|Here are some thoughts about looking for plants
and animals "ecologically":
- In urban areas pay special attention to parks, botanical gardens, zoos, cemeteries, and
any area heavily treed or with gardens of ornamental plants - - places where flowers and
fruits may be attracting interesting insects, birds, and other creatures. Be sensitive
about appearing to be a snoop in such areas, however, and ask permission where
appropriate. The above scene shows the John Heinz National Wildlife refuge near
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many national wildlife refuges are close to urban areas. This
one has walking trails and an excellent environmental education program.
- In cities and towns, keep in
mind that wild animals need what we do -- food and shelter. When you scan an urban
landscape, if you spot a tree, bush, or patch of weeds producing flowers or fruits, take
special note. Insects swarm around and into flower clusters, and birds flock after the
insects. Garbage dumps often attract scavengers such as sea gulls and vultures, and even
occasional mammals such as raccoons. In railroad yards where grain is cleaned from cars,
birds may flock to eat swept-out wheat and oats. The grasshopper in the picture here was
spotted on an oak leaf, which he was not nibbling, and I have no idea why he was there or
what he was doing. In other words, yes, there are certain tricks you can use to find them
but, also, the main way to spot plants and animals is simply to keep your eyes peeled!
- Any weedy, bushy area may be rich in animals. However, in urban areas they may also be
dangerous. Use your best judgement when visiting such places. Flashing a pair of nice
binoculars in the wrong place can be fatal. Traveling in groups is sometimes a good idea.
- Plant and animal species in forested parks where the ground is kept clear for picnicking
are far less diverse than forested parks where wildflowers and bushes are allowed to
create a lush undergrowth.
- Habitat type often changes drastically depending on whether a site is lowland, highland,
or on a slope. Deep in a moist, shaded valley, both plant and animal species are likely to
be different from those atop dry, windswept and sun-drenched ridges and hilltops. Often
slopes between the two extreme habitats offer yet a third completely different set of
- In trees, certain species are most likely to be found among the lower branches, others
at mid level, and still others among the uppermost limbs.
- In woodlands, don't forget to look on tree trunks and the bark of larger branches, for
several bird species, such as woodpeckers and Brown Creepers, specialize in looking for
- Plant and animal species in a city lot abandoned for one year are different from those
of a similar lot abandoned for several years, where bushes and small trees may have
appeared. When visiting abandoned areas, mentally note the various "stages of
abandonment" present there, and search for different species in each.
- Many animals prefer low, flood-prone areas -- everything from soggy spots or shallow
pools in sports fields and agricultural fields, to natural swamps and marshes. Wetlands
always deserve special attention -- and protection.
- Usually a narrow ribbon of special wetland habitat, with its own plants and animals,
occurs on land immediately next to a river, lake, or the ocean.
- In bodies of water, a special habitat with its own community of plants and animals
exists along shore wherever the water is shallow enough for aquatic plants such as water
lilies to root themselves, and still have access to sunlight. Ducks and grebes especially
like this zone.
- In larger bodies of water, aquatic species vary in their preferences for the distance
they remain from shore. Therefore, don't forget to look far out into the water.