a field guide to the planet - by Damon Ramsey
The best places to find wildlife in different countries and regions around the world...
This page connects you to a whole lot of pages with reports I wrote about various national parks and lodges, and the wildlife that can be seen there. It is a fairly random selection of spots around the world that I just happened to 'get around to'. They formed the basis of this website when it was originally constructed as information on where to go to see wildlife (before it morphed into the current 'field guide to the world's ecosystems' format). Rather than throw all that work and those pages out, I have kept them here in the 'back of the website'. So it is not complete, and just a selection of spots, and much of it is a few years old now. It has been cut and pasted from these older pages, and the images of the plants and animals that were originally with the text have all been transferred to the different ecosystems that you can access on the main navigation column on the left.
This is the last continent most people visit. It is the most remote, coldest and unspoiled place on Earth. It is great for penguins, wildlife spectacles, and beautful scenery.
I have worked in Antarctica as a lecturer and guide, visiting the Peninsula on an expedition ship, as well as two seasons in the different sub-Antarctic islands.
This is a huge area comprising it's own continent. The most accessible part of Antarctica is the Antarctic Peninsula.
There are many sub-Antarctic islands to visit on the way to Antarctica, including South Georgia and the Falklands/Malvinas off South America, Tristan de Cunha in the mid-Atlantic, Macquarie Island off Australia, Auckland Island, and Campbell Island off New Zealand.
differences between Antarctica and the Arctic. Many people who visit the polar areas often compare the two. They are quite different.
Where the Arctic is a sea (often frozen) surrounded by a lot of land, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by water, the Southern Ocean. In many parts of the Arctic and the areas to the south, humans still hunt, kill and eat animals, including seals, whales and dolphins. The regions where this still occurs include Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and the Faroe Islands (off the U.K.). In contrast, there are strict rules about interacting with wildlife in Antarctica, and animals on the continent are protected. This obviously has different effects on the abundance of animals, and the behaviour of wildlife. In the Arctic, animals are much shyer and harder to observe, while wildlife is usually easy to see around Antarctica.
While the Arctic is a colder extension of the Holarctic biogeographical region, the Antarctic continent has been isolated for a long time. Thus, while the Arctic is home to flowers and songbirds, the southern continent does not have any. Because it encircles the bottom of the planet, there are various ports from which to depart for Antarctic trips, including the southern parts of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. However, most people leave from Ushuaia in Argentina and head to the Antarctic peninsula.
Antarctica does not have a high diversity of wildlife, as it generally lacks most of the basic groups, such as flowering plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, songbirds, and land mammals. Thus, you have a good chance of seeing most species that are there in one or two trips. And because the same species are widespread, they can be seen no matter what part you visit. There are various species of seals to be seen, from both of the main groups of 'true seals' and 'eared seals'.
There are several species of cetacean to be observed.
I have enjoyed several short stints in Argentina, usually just before or after working on a ship.
The largest city Buenos Aires ("BA") is a fun place, with nice architecture and of course nice restaurants. One of the most spectacular places in the country is Iguazu Falls. If you are after penguins and sea mammals, the Malvinas/Falkland Islands are an amazing stop. In the south is the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Ushuaia is at the end of the road in Argentina. It is probably best known as the place most people start their Antarctic trips. If you have time, or a southern ocean trip returns early, then there are things to do around Ushuaia. One of the most interesting places is the Malvinas/Falkland Islands memorial. Just outside of town is the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
I had the chance to visit Bangladesh a few times in early 2019. As I was working on an expedition ship, we only visited islands and the coastal lowlands. With a population of some 160 million, Bangladesh is the 8th most populated country in the world . It is also the 7th most densely populated country on Earth. The most famous part of Bangladesh for wildlife is the Sundarbans. This is the largest area of mangroves on the planet.
Brazil is probably the most biologically diverse country on the planet. It has the biggest rainforest in the world. It has the biggest freshwater wetland in the world. What else do you want? If you are a biologist, naturalist or wildlife enthusiast, you just gotta go. I travelled Brazil for a month in 2014.
