Occasionally, we here at Flocking Around like to offer transparency into our personal lives. Follow along as Zach (the head flocker) provides insight into his wildlife experiences bucket list!
Since I was a small child, my interest in fauna and flora was wildly obvious. If you ask my mama bird, she would tell you my bedtime stories were animal encyclopedias and a young Zach demanded every bit of information, including the Latin name. (I wonder if she can still say Manis crassicaudata or Phataginus tetradactyla to this very day.)
Consider this a bucket list of wildlife-themed activities that I hope to experience before some unforeseen Cassowary takes me out. Seriously, Cassowaries are no joke. They have a "murderous toe" and an army of Ratites (of which Cassowaries belong), once defeated a human army. No joke. Look up the "Emu War."
If you disagree with any of my takes, drop a comment below! Also, let us know in our poll if you have any of these on your list!
And finally, join our flock!
If visiting Yellowstone National Park is on your bucket list, then our guide is a must!
1. Dive with a Great White Shark
The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is one of the top predators cruising the big blue waters found across the globe. It is the third-largest fish and the largest predatory fish (it hunts more than plankton), with few predators of its own. The great white is known for its females reaching over 20 ft in length and weighing up to 5,000 lbs. The great white shark frequents coastal waters, which often puts them in areas that are more accessible to humans. It is a species that has a population considered vulnerable and decreasing.
They reach very great dimensions. There is a report of a whole human corpse being found in the stomach of one of these monsters, which is by no means beyond belief considering their huge fondness for human flesh. They are the nightmare of seamen in all the hot climates, where they constantly follow ships waiting for anything that might fall overboard. A man who has this misfortune inexorably perishes. They have been seen to rush at him like a gudgeon at a worm... Very often, swimmers are killed by them. Sometimes, they lose an arm or a leg, and at other times are cut in two by this insatiable animal. - Pennant, 1776
Why dive with the great white shark? Despite Hollywood's attempts to besmirch this magnificent fish, it is not a mindless monster looking to wreck any beachgoer's attempt at fun-having. Instead, it is a predator that helps to control marine mammal populations and also acts as a scavenger. It is a curious animal that covers thousands of ocean miles annually. It is number one on my list of top 10 wildlife experiences due to its accessibility and pop culture lore!
Where to go great white shark diving?
The two most accessible and reliable locations to dive with great white sharks, though always in cages, are Guadalupe Island and South Africa. The sharks utilize these areas for their concentrated food sources during their annual migrations.
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Links may lead to affiliate sites.
Need a great underwater camera? We filmed our great white shark experience on a GoPro like a GoPro Hero9 Black!
2. Find and Film a Narwhal
The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is often considered the unicorn of the sea due to its singular "horn." However, its scarcity may be a better reason to consider it a unicorn. With a population of only ~123,000 mature individuals and a range mostly restricted to the Arctic Ocean, where sea ice is most prevalent, this whale is as difficult to see as a unicorn. Not to mention its 'horn' is actually a 10 ft long tusk that is a highly modified upper left canine tooth used for sensory and defense.
The narwhal is one of the most unique mammals roaming the planet. It ranks high on my list because of its scarcity, range restriction, and stunning appearance. You will notice a trend in my list. My interest is in the most fantastical creatures. Additionally, finding narwhals requires traversing into lands full of other amazing Arctic-specialty wildlife!
Where to go to find narwhals?
The areas surrounding Baffin Bay are generally accepted as the top areas for finding narwhals, specifically around the edges of the floe (the ice). Where should one begin their search? Start with Baffin Bay and work west into Lancaster Sound, then Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay, or the Pond Inlet. Visiting these areas in spring and fall, during the narwhal's migration, is the best opportunity to catch a glimpse, especially if watching from the edge of the floe. In the summer, it can be more difficult to find these creatures as they can be much further from the shore. Though, they are likely to be in more shallow waters.
3. Sit with a Giant Anteater
Anteaters are highly specialized mammals native to the western hemisphere. Being toothless, anteaters utilize a long, spiny tongue to capture their prey. Giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are a population-vulnerable species of anteater that have tongues that can reach lengths of 24 inches! In addition to tongue spines, anteaters secrete sticky saliva that covers the tongue to aid in capturing ants, termites, and other insects. Additionally, these fascinating creatures do not secrete hydrochloric acid in their stomachs to aid in digestion. They depend upon the formic acid content found within ants to assist in the dissolution!
