Becoming Crepuscular for Better Wildlife Viewing

Crepuscular is an adjective used to describe wildlife that is primarily active at dawn and dusk. Since a large amount of truly diurnal wildlife has already been killed or has been scared into becoming crepuscular, dawn and dusk are good times to view a large percentage of the wildlife you have a chance of seeing. Nocturnal wildlife might also be reasonably easy to view, if our eyes worked better at night. Spotlighting at night can be a good way to view wildlife. Many areas with wildlife viewing do spotlight for wildlife at night. Many do not because of regulations about disturbing the wildlife. Either way, though this is a good way or even the only way to view many species, the viewing is not as good as having actual daylight.

One more advantage to being crepuscular is the possibility of getting views like this Adirondack sunrise photo taken from our canoe. Believe it or not, this photo was taken with film. The scan does not accurately represent the colors which were even more vibrant than this.

Adirondack Sunrise

First, I should note that much wildlife does NOT truly get up at sunrise. However, you’ll be glad to be farther away from your car, and the place where you made noise getting set up, before the animals begin to get active. I tend to recommend getting to the trail head around sunrise or canoe/kayak launch about a half hour earlier. For the trail head, you are likely to be able to get on the trail more quickly than you can launch a boat, and are also more likely to be on a shady trail with less light. For boat launch, the time to put in will be longer and you are likely to launch where there are fewer overhanging trees, giving you more light in the early morning. Putting a canoe in the water, whether inflatable or hard shell, is also likely to make more noise. (When inflating my canoe, I cover the electric pump with a towel; it’s still pretty loud.)

So, all I need to do is set the alarm for some ridiculous hour and get up at the crack of doom dawn, and go, right?

Mostly yes. However, there’s a little matter of biology. If you don’t mind digging a hole, you’ll be fine. However, if you plan for this a bit, you can become more crepuscular in your daily life, and make things a bit easier. (Sorry, not really any delicate way to say this and I mostly don’t care to be delicate anyway.) Start by not taking a dump after dinner or for the rest of the evening. This will help you get on a schedule to do so around the time you’ll be leaving home or your motel room. (Motel or hotel, not B&B; Few B&B’s will make you breakfast that early.) Make use of any facilities that may exist at the trail head or launch site. BTW, having a small shovel and toilet paper with you for hiking is still a good idea. You may do your best not to need it, but if you do, you’ll be very glad to have it.

Speaking of food. For a canoe, you can get a small cooler to pack your breakfast and lunch. Finding a nice spot for viewing wildlife, perhaps one that sounds particularly birdy, and either dropping anchor or pulling onto shore is a great way to have breakfast outside and hope to see some great wildlife while you’re moving around less and scaring fewer animals and birds away.

The same is true for lunch, but the wildlife is likely less active by then. Water birds tend to be active all day. Reptiles start to come out in time for lunch and bask in the sun. For hiking, you’ll need to find a way to pack it onto your back and will not likely want a cooler. It should also be noted that if you are someplace where wildlife is unlikely in the noon hours, you may wish to set up two activities, an early morning and a late afternoon through evening, and go back for a nice lunch and nap midday. We never do this. But, it often seems like a good idea.

What we do instead, especially at times of the year when days are long, is take along a good picnic blanket and eat our lunch and take an afternoon nap. Otherwise, staying out for 15 hours or so might be a bit much.

Many people in many guide books state that wildlife is as active or more active in the late afternoon or early evening. This has generally not been our experience. We tend to see much more wildlife early in the morning. So, I would generally recommend that if you can’t be out early and late, get out early. We’ve seen moose, beaver, loons, otters, mink, and much more, mostly in the early morning hours.

As noted elsewhere on this blog, always move slowly and quietly to maximize wildlife sightings. Also, IMNSHO, it is far better to keep a respectful distance from the wildlife. This will allow you not only to get a brief glimpse of the animal, but to observe behavior as well. I hope this helps more people gain an appreciation of the beautiful wildlife with which we share this planet. Enjoy.

11 Responses to Becoming Crepuscular for Better Wildlife Viewing

  1. BubbaRay says:

    Crepuscular rays (and anti-crepuscular rays, qv.) are a spectacular astronomical sight. Sundown in TX with towering T-storms over the horizon in the west produces some awesome sights. Here’s a superb website for atmospheric phenomenon by an acquaintance (Lester Cowley) and “the man” when it comes to identifying atmospheric oddities. He’s helped me out on several occasions.

  2. BubbaRay says:

    Out here in the TX hill country, the biggest danger is from large deer on the highway, who seem to feed an hour after sunset, when human eyesight has a hard time adjusting from twilight to dark roads.

    Ever heard of the “Solunar” tables? This theory has been debated for years, but works extremely well for me when it’s time to go fishin’. Perhaps fish are also “crepuscular.”

  3. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Interesting and beautiful effect. I’d never heard that use of crepuscular. It seems obvious to me that both uses are from the same Greek root crepusculum, meaning “twilight” as noted on the wikipedia page.

    As for deer, New Jersey has tried a particularly good solution along I-78. They built 3 bridges across the highway and planted them with native plants that the deer like. Of course, the deer are not completely brain dead and prefer the bridges to the highway.