The main language in Brazil is Portuguese. Yea, so you have learnt all that espanol for travelling around the tropical Americas. Not much good here. Some of the written stuff is similar to Spanish, but the pronunciation is very different. No rolling 'rrrr's' here. I managed to bumble around with minimal language, and these days you can have some handy language apps on your smart phone just in case you are stuck.
If you are used to the cheapness of tropical travel elsewhere, particularly south-east Asia, Brazil comes as a bit of a shock, as it is not as cheap. The cheaper options, such as backpackers accommodations, are not always good. And the more popular places, such as Rio and the Amazon, are pricier. So you end up spending more money than you probably planed. The currency is the real (although being that in Portuguese nothing is pronounced as written, so it sounds like more like 'nngeal'... or something).
There are some famous spots that are worth visiting, and lesser known areas that need to be explored. The capital is Brasilia, but the most famous city is Rio de Janeiro. This is one of the prettiest cities in the world, with some good natural areas, including Sugar Loaf and the Rio Botanical Gardens.
The most famous natural area in South America is of course the Amazon. Most of the Amazon is contained within the country of Brazil. There are various options for accommodations and tours here. Many tourists go via the larger city of Manaus, near the Rio Negro. When there I stayed at Antonio's Jungle Lodge. One of the most spectacular spots in Brazil is Iguassu Falls. The falls themselves are great, but the surrounding rainforest is beautiful. By far the best wildlife experience in Brazil, and one of the best in the world, is the Pantanal. It has incredible birdwatching, and other great animals and plants, and good lodges. I stayed at two lodges, including the Hotel Pantanal Mato Grosso and Pousa Alegre.
The second biggest country in the world has a lot of wilderness areas. I was lucky enough to see some very scenic parts of Canada while a member of the expedition team with Silversea in the northern summer of 2019. While on board I gave my lecture: "An introduction to Canada; The land of Canucks, Chinooks, and Captain Kirk - and the second greatest country in North America!"
Canada geographically dominates North America, as it is bigger than the U.S.A. In fact, at almost 10 million square kilometres, it is the second largest country in the world. The population is relatively low, with less than 36 million people. Most people live in the south, not too far from the U.S.A. border.
Some of the land, such as Alberta, is famous for the fossils of dinosaurs, including the largest Tyrannosaurus skeleton ever found. Canada also has the oldest fossils of multi-cellular animals in the world. Elsewhere, the land is among the oldest rock in the world. In 1999, the oldest known rock on Earth was dated to 4.031 billion years, in north-western Canada.
It is estimated Canada has over 2 million lakes. In fact, there are more areas of lake in Canada than every other country in the world combined. In the Arctic north the land is dominated by Tundra, but much of the rest of the country is covered in forest, including various Conifers and of course Acer. Various species of these Maple are found in Canada, and are a symbol of the country, including of course on the red and white flag.
It has the longest coastline of any country in the world. And it has the largest recorded tides of any place in the world - 16.3 metres at the Bay of Fundy. And it is one of the best places in the world to see the 'northern lights', the aurora borealis.
In Autumn (or known in North America as Fall), the leaves start to lose their green colour producing chlorophyll, and the other anthocyanin and carotenoid pigments are revealed in the weeks before the leaves go brown, die and fall off. During this time of the year, the forests turn various reds and oranges, and the tourism to appreciate this is known as 'leaf peeping'. There are other interesting plants, such as the Purple Pitcher Plant. This is not related at all to the Asian Nepenthes Pitcher Plants, but they look quite similar.
Because of the large expanse of wild areas with low population, the north retains examples of megafauna. The most famous are the Polar Bears.
The fjords of northern Canada are good for Arctic cetaceans, such as Narwhal and Beluga; although keep in mind views of these marine animals are often just splashes and lumps in the water. Torngat Mountains National Park has incredible scenery and hosts wildlife. Bonaventure Island hosts one of the biggest Gannet breeding colonies in the world.
