Fun Fall Migrations - A Perfect Family Field Trip
This year, why not make the most of a long weekend by taking the family on a short trip designed to give kids a new, vibrant connection to nature? Everywhere across North America, birds, insects, animals and sea life are repeating their annual rituals of migration, a vital call of the wild that has been enriching life on Earth since long before humans appeared on the scene.
This outing doesn’t have to mean sacrifice, either; you can still visit Aunt Stella or go waterskiing. Planning ahead makes it possible to include unforgettable memories of wildlife in action, as adventurous observations of the animals create family lore, educate and perhaps, bring life lessons.
First, pick a destination. A little research may reveal that you live close to a place where butterflies congregate, birds flock or the antelope play. Start with likely local sources of information like a nature center or county extension service, or even parks and recreation staff, for news of animal activity close to home.
The Internet is a great resource to tap into the big picture of animal migrations. Good places to look include the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund (WorldWildlife.org; enter “migration” in the Search Site box), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov; choose a region from the dropdown menu), and the kid-friendly Nature Rocks (Nature Rocks.org), where entering a local zip code pulls up all sorts of nearby resources. Plus, community and school librarians are sure to be helpful.
Once you know where you are going and why, a strategy is in order. The best natural migration corridors are along mountain ridges, river valleys and coastlines, yet it’s possible to see migrating animals just about anywhere.
Every year, starting in October, a spectacular congregation of 25,000 monarch butterflies takes place in Pacific Grove, outside of San Francisco. The overwintering insects’ habits are so reliable that the city calls itself, “Butterfly Town, USA,” and levies a fine for bothering the bugs.
Each fall in Ohio, huge flocks of southbound shorebirds put on a show in several areas along Lake Erie known for superior viewing. Observation points include the Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area and Ottawa Wildlife Refuge, both part of a national Regional Shorebird Reserve, as well the Kildeer Plains and Big Island wildlife areas further inland.
Seasonal residents in Florida aren’t called “snowbirds” for nothing. This subtropical peninsula is either a destination or way station for hundreds of migrating species. Fish, too, perform their own annual odyssey. Down in the Florida Keys, sailfish, grouper, kingfish and cobia are around in the fall and winter, species that you won’t catch in the summertime.
Bison, which once numbered in the millions and roamed the central and western plains from Colorado to Texas before being hunted to near extinction, have recovered in managed herds in Yellowstone National Park and on private ranches. These splendid animals, along with elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer and bighorn sheep, undergo an annual altitudinal migration among mountain foothills in the face of winter’s arrival. They do it not so much because of the temperature change, but the impending scarcity of food. Park rangers can tell you the best spots to observe this vanishing phenomenon.
Look up over New York and Toronto to witness thousands of Canada geese making their seasonal pilgrimage in their signature, V-shaped formations marked by unmistakable honking. On their way from Hudson Bay to sunnier climes, migrating geese can become an iconic symbol for young children, graphically pointing out the way that wild animals move about the Earth. Scores of them land for a pit stop in the Chesapeake Bay region and near Midwest lakes.
As many as 25 migrating species of birds fly to Puerto Rico en route to their winter quarters further south. There, thousands of American coots and American wigeons, northern pintails, blue-winged teals and other waterfowl present delightful displays.
What to Bring
Binoculars are a must for any wildlife trip, together with a field guide for identification, camera and journal. Bring along art materials and kids can have fun creating a work of art or science fair project. Scouts can work on assignments for merit badges, too.
Afterward, back at home, review what each child thinks was the best part of the experience and discuss where they might want to go next. You’ll discover that for nurturing a meaningful bond with Earth’s creatures, nothing can replace witnessing nature in the wild.
Martin Miron is a freelance writer in Naples, FL. Connect at [email protected]