Tracking Herds Of the Sky
Originally published on The Adventure Collection.
Traveling from chilly Midwestern winds to the warm Southern sun, or sometimes even swapping hemispheres, humans migrate to change the feel of their lives, perhaps following a natural instinct like the animals do. Flocks of reports are available on winged migrations, and there seem to be a hundred ways to calculate and collect data on these adventurers of the air. But for laypeople, simply following these animals and their movement can be a meditative experience and an excellent theme for a journey. It’s not only fascinating to watch these herds and listen for their magical (and wildly eerie) sounds as they inhabit every inch of the sky, but spectators also find calm when observing these critters perform the duties of their lives in their nomadic environments.
Daylight’s for the Birds
Aviary exodus is no new subject (roughly 1800 species of birds are migratory) but the habits of these winged beasts are endlessly intriguing and fun to track for even the most unscientific among us.
Traveling incredible distances, one could say the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is the most persnickety of all animals when it comes to the cold: it sees two summers each year, taking the longest known migration of any species in the animal kingdom, traveling as far as 44,000 miles each year from the Antarctic to the Arctic. This bird sees the most daylight of any animal on the planet.
This red-beaked tern spends the majority of its long life (between 20 and 30 years) in this air. Even their elaborate courtship ritual starts in the sky: females chase males to high altitudes, after which males proudly offer fish to their lady friends. The Arctic Tern only touches the ground for nesting once every one to three years depending on their mating cycles.
Gone Batty for Fruit
While not all bat species are migratory, one type of bat is rewarded with superlatives: Africa’s straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) is said to make the world’s largest mammal migration. Some eight million animals take flight at the same time, traveling from above the equator, as far north as Sudan, to Namibia in the south.
They cover the night sky like fluttering leaves in a windstorm, feeding on sweet delights like loquats and water berry, and ingesting sometimes twice their body weight in fruit. Some researchers have concluded that these bats may be more important to the sub-Saharan ecosystem than birds, attributing more than half of African rainforest seed dispersal to these creatures of the night.
The reasons for their gorging are unclear, but a large number of these bats are found to be recent mothers, or still expecting. Therefore this mass consumption could be necessary fuel for the increased energy demands of pregnancy and lactation.
More and more research is popping up each year about the dragonfly (Anisoptera), a kind critter (as it is usually portrayed in fairytales), and one of the few insects that has captured our hearts as a symbol of peace, wisdom and luck in a number of different cultures.
Not only is the dragonfly considered one of the fasted flying insects in the world, but it’s also capable of amazingly long-distance migrations. Only within the last few years have scientists discovered it traveling from India to the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mozambique, Uganda and back again.
When tracking these fabled, big-eyed bugs, note that they seem to appear soon after big rains like the monsoon in India, or the rainy season in eastern and southern Africa.