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When You Arrive

Since wild animals generally flee when people approach a viewing area, here are a few ways you can encourage them to move in closer. If an on-site blind is available, climb in and wait for wildlife to settle back down - with time, they'll resume their normal activities around you. Your car and surrounding trees and vegetation can also function as a blind. Or you can sit quietly next to a tree trunk and wait patiently. When possible, move about on your own, rather than with a group. Refrain from moving in so close that you inadvertently disrupt feeding, resting and nesting routines.  Always maintain a safe distance from dangerous wildlife.

To attract birds, try making a repetitive "psssh" sound, which imitates scolding birds and squirrels. A variety of small birds will usually move in close to investigate the source of the disturbance. Since prolonged calling can distract a bird from feeding or caring for its young, use this method for short periods only.

Florida has thousands of lakes and miles of rivers and coastal shorelines to explore. A canoe or kayak is a perfect way to view wildlife in these watery habitats, since animals are more afraid of a human on foot than they are of a boat. Quiet travelers may see alligators sunning themselves on banks or other species such as wading birds, ducks, otters, manatees or dolphins. You' ll startle fewer animals if you crouch low in the boat and drift with the current. Bring your own boat or rent one at the many concessions located throughout the state.

You can identify many animals just by listening to their distinctive voices. Owls are active at night and are stealthy fliers. You' re much more likely to hear their hooting calls than to catch a glimpse of them. The same is true for many other bird species, and for frogs and insects as well. You can learn the calls of birds and Florida frogs from tapes and CDs available in some bookstores and libraries.

For other elusive animals, it can be fun to be an amateur sleuth and learn how to interpret the clues the animals leave behind. Around wetlands and rivers, you may notice a tree limb that has been chewed to a point by a beaver or an embankment with a well-worn trail leading down to the water - evidence that otters frequent the area. In sand or mud, look for tracks or crawl marks. Check for tufts of hair snagged on branches or briars. Even the shape and content of droppings can help identify an animal. Use all of your senses and you' ll have a pretty good idea of which animals inhabit a particular area, what they eat and their movement patterns.