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Wildlife Watching In America's National Parks, A Seasonal Guide

Author : Gary W. Vequist
Published : 2013-02-06

Spotting wildlife in national parks seems intuitive. After all, bears, moose, elk and other wildlife are the calling cards for such parks as Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Great Smoky, and so many others. Still, knowing when and where to look can improve your success rate of spotting specific species, and this book can help you accomplish that. 

Written by two long-tenured National Park Service biologists, Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks, A Seasonal Guide, relies on the four seasons to tell you where to look for wildlife, and what wildlife you might spot. Spring is the season for gray wolves in Yellowstone, black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains, and prairie dogs in Badlands National Park. Summer brings you sea turtles at Dry Tortugas National Park off the Florida coast, bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and bats at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

An unusual place to view wildlife -- in rivers and streams -- comes in the fall, when you might spot Pacific salmon at Olympic National Park in Washington state, while the Buffalo National River in Arkansas has an elk herd of its own you can photograph, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio has busy beavers that come into view in October.

Winter months might seem difficult to spot wildlife in the parks, but the authors direct you to Everglades National Park in Florida with its alligators, to Point Reyes National Seashore in California where you can spot gray whales off the coast, and to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in February to spot bald eagles.

There are many more units of the National Park System mentioned between the book covers for wildlife watching. Too, the authors present you with bios, if you will, on select species. Bonus material touches on the history of wildlife conservation in the national parks, hints on how to look for wildlife, and even the ethics of watching wildlife (never feed animals, keep your own pets at bay, if they travel with you, and respect others watching wildlife, and so on).

The authors even toss in their "Best 50 Parks For Watching WIldlife," a list that might spur a little friendly debate. There are some sure bets among this list, such as brown bears at Katmai National Park in Alaska, California condors at Grand Canyon National Park, and osprey at Voyageurs National Park. But while the authors recommend Buffalo National River for elk viewing, here at the Traveler we'd point you to Rocky Mountain National Park or the Cataloochee Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in fall. Bison are indeed visible at Theodore Roosevelt, but Yellowstone virtually guarantees you sightings of these iconic animals in the spring, fall, and winter months. Summer can be sketchy, as I discovered last August.

Illustrated with full-color photographs taken from the National Park Service archives and provided by the authors, this book spreads the love around by pointing out wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the country. If there's a bone to pick with the authors, it would be with their selection of Channel Islands National Park off the California coast for viewing elephant seals. In our view, Point Reyes National Seashore would be a much better bet, in part because you don't have to take a boat to get there, and, more so, because of the more than 1,000 elephant seals that descend upon the seashore's beaches between December and March for breeding.

Still, can you ever have too many books on the national parks?


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