long as I can remember. Along the way, I’ve come across a few helpful tips and tricks. I thought I’d share some of them with you so you too can enjoy nature in Virginia’s state parks.
Although Mason Neck State Park is home to many wild birds, reptiles, insects, mammals and more, they may not want to be seen. You will have to engage in a bit of sneakery to get the most out of your wildlife watching attempts. Keeping that in mind, here are some of my favorite tips for successful wildlife watching.
1) Wildlife is trying not to be seen. Be quiet on your walk so you can sneak up on wildlife, and don’t forget to stop, look, and listen.
2)Take a chance to look around just before you enter special viewing areas, such as where the ecosystem changes from deciduous forest to freshwater marsh. Check out the scene before you blunder into the open and spook the wildlife. I’ve gotten some of my best wildlife sightings this way. For example, stop just before you come into the open marsh on the boardwalk on Bay View Trail, and just before you approach the viewing blinds on the side loop of Bay View Trail. I’ve been rewarded here by glimpses of wood ducks, snakes, bald eagles and sometimes even river otters!
3)If you’re trying to photograph wildlife, start clicking the shutter as soon as you see the animal, and continue taking photos as you try to get closer. You don’t know when the animal will decide you’re a threat, and if you wait to get a shot until you’re super-close, you might not get any shot at all. Start clicking right away and keep doing it as you slowly and quietly sneak closer.
4)Learn as much as you can about your target area and its wildlife before you leave home. The more you know about a region andthe localflora and fauna, the more likely you are to find wildlife to watch.
5)If the park you’re visiting has a nature center or visitor center, use it! The staff can help you design your visit according to your interests and abilities. You can also find out what wildlife has been seen lately or is likely to be seen right now. At Mason Neck State Park, we keep a notebook in the visitor center for staff and visitors to record their wildlife sightings. Sometimes an unusual animal or plant is reported, and you can go look for it yourself after reading the account at the visitor center.
6)Always follow the Wildlife Watchers’ Code of Ethics, below. You can find a detailed list and even more wildlifeinformation at Landscope Virginia.
* Get close to wildlife using binoculars and zoom lenses.
* Protect wildlife habitat by staying on marked trails.
* Respect the rights of landowners. Get permission before entering private property.
* Respect the rights of others viewing wildlife.
* Do not use calls or whistles to attract wildlife.
* Teach others, especially children, about the importance of not disturbing wildlife.
* Never touch “orphaned” or sick animals. Young animals that appear to be alone usually have parents waiting nearby.
* Leave pets at home. They may startle, chase, or even kill wildlife.
* Never feed wild animals.
* Move away slowly and immediately from an animal if it stops feeding and lifts its head abruptly, appears nervous or aggressive, changes its direction of travel, exhibits a “broken wing” display, or circles repeatedly.
Virginia is home to a multitude of wildlife. From butterflies and praying mantises to catfish, herons, turtles, foxes and much more, there are lots of animals to watch in our parks. If you come to a park with only one animal in mind, you might miss all the other life that is bustling around you. I’ve seen folks walk right pastabirdfeedercrowded with bright goldfinches but then say, “I didn’t see any wildlife today.”
Have fundiscovering nature outdoors inVirginia’s State Parks!