Many cities in Canada are easily reached by international flight. You can also easily cross the border from the U.S.A. Access to the more remote northern parts of the country are trickier. Expedition ships regularly explore the top end of the country, including up into the Arctic.
In the 1990's I backpacked through the natural areas of North, Central and South America. During that time, I spent a month in Costa Rica. As this was almost 20 years ago (!), I can only write generally about the nature and wlldlife options there.
Costa Rica is a small country in central America, located between Nicaragua (to the north) and Panama (to the south). Its name means 'rich coast' and indeed one side of the country has the Caribbean (in the Atlantic Ocean), the other faces the Pacific. It often tops list as one of the 'greenest' countries in the world. Amazingly for a country in Latin America, it abolished its military in 1949.
This is a fantastic country to explore neotropical rainforest. It is relatively safe (no military!). Due to the influence of the USA, English is widely spoken. And they have a great national park system. National park entry fees and permits, and tours, etc are more expensive than in most other parts of South & Central America, but they are usually worth it.
The great thing about Costa Rica is its range of habitats and associated wildlife in such a small area. They have an amazing range of ecosystems within a small country, from highland to lowland rainforest, from dry monsoon forest to coral reefs. The corresponding animals and plants in this range of ecosystems is so high that Costa Rica is often said to have the highest diversity per area of any country in the world (although this is a hard claim to prove). Another factor in this diversity is the fact that it is situated in Central America and thus the plants and animals are a mix of Nearctic (from North America) and Neotropical (from South America).
Corcovado National Park is located in the south west. It is the largest national park. When I visited there over a decade and a half ago, it required hiking in a fair way to get access to a fairly basic research station. I understand this is still the case. This is great, as it really means the area is unspoiled. During the day I saw tent-making bats under leaves and agouti/paca and peccary on the forest floor, and toucans in the canopy. At night I spotlighted tapir.
In the north-west is Santa Rosa National Park. This park is 'dry' rainforest, or savanna, with trees such as thorny Acacias. Here I have sees a mixture of neotropical (South American) animals (such as army ants), and Nearctic (North American) animals (skunk, white-tailed deer, etc)
I have travelled on every continent, and been to countries considered dangerous or dodgy, but I found England, particularly London, the worst place for high prices (taxis), overrated sites (the museum and zoo) and scams (particularly internet piracy and credit card scams). Like much of the rest of Europe, prices are very high in England. Also, if you suffer from hayfever, you will find the native plants and introduced city trees very bad in spring in London. However, the cafes and eateries in the city are pleasant, and there are some nice places on the more remote coasts. While in London, you can chase squirrels (introduced, though), and some of the more common birds in Hyde and Regents Parks.
Despite the population pressures, India has an array of amazing national parks and hosts a high diversity of plants and animals.
I first visited India two decades ago, travelling around this country for two months. I took a few photographs which I have since used in lectures, although they are crusty old pre-digital 'film' shots. Uck. As usual, I tried to survey a range of different habitats. I have returned to the country for a number of shorter visits in 2018 & 2019.
Travelling around India is both a pleasure and a challenge. First of all, it is very cheap; to get around, to eat, and accommodation is generally very good value. It is a big country, with a huge population, and the accompanying congestion, so travel takes time. It is a pretty 'full on' experience, with crowds, and if you are a single westerner, you will be the object of attention. In the middle of my 'holiday' I had to take another 'holiday' in Nepal to have a rest from India.
Being such a large country, it is often referred to as a 'sub-continent'. There is a diversity of different ecosystems, and it is worth travelling to different parts of the country to see the different habitats. India boasts mountains, desert, woodlands, rainforest and mangroves.
There are several areas worth visiting from a natural history point of view. India is in some ways the 'Africa of Asia', with less rainforest than south-east Asia, more open woodlands and grasslands, and thus larger animals. This is the best country in Asia to see megafauna such as elephant, deer and tiger.
