From USA to Japan, where to see interesting and unusual birds and animals around the world on your own DIY wildlife tour.

In celebration of the protection of the world’s magnificent species around Wildlife Conversation Day on December 4, here are a number of spots around the world to witness them in their natural habitats. Whether it’s wild elk in Colorado, or glowing fireflies in Nagano, there are plenty of places to travel to get up close and personal for your own David Attenborough experience on a DIY wildlife tour.


Fireflies in Nagano

Spotting fireflies is a traditional Japanese summer activity that has been experienced for centuries. Humid days and sudden showers coincide with the appearance of this captivating early summer spectacle from early June.

In the Japanese Alps, mountain life has remained relatively unchanged and the unspoilt nature is a fantastic breeding ground for these glowing insects. The annual Hanami Firefly Festival is held in Kemi Firefly Village at the end of June each year, where a local conservation group carefully maintain the waterways where the fireflies live and release the larvae every year.

Fireflies nagano japan

Fireflies. Photo: See Japan

Rabbits in Okunoshima, Setouchi

Best known as Usaga Jima or Rabbit Island, Okunoshima offers a very fluffy experience for travel lovers, with hundreds of wild rabbits that roam the forests and paths. All the rabbits are remarkably tame. The island also has accommodation, beaches and even a small golf course.

Japan - rabbit island

Rabbit Island. Photo: Setouchi Trip

Sacred Deer on Miyajima Beach, Hiroshima

The sacred island of Miyajima off the coast of Hiroshima city is perhaps best-known for the iconic ‘floating shrine’. Visitors to the island will also encounter another of the island’s icons, the sacred deer, which roam the beaches and forests of Miyajima. Though wild, the deer are tame enough to photograph and must be treated with the utmost respect, as local tradition dictates they are the messengers of the gods.

Sika deer in Nara Park — note one making the bowing action japan. Photo: ©Mark-Parren-Taylor

Sika deer in Nara Park — note one making the bowing action. Photo: ©Mark-Parren-Taylor

California, USA

Butterflies in Santa Cruz County

Every autumn, a lively party is thrown at Natural Bridges State Beach, officially welcoming monarchs back to their winter habitat in the eucalytpus grove, the only State Monarch Preserve in California. Starting in early October, the black and orange beauties start trickling in from colder climates to enjoy the moderate coastal climate. Visitors in search of awe-inspiring excursion can join a guided tour of the Monarch Butterfly Grove that take place during the weekends from mid-October to mid-January.

Monarch Butterfly USA

Monarch Butterflies Photo: Friends of SC State Parks

Leopard Sharks in San Diego

Nestled between small sandstone cliffs along the coast, La Jolla Cove is one of the most picturesque spots in San Diego. Leopard sharks can be seen just a few yards from shore nearly year-round and they are harmless to humans. From June to September, thousands of leopard sharks migrate to La Jolla Shores for their mating season and during the rest of the year, some 200 local leopard sharks can still be found. The cove is also a popular spot with seals and sea lions, which can be seen lazing on the rocks and dipping in and out of the ocean.

Leopard sharks congregate each summer off La Jolla Shores san diego. Photo: Birch Aquarium

Leopard sharks congregate each summer off La Jolla Shores. Photo: Birch Aquarium

Eagles in Yosemite Tuolumne County

Travel to Yosemite Tuolumne County to witness majestic bald eagles, one of the most powerful birds in the world. The best time of the year to see bald eagles in California is during the winter; by December, more than 1,000 migrating eagles are spotted throughout the High Sierra in search of foraging grounds and a place to rest for winter. Popular spots to catch nesting eagles are the Don Pedro Reservoir, New Melones Reservoir and Lake Tulloch.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bears in Yosemite Mariposa County

Having reopened after three years of restoration, Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park is home to some of the oldest living trees on earth and the region has inspired legions of naturalists and conservationists from around the world. It is unsurprising then, that you don’t have to stray too far from paved roads to spot a few of its wild inhabitants. Perfect for a DIY wildlife tour!

The endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, Bobcats, American Black Bear’s and Mule Deer’s all call it home. In spring, wildflowers bloom all across the park and with that, hundreds of species of butterflies come to life, including the rare alpine butterfly and Sierra Nevada Parnassian. Yosemite Mariposa County even takes its name after the colourful creatures; mariposa is Spanish for butterfly.

Bear Hug ©-Ashleigh-Scully-Wildlife-Photographer-of-the-Year

Photo: © Ashleigh Scully/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Sea Otters in Morro Bay

Visitors to Morro Bay can see lots of fluffy sea otters – dozens of the adorable animals can be seen floating in the ocean whilst holding their pups to their chest or simply relaxing on dry land. The clever creatures use small rocks as tools to open shellfish for their supper and travellers can listen out for the distinct banging noise. A number of kayak companies in Morro Bay offer trips so visitors can learn everything there is to know about sea otters and their habitat.

Sea otter morro bay california

Sea otter

Seals in Sonoma County

Goat Rock Beach near the mouth of the Russian River is a hot bed for marine life and wildlife. The beach is a regular resting ground for hundreds of elephant seals, harbour seals and sea lions, where they can be seen barking at each other, or basking on the rocks beneath the California sunshine. During the summer months, the seal pups come out to play and attract visitors to see their mischievous behaviour. This picturesque area of the northern California coast is also home to sea otters and a number of bird species.

Sea Birds in Huntington Beach

A remarkable destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve represents the culmination of a decades-long effort by activists who battled to protect this wetlands ecosystem from development. After years of restoration work, you can now walk on five miles of trails and spot up to 200 species of both resident birds and transient species that use the wetlands as a critical stopover while migrating along the Pacific Flyway.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Further afield in the USA

Wild Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Colorado is home to four national parks, one of the most famous of which is the Rocky Mountain National Park. Encompassing 358 square miles, visitors can explore the park by bike, go fishing in one of the many lakes, or camp out beneath the stars.  Herds of wild elk live in the park and can be seen grazing in the meadows all year round. One of the best times to visit is between May – June when elk calves are born.

A resident herd of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. wildlife tour

A resident herd of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: Matt Inden

Beavers in Portland, Oregon

Smith & Bybee Wetlands Natural Area in North Portland is a 205-acre preserve, the largest protected wetlands to exist within a US city. Travellers can take the Interlakes Trail or go by boat to explore one of America’s largest urban wetlands, where they’ll find a number of mammals and birds including beavers, the Oregon state animal. Beavers are nocturnal but can occasionally be spotted alongside streams and rivers in the area during the day.

Elsewhere in the World

Marine life on The Islands of Tahiti, French Polynesia

Tahitians tattoo themselves with images of rays, turtles, sharks and whales, telling a story of people defined by the sea.  Those who dive in the crystal clear waters will understand why – over 1,000 species of marine life can be found, including clown fish, sharks and awe-inspiring humpback whales. The whales are best seen during July – November when they migrate from the Antarctic for the warm Pacific Ocean.

Marine life Tahiti

Marine life Tahiti

So plan your own DIY wildlife tour – it can be one of the most rewarding experiences travel can offer.

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