It’s considered one of the most spectacular natural phenomena to be witnessed anywhere in the world: the annual migration of a million wildebeest, zebra and antelope as they move in huge herds across the magnificent rolling grasslands between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Its marine equivalent is the seasonal mass movement of humpback whales between their Antarctic feeding territory and subtropical breeding grounds. Increasingly, travellers are seeking out natural-wonder experiences and travel bible Lonely Planet writer Sarah Reid has now identified some lesser-known spectacles, equally involving breathtaking opportunities to observe vast numbers of animals, fish and insects on the move.
Golden jellyfish: The golden jellyfish of Palau perform a unique migration route that follows the sun’s arc across the sky. Daily, the soft-bodied animals cluster on the western shore of the Micronesian lake to perform a horizontal migration toward the rising sun. After taking a break while the sun’s high in the sky, they make the return trip in early afternoon. The lake can be visited year-round but November-April offers best weather.
Monarch butterflies: Every September-October the distinctive black and gold butterflies begin a mass migration from southern Canada and eastern US breeding grounds to over-wintering sites in central Mexico and California, huddling together by the millions in trees. The insects start fluttering home again in May. Butterfly numbers are at their peak January-March at central Mexico’s monarch butterfly reserve.
Arctic terns: The terns depart their summer breeding grounds in Greenland to escape the winter, flying all the way to the shores of Antarctica before returning again at the end of the season, the longest migration route of any animal on earth. The birds feed from the water while on the wing and don’t even fly direct, taking a 70,000km S-shaped route both ways. They can be spotted on pit stops on the various legs of their route.
Spiny lobsters: Found across the Caribbean, the clawless crustaceans line up at the start of summer in queues resembling conga lines of up to 50 individuals and march offshore into deeper water across the ocean floor, avoiding summer storms that lash the Caribbean. In autumn they move back into shallow waters to breed. The nocturnal creatures are best seen on a night dive.
Lesser flamingos: Every year in August the nomadic lesser flamingos of sub-Saharan Africa flock to the Great Rift Valley lakes of eastern Africa, mainly Kenya’s Lake Bogoria, to feed on immense blooms of blue-green algae before flying to Lake Natron in northern Tanzania to mate and nest around November. With flamingo numbers at each of the two lakes often topping two million, the moving seas of pink are astonishing. Lake Bogoria: August-November; Lake Natron: from September; chicks hatch December.
Hammerhead sharks: Mass gatherings of these nomadic fish occur in an area between Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Colombia’s Malpelo Is and Costa Rica’s Cocos Is: known as the “hammerhead triangle”. They can be spotted throughout the year but converge around Cocos, 550km off the west coast of Costa Rica, in groups of up to 200 during summer, attracted by nutrient upswells. See them on a live-aboard dive trip, June-December.
Red Garter snakes: Annually at the end of northern autumn thousands of red-sided garter snakes travel up to 32km to hibernate together in huge dens in Manitoba, Canada: the world’s biggest snake gathering! In spring, around mid-May, the snakes’ mass emergence – over 100,000 reptiles wriggling out of their dens – creates a spectacle not for the faint of heart, says Reid. The dens are signposted just north of Narcisse, an hour’s drive from Winnipeg.
Travel Editor, Susie Boswell.
Photo: Ivan Mateev/Shutterstock