Sitting with a giant anteater, the largest of the anteaters, might only be possible due to its poor eyesight, lack of fear, and a need for watering holes. Immediately before the rainy season hits, wildlife lovers can find a source of still water, sit and wait, and possibly be passed by a giant anteater on its way to get a drink. Giant anteaters have very few natural predators. If I can spend time in an area where they have not been persecuted by humans, I might benefit from a creature that has little concern for other animals.
World travelers need the top optics. Try Swarovski.
Where to travel to see a giant anteater?
One of the premier locations to see giant anteater is the Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The Pantanal is an ecoregion that contains the world's largest flooded grasslands. Within the Pantanal, giant anteaters can be found in the highest densities in the scrub grasslands. Additionally, the Argentine Chaco can be ideal for finding giant anteaters, as there is lesser disturbance and fewer jaguars.
4. Camp above a Walrus Colony
Pinnipeds, the group of mammals that includes fur seals, sea lions, true seals, and walruses, are creatures adapted for life both in and (somewhat) out of the water. One of the most impressive pinnipeds is the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), a population-vulnerable creature capable of reaching weights over 2,500 lbs!
Walruses typically haul their exceptional girth onto pack ice when resting and sunning. However, when pack ice recedes, some walruses haul out onto shorelines where predators are minimal. Though, few land predators can take down a full-grown walrus. Off the coast of Alaska, this combination of shoreline and season meet, creating an opportunity to camp in somewhat remote conditions, above a walrus haulout. This opportunity has long been on my wildlife radar. It takes some special permitting and prep work but should be worth the extra effort.
Where to find and camp with walruses?
Off the coast of Alaska is the Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary. There are multiple islands to view the walruses. However, Round Island is where an avid wildlife enthusiast can camp and enjoy the grunts, bellows, and strums that can be heard from a tent.
Need a kick@$$ wildlife camera? The fast focus of the Sony RX10 IV is perfect! And as an entry-level camera, it is perfect for everyone!
5. Watch a Snow Leopard
One of the most secretive and rare mammals in the world lives high in the Himalayan and Altay Mountains and the Gobi Desert. The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a vulnerable mammal, with a population of fewer than 4,000 individuals that is decreasing due to human pressures. How do these creatures cope with temperature extremes ranging from 104°F to -40°F? They have enlarged nasal passages that allow warm air to pass into the body and long body hair with dense woolly underfur that can be 5 inches thick!
Of all the big cats, this highly specialized and rare animal is one of the most difficult to access and find. Perhaps the thrill of the chase is what excites me most about seeing this fascinating creature! Of course, traveling to see these amazing mammals will also require passing through fantastical scenery and trying new foods.
Where to watch a snow leopard?
The union territory of Ladakh hosts a significant concentration of snow leopards in Hemis National Park. The Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan is an additional hotspot where finding the snow leopard becomes far more possible.
6. Hunt for an Imperial Woodpecker
The largest woodpecker in the world, the Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) would be quite the sight to see. However, this species is likely extinct, as its native range has been decimated by humans. It required old-growth coniferous forest in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico, but the habitat was over-logged many years ago. The species was first described in 1832 and was considered extinct less than 124 years later.
This wildlife bucket list item is more of a quest than an opportunity. Most adventures on this list are almost guaranteed to end in success. However, this experience is likely to end in failure if success is measured in seeing the Imperial Woodpecker. However, for me, success is in undertaking this quest, not seeing or documenting this likely extinct species.
Where to see an Imperial Woodpecker?
There is no known place to see the Imperial Woodpecker. However, its range is limited to the old-growth pine forest in central and northwestern Mexico. To properly survey this habitat, I would likely need to pursue my quarry from horseback, covering as much ground as possible.
7. See a Giant Squid (or a Colossal Squid)
Pirate tales and stories of yore depict gargantuan sea creatures, with countless tentacles, scuttling the mightiest of ships before still photography could be used to prove these "fish tales." These record-setting invertebrates are known as giant squid (Architeuthis dux). Known for lengths between 40-60 ft and weights of over a ton, these creatures are a mystery to modern science. They are poorly studied, and little is known about their natural history.
