Written By Joshua VanBrakle.

Posted on June 27th, 2016.

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Spring had come, and I was ready to head out to my local woodlot and enjoy the returning migratory birds. Even as I reached the trailhead, though, I knew something was wrong. The place was silent, as quiet as in deepest winter.

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I was all set. I’d spent the past winter studying bird calls. I had a new telephoto lens for my camera. Spring had come, and I was ready to head out to my local woodlot and enjoy the returning migratory birds.

There was just one problem. I had an all-morning meeting that I couldn’t escape, so the soonest I could get outside would be after lunch. Not a problem, I figured. It was the end of March, so even in the afternoon it was only about 50 degrees. It was a clear day with low humidity, great weather for a hike. And besides, the birds were supposed to be super-active this time of year, calling as they defended territories and attracted mates. After wolfing down lunch, I snagged my camera and headed out.

Even as I reached the trailhead, though, I knew something was wrong. The place was silent, as quiet as in deepest winter.

I spent an hour in the woods, hiking a mile or so trail loop in that time. My walk took me through a variety of habitats, from ponds to meadows to streams to 200-year-old pines. Yet in that entire walk, I didn’t take a single picture. I hardly heard a peep. The few calls I did hear were weak and half-hearted. A chickadee sang its name once. A goldfinch whined a few notes. A song sparrow got as far as its initial triplet before giving up.

I’d read and been told plenty of times that when it comes to observing wildlife, it’s better to go early in the morning or late in the evening. Animals are more active at these times than during the day itself. Until that hike in March, though, I never realized how much of a difference time of day really makes. The silence of that afternoon made the point louder than any words could.

That said, I hope you’ll learn from my mistake so you won’t have to repeat it. If you want to see more wildlife on your land—not just birds but almost any species—one of the easiest ways to do it is to change when you go outside. Don’t wait for midday, even if the weather’s cool. Go either in the morning just after sunrise or in the evening before sunset.

To prove the point to myself, the next morning I headed out to the woods first thing. I hiked the same route at the same speed I had the day before.

This time the woods were raucous right from the start. Red-winged blackbirds, robins, and song sparrows carried on. Farther along I heard finches, chickadees, and mourning doves. I saw my first bluebirds of the season and managed to snap a picture of them tending a nesting box. I flushed a grouse. I think I even heard a screech owl.

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I added up the different birds I’d seen or heard that morning and compared it with the previous afternoon. I came up with 12 species on the morning hike, compared with just 3 from the afternoon. Where I’d seen almost no birds and taken no photographs the previous day, this time I had several excellent photo ops, and the number of birds I encountered was too high to count.
The cliché applies. The early bird may catch the worm, but the early human catches the wildlife.


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