The key to connecting with nature – a sit spot.

The spotted nutcracker is a very attentive observer – and many animals observe his behavior to estimate the ongoings in their environment. We can do that, too!

No binoculars in the world can give you the intimate nature experiences your sit spot offers along the way. This routine of observing fascinates me thoroughly as it brings you close to an intensity of nature you might never have guessed in a very short time. This post wants to encourage you to go out, find a sit spot, and frequently sit there and observe!
Thinking back, my most precious nature experiences were always sit spot experiences in a sense. As a boy I had a favourite hunter’s high seat I used to frequent with my binoculars at hand. Silently sitting and waiting I sometimes watched roe deer feeding at dusk. Those sightings kept me thriving with excitement and passion for several weeks! Unfortunately my friends had other interests, and due to a lack of mentors it was only after finishing high school that I reconsidered the importance that nature has always had for me. Yet it was only when I did my training as a nature guide, that I came across the observation method of the sit spot. Especially the wilderness awareness schools in the tradition of Jon Young and Tom Brown and their mentors keep pressing on the importance of the sit spot.

Where shall my sit spot be?

  • Ideally it should be a location comprising three different components: 1. open spaces – meadows or lawns, 2. forest or tree groups, moreover lone trees, thickets, shrubs, etc. 3. Water, ideally as a little river or a pond, but wetlands will also do just fine. Furthermore, the biological diversity should be as high as possible, there should be many different species of shrubs and trees, of flowers and grasses and (therefore) animals. The picture above does not include water but otherwise this place would do just fine!
  • Because the regularity of your sit spot sessions is topmost important, your sit spot should not be more than 5-10 minutes from home! If you live in a city, you can simply choose the closest park or garden, or even fallow land (especially interesting!). You could use the satellite view of Google Maps to find the next promising location.
  • Personally, I find it comforting to be out of view of other walkers or passengers.

When do I visit my sit spot?

  • As regularity does the trick, ideally you should go every day for 30-60 minutes. I count 5 min. for the way to and fro, so 1 h of your day means effective 45min. of sit spot time.
  • Depending on the time of day you will observe different animals and different behavior patterns. To fully get to know your sit spot, go there at different times of day. Since every animal has a certain routine, you’ll only get down to them if you know their habits during the day. At some point you can also go there for dawn or even in the night.
  • As you follow one certain place through the seasons, after one year you can compare with last summer/autumn… and the connection between climate conditions and the animals‘ behavior.

How to observe?

Who left their marking here? These circular pecking tracks belong to a  three-toed woodpecker, who drinks the trees‘ juice in spring. The ruler gives certainty: the markings of this rare woodpecker have only 1-2cm between them, while those of the spotted woodpecker would be 3-4cm.

Principally it’s just about observing and studying as attentively as possible. To do so, I can recommend the following:

  • more important than the names of the animals you observe is their behavior. If you want to get to know a certain beetle or bird, observe what they do! Where do they do that? Does it change in different weather conditions? At different times of day? Try to actually recognize different individuals and keep looking until you can make out their characteristics. Then you can easily go and find the species in any book.
  • Keep a journal in which you describe your observations! At the sit spot, you could jot down what happened ecery 10 minutes or so; later on you can memorize it and do that at home. Draw the animals you observe! Many people would recognize a pigeon or a sparrow, but I doubt they could draw them. Drawing makes you observe even more carefully. You can also draw animal tracks that you find at your sit spot or close to it, measure them and follow them – until you did not only find their originator, but also the story of why it left them, doing what, when. Regarding animal tracking I wrote something HERE (German). Once you put down your observations in a journal, they will automatically pose questions and give you new motivation to watch even more narrowly.
  • Of course binoculars are useful! But do also trust your normal field of view that gives you the context! I often carry binos with me and when I detect something in the corner of my eye, I use them to clarify – moving slowly, and without haste.
  • You should pay special attention to the birds, as they react most visibly and audibly on what is going on in your area. Birds never fly for no reason, they simply cannot afford such high energy cost. Therefore we can read the intensity of their alarm calls, of their flying to higher branches or into a thicket and relate them to certain dangers. A cat or fox on the hunt will get a chorus of alarm calls and birds flying up nervously but without haste. The (detected) presence of a sparrowhawk however will result in panic and horror! You can learn all that from the robin and blackbird in your yard, whose body language and different calls are always commenting on the degree of harmony or stress in their environment. Even if in the beginning the birds may seem chaotic – they are not. Try to first simply listen to different songs until you can distinguish between them. Then try to find the singer and observe the size and exact color of this bird until you can easily recognize it. Now take those birds you find most often and study their different calls – the sounds they make in different conditions: when, and why? In this Video Jon Young explains, what bird language is about (highly recommended!).

Having established a sit spot routine, you will soon find incredible things happening around you and with you: maybe a roe deer will come out of the shrubs and feed 2 or 3 meters next to you, maybe you’ll see a fox relaxing in the sun, maybe you’ll discover the sleeping tree of an owl, or just of the blackbird next door. Not only will you observe incredible things at your sit spot, but as your senses get more and more accustomed to the natural world, you will also see the invisible animals that live amongst us all the time. The only problem might be to find the time – but it is definitely worth it!

Inspiration, investigation: Literature.

I highly recommend this book; a nice read and very informative and inspiring! It is one of my favorite books.
Jon Young. What the Robin Knows. How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World. Mariner Books: New York, 2013.

Also very informative (even more so!) but a bit less entertaining to read.
Jon Young, Tiffany Morgan. Animal Tracking Basics. Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, 2007.

I hope you’ll think about giving sit spots a try! Of course I would love to hear about your experiences!




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