Migration in action

The word migration these days will most likely bring to your mind a long line of pitiful immigrants awaiting warm welcome from cold strangers. Rest assured, that’s not the kind of migration I am talking about. Birds and animals are free (so far) to migrate across the globe in search of better food and weather, bestowing upon us some pretty spectacular sights during their journeys. While I hope you enjoy the narration of my experiences below, here’s some food for thought: How do migratory animals navigate?

My most recent trip was a bird-watching outing at the Ujani dam backwaters near Bhigwan village in Maharashtra, India. This place hosts more than 200 species of migratory birds. The friendliest among these were the blackheaded gulls, which circled around our boat in hopes of free food. Witnessing the throngs of flamingos displaying their beautiful pink plumage was a spectacular treat. Although traditionally non-migratory, these birds have been known to migrate short distances, escaping cold winters to thrive on the plentiful food supply in this relatively warm, serene environment from about December to end of March.

As our little boat went deeper into the waters, we tried our best to not set off these beauties with any noise. Although, if they do take off for a brief flight, their graceful formations and colorful wings are a sight to behold! Here’s something that most people don’t know: baby flamingos are grey. What is then the secret source behind the pretty orange-pink feathers in adults? These colors arise from pigments called carotenoids, which they in fact consume in their diet of shrimps and algae. Before moving on from the flamingos, I must mention this super cool research: how a flamingo balances on one leg.

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A tip for birding enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay area: Rotary Nature Center provides an excellent opportunity for discovering migrating birds at Lake Merritt, Oakland.

The Californian coast is also a great spot for observing migrating whales. Gray whales migrate south from Alaska to Mexico in winter, and in summer they journey back north. In general, gray whales, humpbacks, blue whale, and killer whales can be sighted on the popular whale-watching boat trips in Monterey in summer. Fair warning: watching schools of dolphins chase the boat is an absolute delight, but choppy waters in rough weather can result in limited whale sightings and excessive motion sickness.

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Lastly, I am excited about my upcoming visit to the Ano Nuevo state park, a conserved area where thousands of elephant seals return seasonally for breeding. I hope to pen down my adventures about the visit soon. Meanwhile, for those of you interested, guided elephant seal walks are available until end of March: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=27613 


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