Tracking Herds of the Sky: Terns, Bats and Dragonflies

10 Dec Tracking Herds of the Sky: Terns, Bats and Dragonflies

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 as 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 winged wanderers and their movements 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 them perform the duties of their lives in their nomadic environments.

Daylight’s for the Birds
Arctic Tern Migration
© Dodge65

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, the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) is probably the most persnickety of all animals when it comes to the cold. It lives in two summers each year, taking the longest known migration of any species in the animal kingdom, traveling as far as 44,000 miles annually 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 the air. Even the species’ 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
Bat migration
photo by Fritz Geller-Grimm/CC SA-2.5

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 berries, 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.

Magical Dragonflies
Dragonfly Migration
© arnoaltix

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.

Want to experience the magic of migrations for yourself? Check out these trips offered by Adventure Collection member companies:

Kingdom of the Monarchs | Natural Habitat Adventures

Serengeti Migration Safari | Bushtracks

Baja California: A Remarkable Journey | Lindblad Expeditions

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Marguerite Richards
Marguerite Richards is a freelance travel writer who can’t seem to control her curiosity. She sometimes misses out on the physical details of a place because she’s so captivated by the people. She travels to understand cultural differences and the nuances that separate us, with the resolve to render it all palpable through her writing. She has lived for a combined six years in Holland, Chile and France, where total cultural immersion instilled a permanent desire to travel. New York was her longest cultural adventure, where she ran the magazines for the French Government Tourist Office for five years. Now, back in her native California, she’s free to write again full time. But, because she can’t shake her love for business, she also collaborates with travel companies on marketing and social media projects as often as possible. Marguerite holds an MA in French Translation, a BA in English Literature, a Certificate for English teaching, and an honorary business degree from the School of Hard Knocks. margueriterichards.com
Marguerite Richards

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