One night during World War II a British Admiralty trawler was lying off the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean. One of the crew, A.G. Starkey, was up on deck, alone, late at night fishing, when he saw something in the water. ‘As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb I suddenly realized was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually I realized that I was gazing at almost point-blank range at a huge squid.’ Starkey walked the length of the ship finding the tail at one end and the tentacles at the other. The ship was over one hundred and seventy five feet long. – The Museum of UnNatural Mystery
Young Zach dressed frequently like a pirate and loved swashbuckling tales of the high seas. So, of course, adult Zach wants to live those tales by finding the sea monsters of old. This experience may be underwhelming to many. However, the kid Zach that dwells somewhere deep inside my brain (that life has not crushed) will be elated to witness a giant or colossal squid!
Where to see a giant squid?
The giant squid, like many oceanic creatures, are wide-ranging across the deep seas. The giant squid can usually be found near continental and island slopes from the North Atlantic Ocean. Areas like Newfoundland, Norway, the northern British Isles, and the oceanic islands of the Azores and Madeira to the South Atlantic in southern African waters can increase your probability of a find, but none are a guarantee. In the Pacific Ocean, efforts to see these behemoths are focused around Japan in the North Pacific and New Zealand and Australia in the southwestern Pacific.
Seeing serious wildlife requires serious glass. Get a scope. Our favorite mid-tier is the Vortex Viper HD!
8. Photograph a Pangolin
Pangolins are a critically endangered group of mammals that combine the armor of armadillos and the body type of anteaters. There are eight species of these wild-looking creatures found throughout Africa and Asia that are often exploited for nutritional, medicinal, and spiritual purposes. There is some evidence that suggests that national and international trade are becoming a larger threat due to the high financial value of pangolins. It is often considered a luxury meat, increasing its value in the poaching world.
Since I was a small child, the pangolin has been my favorite creature. Most people probably assume some bird would hold that place in my heart, but no, the pangolin will forever be my favorite creature. Photographing a wild pangolin would satisfy one of my largest childhood dreams, and inner-child Zach could sleep more peacefully at night. Due to the critically declining populations of the pangolin, this bucket list item may need to be bumped up higher to indicate the urgency of this task!
Where to photograph a pangolin?
There are many species of pangolin in the world, and all are experiencing critical levels of population decline due to human threats. With plummeting populations, pangolins can be challenging to see. However, there are some strongholds for pangolins in southern and western Africa, Sri Lanka, India, and southern Asia. Exact locations are rarely shared about pangolins, as they are the most trafficked species in the world.
9. Film a Platypus and Echidna
The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the echidna, of which there are four (!) species, are two types of monotremes found throughout Australia and Papua New Guinea, and a small extension of range in Indonesia for certain echidnas. The monotremes are an unusual type of mammal that do not give live birth. Instead, these mammals lay EGGS. Yes, eggs. Did you learn something new? Does this information about a weird type of mammal make you distraught?
Filming a platypus munch on an arthropod and an echidna tearing into an ant or termite colony would only be the coolest social media flex ever. And while virtual flexing is NOT the purpose of achieving this list, I cannot deny the warm fuzzies I would get from people enjoying some wicked monotreme videos.
Where to film platypuses and echidnas?
Some of the most stable and dense populations of platypuses occur in Tazmania; however, there is a stable population that was introduced to Kangaroo Island in Australia. There are some populations found throughout western and southern Australia, though they becoming more scarce every year. Echidnas can be found throughout Papua New Guinea and Australia. The Short-beaked Echidna is a stable species in Australia, while the other three echidnas are only in Papua New Guinea and Papua Province (which is Indonesia). Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna 👀👀 is found only in the Cyclops Mountains in extreme northern Papua Province.
10. Visit a Wandering Albatross Colony
If you like bird records, you will love the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans). Why? The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan in the world! These pelagic dragons search the seven seas for cephalopods (squids) for many years (5+) before finally returning to land! Sexual maturity takes almost a decade, so when visiting a nesting colony, the non-juvenile birds can be quite old! In fact, this species can live to almost a century in age!
There are not many birds on this list. However, the few feather friends that I do have the desire to experience are birds that hit the extremes. Largest woodpecker. Longest wingspan. The birds with these extreme adaptations for survival bring me the greatest joy!
Where to see a Wandering Albatross?
The multiple subspecies of Wandering Albatross can be found nesting on secluded islands from the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans further south to the Southern or Antarctic Ocean.
Join Zach in these wildlife experiences
It will take a lifetime, but join this 'flock,' and you will get updates as I begin to check these amazing wildlife experiences off of my bucket list. Sign up for notifications of future posts, and when I update this list with success stories, you will be notified! Thanks for taking a stroll in my daydreams, and I hope you read entirely. It is far more difficult to write about these experiences than to let my mind wander to faraway lands!