First, my favourite spot was Periyar National Park, in the south. This is a valley that has bee flooded into a dam. It is surrounded by tropical rainforest. There was a hide available to stay in overnight, and here I was lucky to watch elephants, gaur and sunbirds. In central India is Kanha National Park. You can drive around this park to try and find tigers (which I did), there are also elephants, deer, dhole, monkey, etc. In the north, just outside New Delhi is the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. Even though this small wetland is surrounded by humans, and has a huge amount of people visiting, it is (or was when I was there), chock full of birds, including many ducks and kingfishers, as well as reptiles such as pythons. In the north-west there is a massive area of mangroves known as the Sundarbans that is shared with the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.
I have a lecture on India called: "Introducing India” by Damon Ramsey – It's big and noisy and in your face. It's India.
My first big overseas trip, some 30 years ago (more than a quarter of century!), was backpacking through south-east Asia, especially Indonesia. I have returned to many parts of this huge country for work and travel since.
Travelling through Indonesia is both easy and hard. There is a distinct 'backpacker' trail through the country. Transport, food and accommodation is very cheap. And there are some great natural and cultural sites...
However, if you are travelling by yourself you will get approached, talked to and hassled a lot (although this does seem to have reduced in the last few decades). For the nature enthusiast who wants to do some birding, getting immersed in nature can be a challenge with so many people and noise around. Also, as a fairly poor country, much of the wildlife is hunted, caught, traded and eaten, so subsquently the observant naturalist will definitely notice wildlife is much shyer and harder to see than in similar situations in nearby Malaysia.
Indonesia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. It is one of the few countries, (along with Mexico and China), that is spread across two different biological zones. In the west, (Sumatra, Borneo), it is in the biogeographical area known as the 'Oriental region'. In the east (western New Guinea), it is within the 'Australasian region'. In the west there are monkeys and hornbills, in the east there are possums and cockatoos. And in between, there is a transition zone (Sulawesi and other islands), known as 'Wallacea'.
In the north it comprises much of the island of Borneo. Indonesia claims the largest part of this island, with the province of Kalimantan. In the south is the famous Borneo Orangutan research station of Camp Leakey, inside Tanjung Puting National Park. Off the big island of Borneo is the tiny but fascinating 'jellyfish lake' island of Kakaban. The bizarrely shaped Sulawesi has many endemic birds and mammals. In Tangkoko National Park you can find Tarsier and Celebes Black Macaque. In the west the island of Sumatra stretches along the Malayan peninsula. In the north you can find Sumatran Orangutans and monkeys at Bukit Lawang. The island of Java is more or less central, both geographically and politically, with the capital of Jakarta. In between Sumatra and Java is the famous volcanic island of Krakatoa. Java has more volcanoes per square centimetre than anywhere else on Earth. Here, you walk across an ash plain and up the slopes of a volcano called Gunung Bromo. East of Java is Bali. This islands is famous as a holiday party spot, so you have to get away from the city of Denpasar (where the main airport for Bali is located) and the bigger towns to enjoy the nature. On this island is the seasonal forest and coral reefs of Bali Barat National Park, the place to see the Bali Starling. The next island east is Lombok, where it starts to get drier. Keep traveling east and you will get to the famous island of Komodo and Rinca Island, with their dragons. And with its deep water (and thus currents), and drier monsoon climate, (and thus less run-off), the snorkelling can be very good here, too, such as on Pink Beach. In this region and Sulawesi there are lots of Wallacean endemics. Some of these can be found on the smaller islands such as Satonda Island.
The islands of Indonesia stretch across the Indo-Pacific to the include the western half of the island of New Guinea, an area known as Papua, which comprises the two official Indonesian provinces of West Papua (the bird's head and Rajah Ampat islands) and Papua (the rest of western New Guinea, including the city of Jayapura and central highlands). One of the most spectacular areas for scenery and isolation, and known for it's marine biological diversity, are the Rajah Ampat islands, including Misool. Within this area, it is possible to see the 'Red Bird of Paradise' on Gam Island. (Some other wildlife and nature sites of this amazing island are covered in the Papua New Guinea section of this website). Whale Sharks in clear water can be seen at Cenderawasih Bay.