    That this test worked, but the state has not built more of these bridges, nor has any other state done so that I’m aware of, means that we, unlike the deer, are completely brain dead.

    Of course, after I typed the text above, I had to check for myself and came across this. Perhaps, just perhaps, people are not as brain dead as I usually assume.

    Nah … we really are. How many such crossings do you really see? And how many people are killed in wildlife collisions around the country. Then compare those numbers to the amount we spend on homeland security and the number of people that are killed by terrorists annually.

    OK, end of tangent, I hope.

  4. BubbaRay says:

    I’m a crepuscular victim. After a wonderful night of astronomy from an extremely remote site in the Hill country, starting with a display of both crepuscular and anti-crepuscular rays*, I had to pack up and head for home.

    I tried to steer between the doe and the buck but caught the buck’s antlers in the left headlight. The buck was a monster and the forces drove his body into the driver’s door, nearly killing me and it did total the car. Mind you, it was a 1995 Lincoln Town Car, a nearly 4,000 lb. behemoth (but 24 mpg in town for the economy guys).

    * As the Earth (and it’s atmosphere) is roughly a sphere, crepuscular rays at sunset start on the Western horizon, diverge widely at the zenith, and converge on the Eastern horizon. Here’s a great photo from my friend Lester Cowley:

  5. Misanthropic Scott says:


    Yikes!! Sounds like you made it out OK, which is the important thing. Cars can be replaced, though fuel economy of vehicles has been declining since about 1986. Presumably the buck did not fare as well, correct?

    Sounds like no one came out of that as happy as they went in. I hope all goes well in getting back to normal.

  6. aporia24 says:

    That is a stunningly beautiful photograph.

  7. BubbaRay says:

    I apologize for the late reply. The car was totaled. A ’94 Town Car weighs about 2 tons and the buck was a monster, but the car won. Not a scratch on me or the passengers. In the Hill country I see trucks all the time with monster guards on the front, designed specifically to protect car and passenger from large animals. One report from a friend:

    “Had the cruise control set at 65 (mph), couldn’t avoid the deer**, when I hit it, the deer flew off to the right like a frisbee out of control. Didn’t even take the cruise control off, so I just kept driving.”

    ** NEVER swerve to avoid a deer or any large animal, it could result in your death. DO NOT PANIC BRAKE. Slow down as best you can and lay across the seat. If you miss (animal gets out of the way) count your lucky stars. If not, most likely you’ll survive. Forget about air bags, a moose coming through the windscreen at 70 mph will decapitate you. Swerving and braking wildly will land you in a ditch, or worse, in a tree with non-survivable injuries. A Public Service Announcement from BubbaRay (been there, done that, still living).

    [Unfortunately, squirrels are fair game. 🙂 ]

    Oh, and the behemoth 96 Town Car gets 26 mpg with 4 passengers hwy. It’s a lot more roomy and less noisy than the Cessna 310.

  8. Misanthropic Scott says:


    I’m glad the humans made it out OK. Sounds like you got some expensive venison.

    One more tip I saw used in Africa on game drives to avoid hitting animals. At night, if you have a deer or other animal caught in your headlights. While braking, not skidding, just braking hardly (as opposed to hardly braking), turn off your headlights. This breaks the spell and the animal can move on.

  9. BubbaRay says:

    I fervently hope I never have to test that tip, but it’s now in the repertoire. Perhaps those 1,000s of hours in an airplane will help me to actually use it in the 1 or 2 seconds I’ll have remaining before impact. Thanks!

  10. Mr. Fusion says:


    While turning off the headlights might sound good, I don’t see it as being very practical. Had a couple of meetings with Bambi’s relatives. Deer don’t walk out onto the roadway and wave a flag. Usually, they run across the road with the sole intent of just getting to the other side. Since they like cover, they will jump out of bushes and cover to cross the road. You will be upon them before you can react.

    Around these parts, the females and fawns run in groups of 5 to 10 all summer and winter. If you see one crossing the road ahead of you, slow right down as there is probably another two or three right behind it. Both encounters I had was with the second or third deer and both were at least an hour after first light. It seems they always walk single file.

    In the fall the groups can grow to 30 females. The males are much more timid about crossing the road. If they are chasing a female though, they will go anywhere.

  11. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Mr. Fusion,

    Great advice about watching for more than the first one. I have seen side roads where the deer do mill about in the middle of the road. It probably doesn’t happen on highways. If they catch the headlights while slowly crossing a side road, they may freeze like a deer caught in the headlights. In such cases, turning off the headlights may help. On major highways, you’re likely correct that they will continue to run, rather than stop.

    We have a couple of highways north of the city that get a lot of deer. My wife was driving once at a very dim point of dusk before going pitch black. I saw 4 deer by the side in the dim light. One was starting to jump around in circles, I think getting ready to lead the group across the road. I yelled stop. Without seeing why I said it, my wife trusted me and screeched the brakes.

    That seemed to scare the deer into not crossing at that particular time. The point is though, that you’re correct, they will screw themselves up to cross one after the other. They need to get across. They don’t really understand about proper road crossing techniques.

    What we really need are more animal bridges across the highways. NJ put in a few and stopped. They really do work. Deer aren’t stupid. They see a 200′ wide bridge planted with vegetation and a major 6 lane highway. They do make the right choice for everyone.

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