Eye on Nature

Getting from Here to There

by Jane Kirkland

Two years ago we were driving from Chester County to southwestern Illinois for a school visit. Driving through Ohio, we couldn’t help but notice the number of butterflies being splattered on our windshield and the front of our car.

When we stopped at a rest stop, we noticed the building and grounds were surrounded by painted lady and admiral butterflies. It occurred to me that we were in the path of a migration. And I thought only monarchs migrated!
September is a great month for bird watching, but some insects migrate too.

We’re in the Way
When animals go south for the winter, they aren’t leaving the cold weather; they are following their food source.

Consider the hummingbird that needs nectar and the insect-eaters that need insects. Those food sources are nearly absent in winter in the Delaware Valley.

Animals that migrate have a difficult fight for survival. It is estimated that only 30 percent of wild birds survive their first migration. Weather plays a big factor in survival. But so do housing and highways.

Animals need to eat and rest during their trips and as we strip the landscape, getting from here to there becomes more difficult every season. All eastern monarchs migrate to a single location in Mexico. They winter in a rainforest that gets smaller and smaller thanks to deforestation. At some point, there will simply not be enough rainforest to support the monarchs.

It isn’t just the habitat-stripping and highway-building that affects migration. Everything we do to our environment has an affect.

For example, thanks to the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs, a shorebird called the red knot is on the brink of extinction. This bird has one of the longest migrations of any bird on earth. It migrates from the tip of South America to the Arctic. Every May the birds stop along the Delaware shore to feed on the eggs of the horseshoe crab.

Not long ago, as many as 100,000 red knots fed along the shores but last year, only 13,000 came. Scientists predict the bird will become extinct by 2010.

Experience it Yourself
If you haven’t experienced migrating wildlife en masse, you should. It’s an incredible thing to see.
One easy way to witness migration without leaving home is to put up a bird feeder and watch to see which species visit. Take a short walk in your local park on a warm sunny day and bring a pair of binoculars to look for birds and insects.

For day trips, there are numerous spots in the Delaware Valley for hawk- watching, butterfly-watching and waterfowl-watching. Visit the websites of the Delaware, New Jersey or Pennsylvania Audubon Society to learn where you can see migrating wildlife:
• www.njaudubon.org

From the car, when you see a large flock of birds moving overhead, pull over in a safe place and look at them through binoculars. While lots of large groups of migrating birds are black, not all the birds are blackbirds. If you notice a whole lot of butterflies hitting your windshield, park and look for a patch of flowers where you can view the butterflies up close.

In the spring, migrating wildlife will return. Plan on taking time for observation then too, and consider planting more native plants in your yard as a food source for both migrating and resident wildlife.

Make this the September you and your family experience migration up close and personal.

Jane Kirkland is a Downingtown, PA speaker, naturalist, photographer and author of the Take A Walk nature books for kids. Learn more at www.takeawalk.com.