13 Best Places in the U.S. for Wildlife Viewing
Why travel halfway around the world to go on safari when our own country is teeming with beasts big and small? We spoke to park rangers from coast to coast to find America's most interesting creatures—and to get the inside scoop on where (and how) to approach them.
THE PERFECT SPOT: Bald eagles can be spotted on the south side of the Alaska Range, especially near water sources like lakes and streams. Golden eagles, which are migratory, can best be seen mid-March through September, before they head south for the winter. They usually build their nests on cliffs or rock outcroppings.
THE PHOTO TIP: To best capture a soaring bird in flight, use an SLR camera and set it to continuous focus. As you follow the moving object, your camera will automatically refocus on your subject. Keep clicking, and there’s a good chance one of your shots will be a winner.
MOUNTAIN GOATS: GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Montana
The stunning (and massive) all-white mountain goat is the official symbol of this Montana park
Located on Montana’s northern border with Canada, Glacier National Park is a particularly rugged expanse of snow-capped peaks and untouched alpine meadows. With six mountains over 10,000 feet high, the area is a perfect habitat for the shaggy, white mountain goat. Weighing in at almost 300 pounds, the horned and bearded animal navigates the rocky terrain thanks to hooves that are embedded with excellent traction pads and sharp, slip-preventing dewclaws.
THE PERFECT SPOT: Some of the best spots for catching mountain goats in summer and early fall include the appropriately titled Goat Lick Overlook along U.S. Highway 2 near Essex, and Logan Pass on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.
THE PHOTO TIP: Photographing white objects, like mountain goats, can often lead to overexposure; too much light gets let into your camera’s sensor, making the object appear washed out. To avoid this common mistake, make sure to focus directly on the goat. On a point-and-shoot, hold down your shutter halfway, point at the white object, allow it to focus, and then snap your shot. Your backgrounds may end up appear slightly darker, but the portrait subject will look its best.
BATS: MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK, Kentucky
A variety of now-endangered bat species have flown around this Kentucky park's dark caves and forests for millions of years
This unique national park has forests, rivers, and the world's longest discovered system of underground caves and caverns. At present, about 350 miles and five levels of below-ground passageways have been surveyed, but it's thought that there are hundreds of miles more to be explored. Naturally, these dark, damp caves and waterways are favorites of bats—gray, red, and brown varietals call the park home.
THE PERFECT SPOT: While red bats can be spotted in the forest and rarely head underground, most of the other bat species keep mainly to the caves during the day. About 12 species live in Mammoth Cave, the park's largest cavern, though they can be quite difficult to spot. Bats tend to also roost at cave entrances and in trees, so keep a look out at those spots at dusk.
THE PHOTO TIP: Since you're most likely to spot the flying creatures at dusk or after, set your camera's ISO to around 600-800 to allow in more light. If you're inside the caves—some of which have lighting— don't use a flash. Use a tripod for the best (read: non-blurry) pictures.
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