Fall can be a very exciting time for animal-watching. Just as humans swap out their summer clothes for warm clothes, animals prepare for colder weather as well. During the fall months, many furry animals work on growing in their warmer winter coats to prepare for the cold months ahead. Mammals spend the autumn months storing up fat to keep them warm during the winter. Other animals prepare to migrate and fly to a new, warmer place. And many others go through mating rituals in the fall. As you observe these animal activities this season, here are some tips and techniques for animal watching in our beautiful state.
Tips for Watching Animals
Face into the wind when looking for wildlife. Many animals have a keen sense of smell, and the wind can carry your scent and scare them off. Don’t wear perfume or anything with a strong scent, like shampoo or lotion, or animals will pick up your scent!
Plan to watch animals during dusk or dawn. The best times for observing most animals are early in the morning and in the evening. Overcast days are also good times for observing many species.
Do not disturb. Even when you’re farther away, leaving wildlife alone can help your viewing experience—plus it’s the law. It’s illegal to feed, touch, tease, frighten, or intentionally disturb wildlife. Remember that wildlife in parks are wild and can be unpredictable when they’re disturbed or surprised. Interacting with wildlife also can cause harm to both people and the wildlife.
Be observant of your surroundings. Walking slowly through an area helps you learn about habitat, trail systems, waterways, and wildlife movements. Go slowly, pausing often to scan the area and to listen. Tracks, trails, nests, dens, droppings, and partially eaten plants are clues to what animals may live in the area.
Try to be as quiet as possible. Keep talking to a minimum and use hand signals whenever you can. Step lightly to avoid breaking twigs underfoot and turn off your cell phone. Whether you’re searching for wildlife or observing it, you’ll be more successful if you rely on more than just your eyes. Listen for cracking twigs or branches, animal calls, or the flutter of birds’ wings to help you locate animals.
Bring binoculars and/or a magnifying glass. Binoculars are an outstanding tool to watch animals from afar. There’s also a micro-world of small creatures all around. Use a magnifying glass to study a dragonfly, ladybug, or ant colony.
Most importantly, be patient. Find a good spot and be prepared to wait.
Sometimes you will see more by sitting quietly for a while and just waiting for an animal to come in front of you. Waiting may sound like a boring thing to do, but waiting in nature is often both relaxing and more rewarding than you expect.
Animals to look for in the fall
Pennsylvania is a land of diverse ecosystems between the state’s mountains, dense forests, grasslands, hills, and wetlands. Below is a list of just some of the animals to keep an eye out for in the fall!
Elk. Elk, Pennsylvania’s largest wild animal, are very commonly found in the state – often in forests or on the roadside. Visitors can easily see the majestic elk in parts of Elk and Cameron counties.
Foxes. Red and gray foxes are small, agile carnivores belonging to the same family (Canidae) as the dog, coyote, and wolf. Both red and gray foxes are found throughout all counties of Pennsylvania. They are intelligent predators with extremely sharp senses of sight, smell, and hearing (a fox can hear a mouse squeal from about 150 feet).
River Otters. The river otter is the most elusive aquatic mammal in Pennsylvania, so you’ll be lucky to spot one! By autumn, otter pups are nearly fully grown. In Pennsylvania, otters occur in every major river system and are absent only in watersheds with significant water-quality problems. Clean water supporting fish and other aquatic life is the foundation of a good otter habitat.
Weasels. Three weasel species occur in Pennsylvania: the short-tailed weasel, also called the ermine, Bonaparte’s weasel, and stoat; the long-tailed weasel, also known as the New York weasel; and the least weasel, or mouse weasel. In Pennsylvania, the short-tailed weasel is found mostly in the northern and eastern parts, the long-tailed is common throughout the state, and the least is found in greatest numbers in the south central and north west.
Owls. Autumn is a great time to keep an eye out for any of the eight species of owls that live in Pennsylvania. The most common of these owls to be seen in our state is the Great Horned Owl, also the most common species in North America. From forests to open country to even cities, the Great Horned Owl can live in practically any habitat.
White-tailed deer. The white-tailed deer, Pennsylvania’s state animal, flourishes in forests across Pennsylvania. They are mostly found in the eastern and western region of Pennsylvania and often live in wooded areas. Autumn is mating season for white-tailed deer, and oftentimes male deer will “spar” each other with their antlers.
Porcupines. The porcupine is a solitary animal for most of the year, but between September and December, it seeks out other porcupines for mating. In Pennsylvania, most porcupines live in areas of extensive forests. They inhabit the rugged mountains of north central Pennsylvania, the timbered land in the northwest and northeast corners, and the wooded sections of the ridge-and-valley region.
Snow hare. Although closely related to the more abundant cottontail, the snowshoe is not a true rabbit. Snow hares are found in Pennsylvania in parts of the Allegheny Mountains, and on high plateaus in the northwest and the Pocono region. In the fall, the hares shed their brown summer fur in preparation for the winter snow.
Ruffed Grouse. The ruffed grouse, a smallish brown-and-tan bird, has been Pennsylvania’s official state bird since 1931, and its beauty is admired by hunters and non-hunters alike. They are found in every county in Pennsylvania, most often in forests and woods.
Where to find wildlife
You may not have to go far to see wildlife in Pennsylvania, but some best places to find untouched wildlife are the numerous parks and refuges across the state. Below is a list of some of the places to check out wildlife in Pennsylvania.
Ohiopyle State Park, which covers some 19,000 acres in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, is a popular kayaking and water rafting destination. Amid the hiking trails and scenic waterfalls, visitors can expect to find plenty of deer, turkey, grouse, badgers, foxes, rodents, and other wildlife.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which covers some 66,000 acres of the Pocono Mountains in the southeast, has some 100 miles of hiking trails, where you can find rabbits, deer, rodents, and possibly even the elusive black bear.
Cherry Springs State Park, located in Potter County of north central Pennsylvania, is a prime destination for campers, hikers, and stargazers. Deer, otters, fishers, ospreys, hawks, nightjars, eagles, badgers, and black bears are all found here.
Pymatuning State Park, located in the northeast of the state near the town of Crawford, covers around 21,000 acres of a manmade lake. The waters are teeming with largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, walleye, carp, crappies, and other freshwater fish. It is open to fishing all year-round.
Presque Isle State Park, situated on some 3,000 acres of land around Lake Eerie, is a US National Natural Landmark. It’s also widely regarded as one of the best bird-watching sites in the state. Piping plovers, cerulean warblers, terns, sparrows, blackbirds, and gulls are all found here.
Nockamixon State Park, located to the north of Philadelphia, is another good destination for bird-watching and freshwater fishing. More than 250 species of birds have been documented at the park, including orioles, warblers, swans, grebes, sandpipers, herons, kingfishers, ospreys, wrens, grosbeaks, and egrets.
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