When people are planning a trip, maybe abroad, maybe only a few hours away from home, and that trip specifically features the topic of wildlife watching, you only ever hear people talk about going to see the big animals. For instance, people travelling to Africa will talk of hopes that they get to see all of the Big 5, or people going to India will talk about going to see a tiger, and by no means should they not be excited about that. However, if the big animals are all you’re excited for, you could come away from your holiday in a low mood, potentially because you didn’t find those big animals, and so when someone asks you what you saw, your response might be “we didn’t see anything”.
As an example, on my self-drive Kruger holiday that I went on with my boyfriend in the summer of 2019, we had quite a few days where we could’ve said we saw “nothing”, because it’s true, we had maybe 3 or 4 days where we saw very few or no big animals at all. In this situation, having been to Africa multiple times before, and understanding that wildlife does its own thing, I understood that we also needed to be excited about the possibility of seeing smaller animals, such as birds, reptiles, maybe even some insects (although it was winter, so reptiles and insects were less likely). It was the interest of seeing all the wildlife that Kruger had to offer, be it big mammals, tiny little birds or a leopard tortoise that kept the days of “nothing” more exciting for us.
I would describe myself as quite the “bird nerd” and so I do find seeing birds and checking off new species on my list maybe a bit more exciting than most, but if you’re travelling to the other side of the world, or even just a few hours down the motorway, being excited about the possibilities of finding an array of wildlife will ultimately make your trip better for you, at least in my opinion it would.
It sometimes becomes more exciting if you turn finding new species into a game or a challenge, such as identifying new birds, or trying to have more birds on your list than the other person. These games often work better if there is a larger number of you in separate vehicles/walking groups. That is the other thing about viewing wildlife. In many areas of the world, you unfortunately do have to stay in your vehicle, be it for safety or not damaging the environment etc. When there is a chance to explore on foot however, I strongly recommend that you take that opportunity and run (preferably walk though) with it. In Africa, there are these amazing people, professionally trained and labelled Field Guides. These Field Guides are trained to the highest standards in training camps before being let out to guide the public, and if you are able, you should absolutely book yourself on a bush walk. The guides will take you out on foot, explaining how to identify which animals are in the area from their tracks (and poop), they will tell you about the different trees and plants and all about their different uses in traditional medicines, you may come across smaller critters, such as spiders (I know everyone isn’t too happy about them, I’m included in this, but they are interesting none the less), you may even find a chameleon and get some lovely up-close photos of one. It even gives you a different perspective on just how insignificant you are in the world when you’re on foot only 30 metres from an elephant.
In my personal opinion, the best way to never be disappointed when going on a holiday, or even just a day out at your local nature reserve, is to be excited about finding anything and everything. I’m excited for the spring to start bringing the butterflies, the birds and more life into the world again. Maybe it’s just a very British thing, but we all get overly excited when we find cows in fields, especially baby ones, and I think if we all applied that same excitement to all aspects of wildlife, no one would ever be disappointed just for having the opportunity to be outside and be in nature.
One last thing to mention is that there is never not an opportunity to learn when it comes to wildlife, there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of books out there covering every topic, species and research question known to man. Or at least a big enough variety that it would probably take more than one lifetime to learn everything that’s already out there. So I would say, buy the books, learn as much as you can about every aspect of one area of wildlife, such as ornithology (study of birds) or mammalogy (study of mammals), and then look for examples of what you’ve learned and appreciate all of the different aspects of their biology, ecology and behaviour that you’ve read about. You could even implement your own little studies on your wildlife watching holidays to gain even more of an understanding, such as a behaviour study. The most important books to take with you on your wildlife excursions are definitely identification or field guides so that you are able to identify everything you see. You may also need some binoculars as animals, particularly small ones also like to remain at quite a distance from you. If you are a photographer, trying to photograph every bird, insect, reptile and mammal will also give you a much bigger portfolio to build up when you get back home, thus making your trip look even more impressive to your peers.