Wildlife
Viewing Tips

The Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail is a tool to help you get the most out of your wildlife viewing adventure on the Kenai. It’s a collection of 65 viewing sites located throughout the Peninsula. These sites encompass all of the Kenai’s major wildlife habitats, and range from roadside platforms to backcountry trails. As you plan your visit, choose the sites that best match your interests, time, and budget—and season during which you’re traveling.

SITE NOTES
 
Notable species are listed to give you an idea of what you may see at a site; they are not all inclusive.

 

The key to the site icons is located on the back cover flap.

 


Land ownership details, with contact information, are found on pages 80-81.

 

In addition to site information, this guide contains viewing and safety tips, information about habitats and wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula, and a checklist of birds on the Kenai. You’ll find more information by stopping at visitor centers along the way and asking others what wildlife they’ve been seeing.


Binoculars make wildlife watching much more fun. With binoculars, the stirring in the distant brush turns into a bull caribou with a candelabra rack. The reddish blob on a salmonberry branch becomes an iridescent rufous hummingbird.

Have binoculars for every member of your party, know how to use them, and keep them handy at all times. When wildlife makes its appearance you can be watching instead of fumbling or waiting your turn.

 

Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps are for wildlife watchers too. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar adds protected habitat to the National Wildlife Refuge system. www.fws.gov/duckstamps

 

BINOCULAR BASICS

1. The adjustable eyecups keep your eyes the right distance from the lenses. If you wear glasses, keep them on when using your binoculars. The eyecups should be folded or twisted down. If you don’t wear glasses, keep the eyecups extended. Adjust the binoculars at the hinge so the two circles you see merge into one when looking through both lenses. For children and adults with smaller head sizes, some binoculars may not adjust close enough. Try others.

2. The adjustable eyepiece (usually the right and marked – 0 + ) can be set for differences between your eyes. The neutral position is 0. For details on adjusting, ask an experienced wildlife watcher or search for how to use binoculars online.

3. Focus with the central knob.



EDGES
The "edge" zones between different habitats can be among the best places to scan for wildlife. Edges contain elements of the neighboring habitats, attracting wildlife typical of both sides. For example, edges where forests transition to meadows, marshes or tundra can offer chances to see forest wildlife that might otherwise be hidden among the dark branches.

 

SHARE THE EXPERIENCE
Respect the experience of other human users of these lands and waters. Be aware of other wildlife watchers and avoid unnecessarily marring their enjoyment of the animals. Respect the culture and privacy of Alaska Native peoples and their land—recognize that fishing and hunting camps you may  come across are essential to local residents’ subsistence way of life. Respect those lawfully hunting and fishing within these multiple use lands.

A CLOSER LOOK

• Pre-focus for the general distance of the wildlife you are looking at.
• Without binoculars, stare straight at your subject.
• While continuing to stare, raise the binoculars to your eyes.
• Your subject should be centered in the field of view; however, this can take practice, especially with smaller and moving objects.

SELECTING BINOCULARS When shopping for binoculars, you’ll see them described with a pair of numbers, such as 7x35 or 8x24. The first number is the magnification—the bigger the number, the closer the subject will appear. Powers above 10 are difficult to hold steady. The second number is the diameter of the aperture lens. A bigger lens lets in more light, but is heavier. Birders prefer binoculars with a ratio of at least 1:5, which allow more light to see colors and details; however, compact binoculars are handy for travel. You can get decent binoculars for under $200. Invest more in good quality waterproof binoculars if you can afford them.

SPOTTING SCOPES (small telescopes) provide higher magnification and greater light-gathering properties than binoculars, expanding the effective range of your viewing. Because scopes are affixed to tripods, once set up and focused on an animal, a group can take turns looking. This is great for younger  children and reduces the frustrations of finding animals. A basic scope and tripod setup can be purchased for around $200. There are some fixed scopes and binoculars at sites along the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail for those who don’t have their own; however, the wildlife isn’t always where the scopes are.

SPOTTING WILDLIFE
To spot wildlife, think in terms of patterns. Observe carefully and make yourself familiar with the patterns of water, rocks, or vegetation, then be alert for subtle changes in those patterns that might indicate wildlife. Scan landscapes slowly, watching for movement. Be alert for shapes that are just a little "out of place" in the texture of the environment. Horizontal lines, such as the line of a moose’s back, often stand out among patterns of vertical light and shadow in forests.

