Applying Girl Watching Strategy to Wildlife Viewing

By , December 1, 2009

I love to watch people. I especially like to “girl watch.” I enjoy seeing attractive women of any age—I admit it. I also love viewing wildlife. I had a startling revelation several years ago while driving over the pass from Canada to Haines. As I drove, I watched for wildlife. I realized that I scanned with the same avidity with which I used to scan for pretty girls when I was a teenager!

I find the strategy of the two activities very similar. Since studies show my method differs from most guys, I’ll explain it.

Apparently, men and women check each other out using different methods. Men, experts tell us, stare. Women glance and look away, taking a mental “snapshot” that captures all the visual information needed to evaluate a guy’s looks.

I’ve always used this “snapshot” approach. I think I developed it in my youth to prevent being rude, and to avoid looking stupid.

I didn’t think about this much until several years ago. We attended the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker in Seattle with Michelle’s family. As we left the theater, my mother-in-law and I walked together. A flamboyant transvestite in a blond wig and massive ball gown passed us on the crowded sidewalk. Mom wanted me to see “her,” and kept pointing “her” out, while I continued down the walk, my gaze fixed ahead. She thought I hadn’t seen “her,” so I described the person’s appearance perfectly from one brief, unobtrusive glance.

Seeing the transvestite was very much like viewing wildlife: we had gone into “her” habitat, and had seen something out of the ordinary. The sighting was a rare event (for us), to be marveled over and appreciated, much like a good wildlife sighting!

Animals perceive staring as threatening. It makes them react defensively. Humans react the same way, viscerally, but a steady gaze has so many other meanings in our cultures that we often forget this older import.

If an animal can see you, or is likely to sense your presence, you can get a better look at it by directing your gaze elsewhere, taking quick glances at the animal. Incidentally, this is a good way to “de-escalate” a confrontation with an unfriendly dog.

It’s not easy, particularly when trying to memorize details of the animal for later recording, as we do in the wildlife journal we keep on the homestead. When it works, it can prolong the viewing episode. Aly and I managed to appear non-threatening enough that a local coyote walked to within a few yards of us. One of our neighbor minks came so close to me once that I began to wonder if it would climb up my pant leg!

We work hard to sharpen our powers of observation, to take in any details that might be useful for identification before the opportunity ends. It’s a discipline, one worth pursuing, as the benefits are excellent!

I still like to “girl watch,” but it can’t compete with the joys of wildlife viewing. Luckily, we see a lot of wildlife on the homestead! From shrews to whales, we record them in our wildlife journal and appreciate their presence. They are our wild neighbors, with which we live more or less companionably.

You can see photos of some of our wild neighbors here.

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