A country of fairly limited wildlife potential. I visited this country of islands several times n 2018, with Silversea expeditions. The Maldives have a very 'southern Asian' mixed with Middle Eastern feel. As is typical of southern Asia, there never seems to be any women around in public areas. The country is mostly dry, with drinking of alcohol restricted to the private resorts. The terrestrial wildlife is limited in abundance and diversity. The coral reefs have seen better days.
So, in summary, no women, no booze, and limited wildlife!
The scenery is nice, as there are many beautiful islands and beaches. There are a few good snorkelling and SCUBA diving spots. However, this is one of the few countries on this website that I do not particularly recommend.
As most of the islands are small and low in altitude, (the Maldives is often reported to be the lowest country in the world), there is very little endemic land wildlife. One of the few exceptions are those mammals that can fly, the bats.
Underwater, the Maldives used to be considered a fantastic place for SCUBA diving and snorkeling. Unfortunately, much of the coral appears dead; this may be due to (either of both) constant monsoon winds or excessive coral bleaching. The best coral seems to be associated with the resorts, as ‘home reefs’.
Oh, but Rogue One was filmed there: so that's cool. (As opposed to being filmed in a toilet, like The Last Jedi).
When I first visited Africa in the 1990's, Mozambique was not considered as a place to travel, but things have changed, for the better. I had the chance to just spend a few days here in late 2018 in a few different spots, via the expedition ship Silver Discoverer.
The country of Mozambique was a Portuguese colony for many centuries. They gained independence in the mid 1970's, but suffered from civil war for the following two decades. Since the mid 1990's, the country has been somewhat more stable. The capital of Mozambique is Maputo.
The coast of Mozambique is interesting and attractive. Not only does it have beautiful blue water, but also evocative colonial ruins from the days when trading was common between Europe and Asia via the middle east and African coast.
But of course this website ain't about human Earthlings and their culture, it is about wildlife! While walkng around, even in towns, there is always wildlife to be seen. Including Straw-coloured Fruit Bats, Mangrove Kingfishers and Bee-eaters.
I was not aiming to go to New Zealand so early in my working life, due to its low diversity of terrestrial animals, and thinking I would save it as a destination for when I was 'old', due to its safety and closeness to Australia. However, because of my biology training and experience taking nature and wildlife tours, I was employed to take various groups to New Zealand, including some zoo and education programmes in the 1990's, and have been gone there every year during the summer for the last ten years on various ships (Millenium, Mercury, Oceanic Princess/Discoverer, Orion, Caledonian Sky and Silver Discoverer).
New Zealand is a very safe country, with a forward thinking and progressive people that seem to take every opportunity in a very fortunate country. Unlike Australia, where most small country towns and urban areas has a certain sameness, many of the major towns in New Zealand have a different orgin, history and feel; Dunedin, Akaroa, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Wellington, Napier, Gisborne, Rotorua, Auckland, are all interesting places in their own right. Best of all, in most places in New Zealand, you can great coffee!
The land fauna is extremely poor, with much cleared land, and as the biologist or naturalist will notice as they travel, there are no native mammals to be seen, and most of the birds seen inland are introduced species.
However, it has a biologically rich and beautifully varied coastline, with some of the highest diversity of marine mammals and sea birds in the world. Additionally, what is left of the land-based rainforest birds tends to only be common on islands and remote coasts.
Thus nature based travel in New Zealand is probably best appeciated by doing coastal and sea based travelling, either driving in a car and taking short boat trips or flying to islands, or even better, being on a ship.
There is a catch, however. The weather and sea conditions around New Zealand can be very rough, affecting even big ships. I've done a number of trips with ships up and down the coasts of both main islands, and I have experienced bad weather at every single region at some time. There is also big trade off with ship size. I have travelled the coast in four different sized ships; the bigger cruise ships are much more stable, but it so much harder to see wildlife. And while you see more on the smaller expedition ships, they become very uncomfortable during rough weather. So the best trips are probably on the 'average' expedition size; those ships about 100 metres in length with 100 or so passengers.