Colors can be clues too; some animals, such as Dall sheep or black bears, are significantly lighter or darker than their usual surroundings. Watch for patterns on the water, too. Glass-calm water is ideal for spotting marine mammals, birds and fish, but animal activity can be visible even in choppy water. Ripples and splashes on the surface are signs of wildlife movements. Note anything that disrupts the pattern and texture of the water’s surface. Watch for dimples, rings, or swells that indicate underwater movement. Keep an eye out for movement across the surface as well, such as the skimming flight of a murrelet. Let the animals themselves be your viewing guides. A cluster of feeding gulls can indicate a school of baitfish, which might also be attracting humpback whales. You might be led to notice a prowling lynx or coyote by Steller’s jays nagging from spruce branches above. Use senses other than sight. Every once in a while, turn off the car engine or stop talking and listen for footsteps, splashes, breaths, calls or songs. Sniff the breeze—our human sense of smell is inferior to most animals’, but we can still detect the musty scent of crow feathers or the barnyard odor of a porcupine’s den.

WHEN TO LOOK Mornings and evenings are often the best times to watch, as many animals conduct most of their business in the hours at the edge of night. Remember—during an Alaskan summer, dawn comes early, so to catch the stirrings at first light, you might have to set your alarm for as early as 2 a.m.

GO DEEPER Spotting wildlife is just the beginning of the adventure. Once you’ve located an animal, settle in, observe it, and learn something about its life. Did that swooping eagle come up from the water with a fish, or did it miss? What kind of shrub is that moose munching on? Where is that yellow warbler going with its beak full of insects? Familiarize yourself with the tracks and signs you might find in the field. Not only do signs such as these help you find and spot wildlife, they teach you more about the animals’ lives. Check your library or a bookstore for field guides to tracks. Participate in a tracking workshop and gain field experience with experts.


TAKE NOTES AND KEEP LISTS
Keeping records of what you see can help make you a more careful observer and refresh your memory weeks or years later. These can range from checklists (some observers note how many as well as what species) to field notes with sketches and details on behaviors, weather and habitat. A checklist of the birds of the Kenai is found on page 114 of this guide.

Visit www.wildlifeviewing.alaska.gov for the statewide Wings Over Alaska bird list and the Eyes on Wildlife checklists and learn how to earn free certificates.

ebird.org/ak Learn what others have seen and share your own birding observations with Alaska eBird. eBird documents the presence or absence of species, as well as bird abundance through checklist data. A birder simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out the checklist. All of the sites on the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail  are listed as a "Birding Hotspots." Each site name is preceded by KPWVT. From this site you’ll also find a link to All About Birds which provides you with online resources for bird identification and an introduction to birding. eBird spans North America so you can continue to record your birding data throughout your travels and at home. And, you’ll be helping to further our knowledge of birds by contributing to a massive database of birding information.

WILDLIFE GUARANTEED

The Alaska Zoo (off O’Malley Road in south Anchorage, watch for the zoo sign on the Seward Highway) and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Seward Highway milepost 79, near Portage) offer wildlife viewers the chance to see some of the more elusive Kenai wildlife and to take a closer look at bears, moose and other species than is likely (or advisable) when viewing in the wild. Both are open year-round.

For more information, hours, and admission fees:

Alaska Zoo 907-346-2133  
                   www.alaskazoo.org  

Alaska Wildlife  907-783-2025  
Conservation Center www.alaskawildlife.org  

ETHICS

It’s a tremendous privilege to observe wild animals in their natural environment. In return for that privilege, it’s your responsibility to be respectful of both wildlife and habitats.

Give wildlife plenty of space. Binoculars and spotting scopes allow you to view wildlife without getting too close. Approach animals slowly, quietly, and indirectly. Always give them an avenue for retreat, and never chase an animal.

Learn to recognize signs of alarm. These are sometimes subtle, and they vary between species, but may include increased movements such as agitated flapping or pacing, heightened muscle tension, staring, or frequent vocalizations. If you sense that an animal is disturbed by your presence, back off. If it still does not resume its normal behaviors, leave it alone.

Be respectful of nesting and denning areas, rookeries, and calving grounds. Well-meaning but intrusive visitors may cause parents to flee, leaving young vulnerable to the elements or to predators. Stay on designated trails whenever possible.

Leave "orphaned" or sick animals alone. Young animals that appear alone usually have parents waiting nearby.

Restrain pets or leave them at home. They may startle, chase, or even kill wildlife.

Let animals eat their natural foods. Sharing your sandwich may get animals hooked on handouts; it may even harm their digestive systems. Feeding bears, moose, and some other wildlife is illegal in Alaska except under terms of a permit issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Tread lightly. If you choose to go off-trail, remember that you are a guest in the homes of the animals you seek. Try to avoid disturbing sensitive habitats such as wetlands, riparian zones, and fragile tundra.
 


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