We timed our trip to the Maasai Mara to coincide with the Great Migration, as the wildebeest began to leave for the Serengeti. You plan this sort of trip months ahead, never knowing for sure whether or not Mother Nature will cooperate. The migration cycle between the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti depends on the rains, and they have not been as regular lately.
What is incredible about this migration is the number of animals. We saw thousands upon thousands of these strange creatures, feeding on the plains, running or walking in lines, crossing the road in front of our vehicles, and, yes, crossing the Mara River. They gather – first a few, then hundreds. As far as the eye can see, there are wildebeest standing around, waiting for a signal. Cautiously, a small group approaches the water, then backs off. They wait some more. They check the route again. No, not yet. Finally, one beast takes the plunge, down the embankment and into the river. The rest follow, rushing down to the water, kicking up clouds of dust. It is a mad scene! And then, there they are, milling around on the other side of the river.
I was totally impressed! But another great migration also wows me for the exact opposite reason: so few animals are involved. I’m talking about whooping cranes. Hunted almost to extinction, they have returned from the brink with the help of concerned humans. These magnificent birds had only one summer home and one winter home. Just one natural disaster would have wiped them out completely. With the assistance of some very dedicated people – and of their cousins, the sandhill cranes – new flocks have been established and taught to migrate to new homes. If you are interested in more information, check out the good folks at Operation Migration. I have been lucky enough to visit the wild flock of whoopers at Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures. But their cousins migrate, too, and many spend their winters in California. Here are some near Lodi.
If you look back at the top of the page, you will note that I called this post migrations great and small. So, what do I mean by small? Small creature? Small distances? Actually, both. But some small animals migrate very long distances – such as these tiny birds, that are caught, tagged and released in Alaska as they fly from the far, far north (even Siberia) to Central and South America.
And you probably know that monarch butterflies migrate long distances, too. It is amazing to think of such small birds and butterflies traveling so far. But did you know that ladybugs also migrate? That was a shock to me. These tiny insects, however, travel shorter distances. For example, the ones who make their winter home in the San Francisco Bay Area, like to spend their summers in the Sierras. Check out their story here. I love photographing them when they mass in Redwood Park.
Well, that’s it for today. And I’m no where near 1,000 words!