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Top Tips for Exploring your Local National Park

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

By Seamus Doherty

You can find thousands of national parks all over the Southern Hemisphere. These regions serve as important conservation areas for different plants and animals to thrive and live in. These regions often also serve as high biodiversity hot spots useful for finding lots of great wildlife to find and photograph.

Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park, Flinders Ranges, South Australia

One such place is the majestic Flinders Ranges in South Australia. During my brief time exploring this serene region, I encountered many different plants and animals by simply exploring the different park trails. But what tips did I use to achieve this?

Tip 1. Take your time

Too often do I encounter people in a rush to finish their walk as quickly as possible. Stop. Look and listen around you; there is so much to see. Be that a well-camouflaged grasshopper on the trail, an onlooking bird perched in a tree, or a budding flower just beginning to sprout out of the ground. I guarantee you will find something that you would have otherwise missed if you weren't paying attention.

As a bonus, being quieter when walking helps to disturb less wildlife, increasing your chances of seeing even more! This tip even applies for exploring your own backyard.

A Meadow Argus (Junonia villida) butterfly found camouflaged on the ground.

Tip 2. See through the eyes of others

Maybe you often go for a walk but don't ever seem to see much. Maybe the area you are walking through doesn't have a lot of vegetation, or maybe you're restricted to searching your backyard for things to photograph. Well, it may seem silly, but try to think through the eyes of the widlife and plants around you. What I mean by this is, try to search for places and areas where you wouldn't normally think to look. Maybe that place is under a rock or some bark, under a pot plant, or on a fence. I'm sure if you can adopt this way of thinking, you will quickly find plenty of life in the most obscure of places.

I would like to also note here that you should always be careful and respectful when exploring new areas, especially when you are in a national park. Stay safe and minimise your disturbance to the environment as much as you can.

A curious-looking moth found hiding under a rock.

Tip 3. Know what you're looking for

Often when exploring a new area, it is easy to be distracted by the multitude of different stimuli around you, and in turn, this can make it really hard to find things to photograph. But knowing what to look for can often help you see more. Change your focus from not just what is in front of you, but to the spots to the side of you, under you, or above you. Even better, often by doing a little research on the particular animal or group of plants you are trying to look for, you can really start to focus your attention solely on the locations where you are most likely to find them. Looking for some beetles? Instead of always looking at the ground, have you tried looking at the base of a tree, or within the petals of some flowers? Its often not that hard when you know what you are looking for.

As a bonus tip, you may find it useful to visit the same spot but at a different time of the day, night, or even year. Lots of different wildlife, insects, fungi, and even plants are hard to find during the middle of the day, so try taking a look in the early morning, or even at night if it is safe to do so.

A young Euro (Macropus robustus erubescens), typically found in rocky outcrop areas.

A skink. These guys are often found sunbathing on rocks or even logs like this one.

Tip 4. Always be ready

This tip is less of a clue for finding more wildlife, and more for the instances where you are looking for things to photograph, but you just aren't quick enough to snap a shot. I can't tell you the number of times that I have spent hours upon hours looking for something to photograph, only to miss my shot as they run away, all because I wasn't ready with my camera. This applies to all people who carry either a dedicated camera or smartphone for taking photos. Always keep your camera turned on (or at least most of the time), with your finger on the trigger ready to go at any moment's notice. Thank me later when you finally capture that once in a life-time shot.

A Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) that I captured very quickly passing by.

As a bonus tip for the amateur photographers reading this who use a DLSR or mirrorless camera, make sure you always have the right settings dialed in as much as you can BEFORE you encounter any wildlife. You do not want to be fumbling around in the menu of your camera when the opportunity finally presents itself.

So go out there, have fun, and try some of these tips. Don't be discouraged if you don't always find something interesting to photograph. The worst outcome you could ever have is that you took some time out of your day to take a walk.

Bonus pictures from my trip:

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