One of the best things about eco-travel is the way in which it allows the traveller to get in touch with nature. Exposing oneself to little disturbed natural environments where nature is still doing 'its thing' is literally awe-inspiring. But in order to create as little negative impact as possible it is important to choose your spots carefully and to go with a knowledgable guide who can not only help you see the often well disguised wildlife, but also will be able to help you better understand what you see and learn to put 'the bigger picture' together.
Before you go it is important to familiarize yourself with the area you intend to visit if you want to maximize your chances of watching wildlife. Every species has their season and cycles, as does every ecosystem. These seasonal changes determine the behavioural patterns of certain animals - fruiting trees supply nurishment to birds and monkeys, while seasonally inundated areas change the watering holes and daily routes of certain animals when they come to drink. Animals, birds and plants form ecological communities, and being able to recognize a certain terrain or plant species will give you a clue as to what animals may also be found nearby. To maximize your viewing opportunities, try to plan an itinerary that visits many different types of habitats and elevations.
There are two basic approaches to wildlife or bird watching - either you choose a location and see what is there or you plan in advance what you like to see and choose your destination accordingly. The first option is more rewarding as you won't be disappointed if your aim of spotting that one particular bird or mammal are unfulfilled. However, familiarity with the territory and the potential wildlife one might encounter certainly helps you to make the most of your wildlife viewing time.
Some people enjoy ticking species off a list - there is merit in this approach, if nothing else, for the sake of keeping track of disappearing species - or their recovery in protected areas. It is a way of keeping a record of our biodiversity - albeit it is a little limited in its approach, since it usually only focuses on the sought after birds or animals - a more general, holistic account that pays attention to insects and plants as well might provide many more clues.
My personal approach has always been one of atonement - rather than going into the forest with a particular aim or goal in mind, I try to blend in - listen to the noises around me, to the trees, insects, birds or whatever else might come my way. I find that if I am very still and manage to slow time down to the pace of nature, suddenly a whole other universe reveals itself around me. Use your senses - but senisibly. If you are unfamiliar with the territory and its plants and animals learn and listen to your guide before you touch or taste anything. Nature has come up with some surprising defence mechanisms that can really catch you out if you are not aware.
In the rainforest, much of the action takes place far from the forest ground - in the canopy. It is very rewarding to get up there and watch from close quarters, rather than ringing your neck to catch a glimpse of anything that swishes through the tree tops. At certain select localities that are especially geared towards wildlife watchers there are provisions to allow you to get up there (none of which are recommended if you suffer from vertigo). At Monteverde National Park, Costa Rica for example there are 'skywalks' - hanging bridges that are strung through the upper storey of the forest. Many lodges in Ecuador and Peru have built observation towers to make it easier for visitors to come eye to eye with the birds. Adrenaline junkies might prefer a zipline system by which you can 'fly' through the trees. One of my favourite places to watch birds is from the top of a Mayan pyramid. Especially the quieter, lesser known sites are excellent places to watch wildlife and birds.
The single most essential piece of equipment is a good pair of binoculars. If you are really serious, you probably also want to take a spotting scope, although this is rather cumbersome and will make your movements slower and more laborious.
For night viewing a good flashlight is essential. Headlamps are excellent since they keep your hands free while pointing the light to where you are looking.
The humid tropics are known for their wetness. Electronic equipment can react rather moodily to the humidity, not to mention fungi that tries to invade your equipment. A good way to protect it and keep it dry is to pack its case with silicon bags. Always clean your equipment thoroughly at the end of the day. Carry zip lock bags to keep things dry. The most professional gear provides the best protection.
For tips on clothes see the adventure travel info in this section.
And finally - it should not have to be said, but I will say it anyway: Please respect plants animals and humans in their native habitats. Take your garbage out with you, smell, but don't pick the flowers and never frighten or handle animals.