Viewing etiquette: The important thing to remember is to minimize disturbing the animals.
Stop, look and listen . . . but don't harass, feed or touch.Utah's wildlife is fragile. Yes, even a 1,000-pound moose. Wildlife should be viewed doing what it does best - being natural.
Watching wildlife is done best unnoticed. It's also done best from 92 designated wildlife stops around the state.
It's also best done in the morning, during selected times of the year and with viewing assistance from things like spotting scopes and binoculars.
And with help from Utah's "Wildlife Viewing Guide."
The book was the idea of Defenders of Wildlife and the work of several state and federal agencies, orchestrated by Jim Cole, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service.
It is detailed down to directions, best watching times, amenities and what people can expect to see . . . from northern harriers, to long-tail voles, to Uinta ground squirrels.
The book comes at a time when interest in wild animals is growing.
As Cole points out, "It used to be that wildlife was something people saw as they traveled. Now people are traveling to see wildlife . . . and the book gives them a start."
It starts with the Woodruff Cooperative Wildlife Management Area near the town of Woodruff. This is a good place for winter viewing of golden eagles, antelope, deer and elk.
Last is the Cisco to Moab drive along the scenic Colorado River. This is a good place to see waterfowl in the summer, bald eagles in the winter, and a opportunity to catch a glimpse of a desert bighorn sheep.
Utah has, in all, about 630 species of vertebrates. Some, like the mule deer, are well know and often seen, others like the prairie dog, found near Cisco, have never been seen by many Utahns.
Some areas feature birds only, like the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area . . . waterfowl, ducks and geese, upland birds, raptors and song birds. Other viewing areas, such as Vernon, feature deer, antelope, rabbits and raptors.
A part of the experience is proper watching etiquette. Unintentionally, those watching can harm wildlife. People, too, can place themselves in danger. A moose, for example, may look as docile as a grazing cow, but can be anything but. Same with seemingly tame animals, such as squirrels and birds, who can become aggressive when feeding or handled.
The important thing to remember is to minimize disturbing the animals.
Animals are sensitive to human presence. Walk too close and most will flee, sometimes causing stress that can endanger the animals, or cause them to leave young unprotected, or even cause injury as they escape.
Viewers should be aware of signs of alarm, such as skittish movements or alarm calls, and move away if detected.
They should always move slowly and quietly. Often, cars will make a good blind. People will be able to see more if they stay inside their vehicle than if they were to get out.
In the spring, people should stay as far away from nests and dens as possible. It is an especially sensitive time for wildlife.
One of the worst things watchers can do is to feed wildlife. Several things, all bad, can happen. Animals can become accustomed to the handouts, move closer to the source, and become a town nuisance. Handouts, too, can cause serious harm to digestive systems. And, animals can starve when the food source they've come to expect is gone.
It is also important to avoid wildlife that can be dangerous, such as rutting elk and moose, bears with cubs, and rattlesnakes.
In selecting a wildlife viewing area there are several things to consider. One would be numbers. There are, for instance, more deer than moose, and more ducks than eagles. Deer and ducks will be easier to find and watch. Also, desert animals will be less likely to be active at time when temperatures are hottest, but more active mornings and evenings.
Mornings and evenings, too, are generally when wildlife feed, which gives better viewing opportunities.
Spring is a good time to see larger wildlife. Deer, elk and moose tend to be at lower elevations and feeding on latest "green-up" before moving into the high country.
Summer is a good time to spend bird watching. Utah has some prime bird watching areas, including Ogden Bay Bird Refuge, the Cutler Marshes near Logan, Strawberry Valley, Desert Lake Waterfowl Management Area and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.
Fall is when some of the birds begin to move out and the larger animals start moving down.
And winter is a time when deer and elk are plentiful, along with such distinguished guests as the bald eagle.
Armed with a pair of binoculars, a book and a little consideration, Utah offers a lot of lead characters for wildlife viewing.