I seem to feel the rhythms of the earth most acutely this time of year, when the skies are alive with the relentlessly flapping wings of millions of birds embarking on their twice-yearly migration. In Canada, about 80% of all of our bird species migrate, in many cases covering thousands of kilometres back and forth every year between their summer breeding grounds and a warm place to spend the winter.
They may be the most noticeable migrants for us residents of the ‘Great White North’; but birds are not the only animals on the move this time of year. In the Yukon and Northwest Territories, herds of barren ground caribou are thundering down out of the arctic tundra to wintering grounds within the treeline. A number of whale species on both sides of the continent are cruising south to lower latitudes to enjoy warmer waters and breed. Even delicate Monarch butterflies are floating over thousands of kilometres to spend their winter in dazzling clusters of fluttering wings tucked away in a remarkably small portion of Mexico.
The autumn migration season is a perfect time of year for anyone to reconnect with nature. It’s a time when even the most urbanized of us can’t help but notice the wild world as it breezes through our backyards, parks and past our windows. The insistent honking of geese stops just about anyone in their tracks, drawing their eyes upwards in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the passing birds.
It’s especially magical for children. I still have vivid memories of riding my bike over to the neighbourhood retention pond to feed the hordes of geese that were resting there before the next leg of their journey. For kids who might not see animals every day, it’s a chance to make a fleeting connection with something that is truly wild.
It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn. What do geese eat? What shouldn’t you be feeding them? Where did they come from? Where do they go? How to they find their way?
All of these questions and more can be borne out of one simple encounter. I could answer all them for you here, but that would defeat the purpose. Thankfully, there are lots of places to find answers to those questions. Oak Hammock Marsh (http://www.oakhammockmarsh.ca/nature/wildlife/index.html ), a wildlife management area in Manitoba, maintained by Ducks Unlimited has a number of wildlife information sheets you can read up on. All About Birds (http://www.allaboutbirds.org) is a great resource for anything you’ve ever wanted to know about birds and migration and even my own blog (http://naturalistsmiscellany.wordpress.com/) is full of information on all sorts of natural phenomena.
One thing I will tell you is not to feed the geese bread or crackers. These refined products offer little nutritional value to the birds and they get full on this junk food and neglect eating what they really need, which is whole grains. They really aren’t that different from humans in that way.
Regardless of where you go for information, I encourage you to begin your explorations outside, stretch your senses, listen for the honking and watch the skies for fluttering wings or just take a moment to sit still and take it all in. If you give yourself a chance, you too will feel the rhythms of the earth all around you.
A highly-trained naturalist and experienced educator, Heather Hinam’s endless curiosity fuelled her studies through three university degrees, culminating a doctorate in Conservation Biology. Now, she has taken her love for the wilderness and over 20 years artistic experience and devoted herself to helping people reconnect with the natural world around them through workshops, tourism experiences and the development of interpretive tools though her business, Second Nature, Adventures in Discovery (www.discoversecondnature.ca).