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See the world’s natural wonders in real time without leaving your house

Luckily for those of us experiencing wanderlust while on lockdown, webcams can act as live portals to natural vistas far grander than those offered up by our windows. We round up some of the best.

Published 2 Apr 2020, 10:00 BST
Live webcams set up in some of Africa's most diverse game reserves serve as a welcome ...

Live webcams set up in some of Africa's most diverse game reserves serve as a welcome window onto the natural kingdom during the current lockdown. Here, elephants gather at a watering hole in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Photograph by Getty Images

Northern Lights

Look up at the sky in the UK and, even on the clearest of nights, you’ll be lucky to spot a handful of planets and stars. But at more northerly latitudes, the skies may be dancing with emerald and violet lights. Why not check in on the view in Sweden or sub-Arctic Canada? A comprehensive list of links to live aurora webcams can be found on the See the Aurora website. There are even cameras in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere angled towards the elusive Aurora Australis (Southern Lights).

While the months of December-March typically offer the clearest skies, the Kp-index (an indicator of geomagnetic activity) can tell you when there’s likely to be a good show on the way at any time of the year.

For more on the Northern Lights, read about an astronomy course undertaken in frozen wilds of Churchill, Canada here.

African bush

Spotting big cats and other megafauna as you bump across the savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa in an open-top Jeep is the stuff of bucket lists worldwide. While cooped up indoors, why not fling open a window onto a watering hole? Explore offers a range of wildlife-focused, live-streamed cameras from across the globe, but its collection in African national parks are particularly remarkable. Elephants are never long out of view in Tembe Elephant Park, a reserve in the South African state of KwaZulu-Natal, while gorillas are often seen grazing and slumbering in this particular stretch of vegetation near Tayna Nature Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A number of the live cameras have night vision; the cicadas provide a soothing soundtrack while you wait for animals to emerge.

For a more active experience, tune into a live safari drive, hosted daily by Wild Earth. Every day, a knowledgeable guide and a camera operator head out into the wilderness to bring international viewers all the spills and thrills of a game drive in real time. What’s more, you can sign up to send the guide questions. It’s the next best thing to actually being in the passenger seat.

For more on the sights and sounds of safaris, read about the creatures of Botswana’s Okavango Delta here.

Marine ecosystems

There’s little more humbling — or soothing — than focusing your attention on the aquatic kingdom. After all, water covers more than 70% of the planet’s surface and, by some estimates, it’s thought that half the oceans’ species are as yet unknown. Tune into an urban coral reef off the shore of Miami, Florida here (the live stream was set up by Coral Morphologic, which hopes to advocate for the reef’s health via this means of visual engagement). Alternatively, Save the Manatee offers live views of tropical pools in two national parks — also in Florida — where sea cows like to gather during the winter months.

Live feeds aren’t exclusively a passive spectators sport: starting in July, there’s the chance to get involved in an ongoing citizen science project in the wilds of Canada without even leaving your house. Each summer, an underwater camera is lowered into the Churchill River to capture images of 57,000 migrating beluga whales. Help out local researchers in real time by screenshotting and logging the belly markings of any whales you spot.

For more on the impact of climate change on coral reefs, and conservationists’ attempts to mitigate the damage, read about Australia’s Great Barrier Reef here

Nesting birdlife

If the sparrows in your garden or the pigeons on your street have ceased to fill you with wonder, sample the conservation work of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, whose live feed of a wild osprey nest has been key to raising awareness of its ongoing work in Loch of the Lowes .These large, endangered, fish-eating raptors arrive from Africa in March and are summer residents in the north of the UK, where there are thought to be no more than 250 breeding pairs. For more of a window into the mysterious lives of birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a range of live feeds, including of petrels on Nonsuch Island in Bermuda. Meanwhile, those feeds collated by The Wildlife Trusts include views of puffins on the Channel Islands’ Burhou. Observing birds at close quarters is tricky at the best of times, so these cameras don’t simply replicate the experience of travel — instead, they serve up a wholly unique perspective.

For more on birding, read about one writer’s search for Costa Rica’s elusive quetzal, whose 3ft-long iridescent tail feathers were used in the headdresses of the ancient Mayans, here

Iconic landscapes

Famous 20th-century photographer Ansel Adams said of California’s Yosemite National Park: “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” For those of us yearning for the great outdoors during lockdown, flick over to the park’s website, where webcams are trained on some of its most iconic, soul-quietening vistas (including those immortalised by Adams’s photography). Watch clouds snag and pool around the El Capitan rock formation or listen to the hiss of crashing water at Yosemite Falls, one of the world’s tallest cascades.

There’s also the chance to view the monumental stone moai on Easter Island, with a live feed showing a stretch of shore on the remote Chilean isle.

For vistas a little closer to home (although no less out of reach for most of us during lockdown), tune into this live cam of Loch Ness, which was set up to maximise chances of spotting the legendary Nessie.

For more on the iconic landscapes and ancient culture of Easter Island, read about the Pacific outpost here

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