There are various places in New Zealand to check out. The largest wilderness area of New Zealand is in the extreme south west, the remote and rugged Fiordland. You can go under the water at the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory.
In the middle of the country are the Marlborough Sounds, a nice mix of elements from the warmer temperate forest in the north and the cooler forest of the south. If you want to see hundreds of Australasian Gannets close up, Cape Kidnappers (outside of Napier) allows observation and photography of these amazing birds.
For land birds, one of the best places to see now rare native species in their native forest habitat is Ulva Island, off Stewart Island.
For marine wildlife, such as albatross and dolphins & whales the best place is Kaikoura. Even better for wildlife are the remote New Zealand subantarctic islands, such as the Snares, Campbelland Auckland Islands.
There is much spectacular scenery along the coast, with varied geological scenery. One of the most symmetrical volcanoes in the world is Taranaki in Mt. Egmont national park. If you want to land on a live volcanic island, it doesn't get more spectacular than White Island.
I have worked as a guide, lecturer and boat driver with 4 different expedition companies in New Guinea, including Papua New Guinea, starting from about 2006.
New Guinea is the third largest island in the world, or second if you don't consider Australia as an island. It is the largest island found wholly within the tropics.
New Guinea and Australia are part of the same continental shelf, which has huge implications for the flora and fauna for both regions. During times of ice age, when sea levels are lower, the land masses are connected, which allows constant interchange. The result is a shared fauna and flora between the savanna and rainforest habitats of both land masses. But there are some huge and basic differences. As New Guinea is created from activity on the edge of the plates, it has many mountains, with many of these being much taller than anything in the generally flatter Australia. And these mountains, and much of the land and rivers, is therefore relatively new.
Historically, the island of New Guinea has been ruled by various nations, including Germany, Holland and Australia. Today, politically, the island of New Guinea is split in half between two different countries. The eastern half is independent Papua New Guinea (PNG for short). The western half is part of Indonesia. This was once known as Irian Jaya, but it is now called Papua, and is made up of two provinces, Papua and West Papua (all a bit confusing with so many overlapping and similar terms).
Papua New Guinea is the country that comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. Papua New Guinea was an Australian colony (a colony of a former colony!) until 1975. Therefore there are still many connections between PNG and Australia, particularly Queensland, and including flights. However, it is quite different from Australia. Because of the dynamics between tribal groups and the very different social rules, westerners consider their political system corrupt. For a traveller, general day to day operations take a long while. Despite it's natural wealth (rich soils, high rainfall and valuable minerals), it is a poorly developed country, with limited transport and infrastucture. But, unlike many other developing countries in Asia, it doesn't have the advantage of being cheap to travel around. Therefore, unfortunately, it is an expensive and difficult country to explore independently.
One of the factors that has contributed to it's very different social system, (but also makes it an appealing from a cultural tourism point of view), is the long isolation of the region. This makes the country retain it's cultural richness more than most others in the Pacific that have been 'watered' down by increasing western influence and globalization. Even today, there are more languages here than in any other similar size area in the world. Village "Sing-sings", or cultural displays through song and dance, are still common, and vary immensely from one island to another.
Travel around New Guinea can be a challenge. Although it is perhaps not quite as dangerous as most Australian probably think, due to reports in the media, you have to be careful, especially in larger settlements. And even though this is a developing country, the costs for a traveller are not as cheap as they are in most countries in neighbouring south-east Asia. Therefore, many people opt to go on organized land tours, or on cruise or expedition ships (see below under 'who to go with...')
There are several interesting places to explore in Papua New Guinea.
I think my favourite spot so far is the Sepik River, if you can do an overnight stop (not just a 'day visit'). The Sepik river is unusual in New Guinea, as it is realtively flat floodplain, wheareas most of the rest of the island is typically mountainous.
The Bismarcks, the islands of New Britian and New Ireland offer very steep bright green rainforest slopes right along the edge of blue water. Much of the island of New Guinea is volcanically active, and one of the most exciting places to visit if you are geologically inclined, is Rabaul Harbour, the biggest port in the Bismarcks. There is great coral reefs and snorkelling to be had throughout the Bismarcks, as well as the south coast outside Tufi Fiords, and on remote islands, such as Tuam.
