The Animals March, Two by Ten Thousand

Destinations: News for Adventurous Travelers, November 1996


The Animals March, Two by Ten Thousand

A winter's worth of the continent's most spectacular migrations


As season's change, many animals have to move, and when they move en masse, it can be spectacular. Here's' a late autumn guide to the best of North America's annual migrations of insects, birds, and mammals terrestrial and marine. Caveats: Never approach herds or flocks closely, for both your safety and their comfort. Use blinds when available. And remember, animals don't consult calendars, so migration dates are approximate. Call ahead to check on current conditions.

Polar Bears | Monarch Butterflies | Snow Geese |
Elephant Seals | Sandhill Cranes


THE MIGRATION
Polar Bears
From mid-October to early November, these giant animals gather on the southern shores of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, to feast on seals and winter on the ice.

Best View
Peak numbers are found at Wapusk National Park, 30 miles from Churchill, Reserve space aboard one of several helicopters or tundra buggies. Call Travel Manitoba (800-665-0040) for information.

The Big Thrill
Curious, nine-foot-tall, 1,000-pound bears will often lumber up to your four-wheel-drive buggy and stare in the window while their young wrestle out on the windswept tundra.

Getting There
Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris (206-463-5383) offers a nine-day trip, with an optional three nights in a tundra bunkhouse, for $2,995. Natural Habitat Adventures (800-543-8917) also leads a nine-day trip, featuring helicopter flights, for $2,995.


THE MIGRATION
Monarch Butterflies
Clouds of monarch butterflies descend on southern Texas in late October en route to the central highlands of Mexico from the Great Lakes states.

Best View
Kickapoo Caverns State Natural Area, 150 miles west of San Antonio, generally has the highest numbers of butterflies. Call the Texas Monarch Watch toll-free information line (800-468-9719) for specifics.

The Big Thrill
The swarms of monarchs often alight for hours at a time, enveloping entire trees in surreal, flaming orange.

Getting There
Kickapoo Caverns State Natural Area (210-563-2342) is located 22 miles north of Brackettville on Texas 674. Primitive campsites are available ($5 a night), but call in advance; the entrance to the park is gated.


THE MIGRATION
Snow Geese
During November, 65,000 or more geese congregate in central New Mexico's Rio Grande valley. Some fly on to Mexico, but most stick around until mid-February.

Best View
The best vantage point is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (505-835-1828), 90 miles south of Albuquerque. For $2 you can drive around its 15-mile loop road and stop at any of five observation platforms.

The Big Thrill
Tens of thousands of the soft, bleached birds rise as a group, filling the sky before forming themselves into chevrons and skimming off en masse above the cottonwoods.

Getting There
Consider visiting during the refuge's annual mid-November nature festival. Or, like many New Mexicans, make your trip at Thanksgiving. The Eaton House bed and breakfast (505-835-1067) in nearby Socorro provides lodging and breakfast baskets for birders.


THE MIGRATION
Elephant Seals
Between December and March you'll find 35,000 seals swarming southern California's San Miguel Islands, part of Channel Islands National Park.

Best View
Anchor at Cuyler Harbor and take a ranger-guided hike eight miles west to Point Bennett or three miles east to Cardwell Point. Observation blinds get you to within 100 feet of the seals without disturbing them (or vice versa).

The Big Thrill
The seals usually lounge lethargically on the beach. But when they move, they're impressive, especially the males. Weighing 6,000 pounds or more, these bulls manage to pull that bulk almost upright when they fight one another over mates.

Getting There
Call Channel Islands National Park (805-658-5730) for general information. Park headquarters (805-658-5711) issues the required but free landing, camping,and backcountry permits.


THE MIGRATION
Sandhill Cranes
Half a million sandhill cranes touch down on Nebraska's Platte River beginning in February on their way north from Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico.

Best View
The greatest concentrations of birds are at the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary (309-468-5282) near Kearney and the Crane Meadows Nature Center (308-382-1820) near Grand Island.

The Big Thrill
At dusk, 40,000 cranes swoop down together from the sky to trace the shallows of the broad river basin. At dawn, they rise again, like one massive, winged veil.

Getting There
Both the sanctuary and the nature center conduct dawn and dusk tours during the migrations ($15). Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (800-328-8368) runs a five-day tour out of Omaha for $695.

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