Enjoying nature is the simplest of activities. Being close to nature is its own reward. But occasionally, we need a little motivation to look more closely. Thankfully, it's easy to make this exercise interesting and challenging, and searching for wildlife can make our routines during this current era of self-isolation and physically distancing, more enjoyable. I'd like to share some ideas on how you can do this.

Simply put: Make it a game. Just pick a spot, even a small area like a living room window or a back yard. Then push yourself to successfully identify as much diversity as possible from the one spot. It becomes like a treasure hunt for rare gems or rarely seen natural phenomenon. Each list you create becomes a motivator. Dedicated birders have lists for everything including yard lists, day lists, provincial lists, years lists… the sky is literally the limit, and anyone can have any sort of list!
Tony Beck
Rock Pigeons are a regular sight from the balcony.
They're one of only a few species that will land beside me while I'm out there.
During isolation, start with a goal of identifying 10 species from your yard or your favourite window. It should be easy depending on location and time of year. Animals like Gray Squirrel, Bull Frog, American Crow and Black-capped Chickadee are just some common creatures that most readers will be familiar with. Every environment has its common residents. But, it can be more interesting during migration. If you’re in a really productive spot, you might be able to tally 40, 50, or even more species in a single day. Try to identify everything, including all those shy and elusive creatures that prefer avoiding detection.
Tony Beck view from balcony

Living on a 23rd floor apartment overlooking the Ottawa River at Deschênes Rapids, I see lots of interesting wildlife. The water is open all year, even during the coldest winter. I regularly see Bald Eagles, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven and an assortment of vagrant birds. In the wetlands below, I occasionally see River Otter, Muskrat, Beaver and even the rare Blanding’s Turtle. While writing this piece this morning, I managed to observe 17 species of birds including Great Egrets conducting courtship displays.
Tony Beck
The greatest thrill comes when something rare or unusual passes by the window.
This adult gray morph Gyrfalcon spent one winter around my
building terrorizing the local pigeons and mallards. 

Although most of my observations are far from my balcony, it’s still very exciting. However, to maximize the number of species, and to improve accuracy, I need good binoculars and a high-quality spotting scope. It also helps to have good weather. Use all your senses, not just sight. I often hear individual species well before seeing them.

It’s also wise to keep a camera handy. If I’m not photographing sunsets, I’ll try to capture frame-filling images of birds like Herring Gull, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey or a rare Gyrfalcon.
Tony Beck
Common Ravens are a regular sight from our balcony.
They sometimes use updrafts created by our building where they perform
graceful aerobatic displays while bonding with each other.

Since I moved here 10 years ago, I’ve successfully identified 142 species of birds from my balcony alone. Interestingly, there are still a few common species that elude me. Thanks to current self-isolation efforts this spring, I’ll focus on all the wildlife migrating by. And, the fun never stops… My wife Nina Stavlund has successfully spotted a few species that I still haven’t. So I have some catching up to do. Besides being fun and entertaining, adding birds to my “balcony list” is a very powerful motivator that pushes my skills to their limit. I wonder what #143 will be?
Tony Beck
Ring-billed Gulls are abundant around our building,
especially from early spring through late fall. During spectacular sunsets,
I’ll wait for them to fly by where I can capture their silhouettes against an orange sky.
 Tony Beck
Always a welcome sight, this adult Red-tailed Hawk
occasionally comes and perches somewhere on or near our balcony.