Off the north coast of Papua New Guinea is a little known island known as Alim. This has a great colony of Red-footed Boobies and White Terns. If you are in the town of Alotau, the capital of the Milne Bay province and a common entry point, there is an interesting little tour you can take to Damewewe Caves where you see the bats and giant spiders. Also in the south east are the D'Entrecaustax islands, including the Dei Dei Hot Springs on Ferguson Island.
There are a few tour companies that do Papua New Guinea. One of the nicest, safest and most efficient ways to explore some of the country, if you have the money, is by expedition ships, including Coral Princess Cruises, Silver Sea and Noble Caledonia. I have worked for all of these companies in New Guinea. However, while they have snorkel set ups and occasional nature walks and zodiac cruises, they are not specifically focused on seeing loads of wildlife. For birders, North Queensland based Phil Gregory conducts tours there every year with his company Sicklebill Safaris
The more remote coasts of Scotland, (and Ireland and England) are great for seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, petrels, and all their breeding colonies. It is also one of the most likely places to see the second biggest fish in the world, the Basking Shark. One of my favourite spots is the remote St.Kilda Islands.
I have visited South Africa several times. The first time was part of two months travel in southern Africa. I had the opportunity to go there when the flight prices came down, due to the lifting of apartheid. (That tells you how long ago it was!). The most recent visit was in March/April 2018 and December 2018.
South Africa is the continent's most developed country, with the largest economy. However, many things are still very good value for the foreign visitor, especially with the exchange rate of the dollar to the South African rand. The country still has a bad reputation for personal safety, so be careful when in the big cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Compared to most other countries in Africa, there are two distinct advantages. One, the set up is very good, with great facilities (fences that keep the animals out at night! except for bush babies and jackals?). Two, you can hire your own car and go at your own pace, stopping when and where you want.
Durban, Richards Bay and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. This part of the coast is very pretty, and well known for it's cool rich waters and SCUBA diving. Inland, there are various state and private game reserves, including the famous Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
There are other great places to visit. If entering the country via it's southerly centre, Cape Town is a pretty town and is a nice 'rest' from Africa further north. Of course most people visit Table Mountain for the views. On the other side at the base of these mountains is Kistenbosch Botanical Gardens.
While in the region, birders can stay slightly out of town at Avian Leisure. Also in this area is a great place to see African Penguins and other sea birds, called 'the Boulders'.
the Garden route. You can follow the coast east of Cape Town and head through many settlements and parks and enjoy great views along the way. This is known as the Garden Route. Along some parts of this coast is temperate rainforest. The settlements here include Knysna and Nature's Valley where there are beautiful walks and nice accommodation.
Sri Lanka offers some of the easiest bird and wildlife watching in tropical Asia.I explored Sri Lanka in November/December of 2016. One third of the time I was on a private expedition, the other few weeks were spent travelling independently.
Sri Lanka offers the chance to see many different bird and other wildlife species. Wildlife-watching is fairly easy in Sri Lanka. Unlike many other parts of tropical Asia, the animals are not hunted or harassed as much, and thus they do not disappear at first sight. There are also many endemic species, a number of which are relatively easy to see. Even in urban areas, and especially small villages and agricultural areas such as rice paddy fields, many types of birds and reptiles are common. Many clothes and meals are quite cheap (especially the local versions), and accommodation and tours are often good value.
There are a few disadvantages. Occasionally a local person can be competitive, aggressive or pushy. Many of the national parks are regulated and many do not allow private access or walking. Although distances are small, it may take a surprisingly long time to drive from region to another. Whether you are walking or driving you will get sick of the constant and often unnecessary beeping of horns. However, in terms of a nature and wildlife destination, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
There are some 34 species of birds that are found on the island and nowhere else. Some of these are common, and many can be seen with just a small amount of effort. In fact, there are several specialised tour companies with dedicated guides that can make a good effort to find all of these endemics for you in a few weeks. Sri Lanka is also good for reptiles. There are several attractive widespread lizards such as Green Garden Lizards, that are easy to see, and several endemics, such a 'Rhino-horned Lizard'.
