We wish we could spend every moment kayaking among the glaciers of Alaska or trekking the savannas of Tanzania.  But since most of us have day jobs that require a different sort of landscape, we plan many weekends around how to make the most of exploring wilderness closer to home.  However, even backyard wilderness adventures need an excellent guide. Here are some skills you can learn to lead your own local safari:

You can train yourself to spot creatures hidden in the forest. Photo by Howard Buffett/WWF-US.

You can train yourself to spot creatures hidden in the forest. Photo by Howard Buffett/WWF-US.

1. Spot animals.

Being the first to spot animals is absolutely imperative to earn bragging rights. Use these quick tips to be the first to find them.

When searching in thick woods, try to scan the tree line for any clearings. Looking for any contrasting colors or shapes and any motion. If you see any motion, determine the direction in which the option is moving and try to look ahead of it; that will make it easier to identify.

2. Dehydrate your own food.

Dehydrated food is light to carry, doesn’t take up much room in a day pack and preserves food at a low-cost. Some foodies invest in dehydrating equipment, but you can also dehydrate food in your conventional or toaster oven. You can enjoy a healthy dry snack on the trail, or add water to create stews for an overnight camping trip.

3. Identify bird calls.

© Ute von Ludwiger/Namibia Tourism Board

The lilac-breasted roller is commonly spotted in sub-Saharan Africa. © Ute von Ludwiger/Namibia Tourism Board

Free podcasts and mobile apps are available to help you learn to identify bird songs for species in your area. Turn the podcasts on during your commute, and in no time, you’ll be an expert. If you really want to step up your guide game, you can practice imitating the bird calls like NHA guide Melissa Scott.

4. Learn how to orienteer.

A compass can help you find your way in places where your smartphone map doesn’t reach. You can also—with the utmost care for the surrounding environment—explore and chart new trails. Many smartphones come loaded with free compass applications. Your local outdoor sporting store may also provide courses.

5. Be a citizen scientist.

Smart phones allow everyone to become a citizen scientist. Check out our list of free apps that allow you to contribute to scientific research as well as learn about the ecosystems around you.