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Optical Enhancements for the Wildlife Watcher


This feature is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Arizona Wildlife Views.

The goal of a wildlife viewer should be to watch animals without bothering their normal activities. Here are some commercial products that can help you reach that goal.

Lower Tech

Binoculars and spotting scopes bridge the distance between you and wildlife. You’ll enjoy a better view while remaining a safe distance from the animals, leaving them undisturbed. Using either type of optical enhancement will give you memorable viewing experiences, often leaving the feeling you were standing right next to the animal.

High Tech

Digital binoculars offer the chance to capture what you are seeing through binoculars. This tool is gaining popularity in the wildlife-viewing world. Having digital camera binoculars is great when you are watching waterfowl on a pond, a herd of elk in a meadow or eagles at a nest.

Night-vision viewers are used by wildlife watchers to open up the nocturnal world. Watching wildlife at night can give new thrills. The same rules apply for nighttime watching as daytime watching: Stay quiet and place yourself where wildlife is likely to pass by.

Whether focused on owls raising young in a nest box or wildlife visiting water, nature cams (miniature video cameras) show you real-time, live action on a TV monitor. Some nature cams use infrared lights, enabling you to continue watching at night. Perhaps not the best tool for remote areas or trips outdoors — lower-priced models limit you to the length of a power cord — nature cams let you watch wildlife from your living room. They also are great for nature centers or schools, or places where people are confined indoors (e.g., hospitals).

Higher Tech

Thermal imaging cameras let you see wildlife with no light. The camera sees the heat signature of animals and sends it to a TV monitor. Currently very expensive, this tool is used mainly by the military and for public safety, wildlife research, zoos monitoring babies, etc. Expect them to become available commercially in the near future.

Webcams can deliver a glimpse into a wild animal’s life right to your computer monitor. One example is the Underwater Fish Camera, which streams live video from the department’s Bubbling Ponds Hatchery, giving viewers a glimpse into the lives of some of the state’s native fish. The camera will frequently be moved to include other species of native fish in both indoor and outdoor tanks. To see it for yourself, visit

—Joe Yarchin, Arizona Game and Fish Department watchable wildlife program manager

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