Sri Lanka is reasonably easy to travel around. There are hotels of different prices everywhere. There are many transport options, including private cars, trains, buses, and locally there are tuk-tuks. In Colombo, many taxi drivers can arrange private car and tours across the country for very good rates. For $50-100 you can hire your own driver and vehicle to take you across the entire island for as long as you want. There are also more specialised companies that have wildlife focused guides. I used 'Walk with Jith" for a week long package of national parks, and the guides with this company are very knowledgeable about their wildlife and if required, they can focus on locating endemics.
There are many national parks and reserves. The closest wildlife area to the entry point and biggest city of Colombo is Talangama Wetlands; here you can see many freshwater wetland birds and get a great introduction to some of the more common open country birds. The highest altitude area to access is Horton Plains, and this area has a number of montane plants, reptiles and birds, many of which are endemic to Sri Lanka. The most visited area of national parks is in the south-west, where they are explored 'safari-style' in jeeps. They include Yala National Park, including Lunugamvehera , as well as Bundala National Park and Udawalawa National Park. To see many of the other endemic birds you have to spend some time in the rainforest. Most birders head for Sinharaja, but I find this place over-rated and some of the national park staff quite nasty. The other better alternative is Kithugala and the Kelani Reserve. This area offers nice views of the river, and good birding in the more open village, as well as beautiful walks in the national park without having to be baby-sat by a ranger.
I have visited Tonga about half a dozen times with several expedition companies. Being small and remote islands means there is not much land-based wildlife. The only mammals are flying fox. In terms of wildlife watching, Tonga is best known for it's Humpback Whales and the chance to swim with them. The capital is Nuku'alofa and on the island of Tongatapu. On the other side of the island are an impressive line of blowholes. I have visited the volcanic island of Tofua three times but not landed.
I haven't spent much time in Europe, as I like to travel more for nature and wildlife, but I have explored parts of the United Kingdom's more remote coasts as part of the expedition team for Noble Caledonia.
The United Kingdom technically includes the 'countries' of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and so these are treated separately. They collectively recently voted to remain separate from the European Union.
Some of the interesting parts that are technically part of the United Kingdom are some of the furthest flung islands in the world. All of these island groups have rare and/or endemic species to be seen. Considered the most remote inhabited islands is the Tristan da Cunha group. But I think even more remote are the Pitcairn Island group in the South Pacific. Of course one of the most controversial islands are the Falklands, where many species of seabirds, including huge Penguin colonies, can be viewed close up. For even more penguins there is of course South Georgia.
This is where MAD magazine and Star Trek were invented! My experience here was about a month of travelling independently. In terms of national parks and nature, I explored two extremes of the country, California in the west, and Florida in the east. I travelled this area before digital cameras so I don't have much in the way of images.
The U.S.A. is a huge country and therefore has an amazing variety of landscapes, ecosystems and species. The national park system is excellent, as is the interpretation through rangers and books. The state of California is long and varied. It includes coastal desert, high country desert, rainforest, conifer forest, and beaches. On the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you can visit areas where there are huge Northern Elephant Seals lounging about. Also on this coast is the Big Sur National Park, with huge conifers and species such as the Acorn Woodpecker. In the extreme east of the state is Death Valley, which was starkly pretty, but I didn't see a huge range of species. In the nearby state of Arizona is the spectacular Grand Canyon, which is so big it doesn't seem real, and when I was there in the winter, had snow on the edge, and mule deer. On the other side of the country is Florida. Here at the tip of the country is the area called Flamingo, where I spotlighted families of Racoon, and by day saw massive snapping turtles, box tortoises, and manatees.
Thinking of travelling again after everything settles down? The first expedition I am booked to work on after the virus is Micronesia, New Guinea & Indonesia in 2021 with Silversea.