The Fall Migrat…

The Fall Migration

It was said that the sky was black with the bodies of birds, loud with the cacophony of their calls and the flurry of their flapping wings. Now what remains is but a faint echo of the once astounding bird populations that came though during Fall migration. But we still have the blessing to become aware of the movements of birds, mammals, marine life, and insects around us as they respond to the changing seasons. And this is an amazing time of year to tune into these ancient migrations around us.

This weekend I was driving home along the Sonoma coast, the air was balmy and the sun strong in the sky. As I looked around I noticed the subtle signs of fall along the California coast. The subdued reds and browns, the thistle down still dancing like snow in the sky. The crunchy dry grass. The wild herbs no longer green and young but fading away to become dormant for the winter. The mugwort on the roadside shriveling in the sun, drying out and full with seeds. And a quietness, a slowness that begins to creep into the air.

Winding along the coast we came to the Russian river mouth, it was wide, glassy and glimmering in the golden sun. Harbor seals lounged along the beach where it met the ocean, and flocks of ducks swam lazily upstream. This huge waterway caused me to pause and reflect. Once this river served as a huge stopping point for migrating waterfowl. Were there signs of it now?

We pulled the car over and got out to gaze at this powerful meeting of river and ocean that nourishes and supports a diverse range of plants, animals, and birds. Edge areas like this often have a lot of animal traffic as well as interesting plant diversity. I looked across at this wide meandering river feeling a sense of peace and belonging wash through me. I felt held in the whole wide scope of life. A small dot on the map. As I stood the sounds of distant honking grew closer and closer. Canada Geese! I love geese, the way they fly in V and stretch their long necks out. They flew into sight, dark silhouettes against the golden sky, flying low over the slow heavy river. They were free and fast and the water seemed to move slower, more languid as opposed to the swift geese. Their honking calls and distinct V shaped flying pattern seemed to dial something into me. Here they were following what their ancestors have done for thousands of years. Migrating from their summer grounds to warmer winter areas… following a deep instinct and mysterious way of navigation passed down goose to goose to goose. How do they know where to go? I do not know.

But I know it’s a good thing to see them flying, low over the river, honking as they go, being geese. Their movement is a clear sign of the changing seasons, and even though it’s warm down here the lands to the north are becoming colder and colder sending many species of birds down our way. Keep your awareness out for the sounds of geese flying high in the sky. They are known to fly for 16 hours at a time and up to 8,000 feet! Some Geese will winter in California and others head father south to Mexico. Do you notice any year round residents in your area? Or seasonal visitors? Where would you find them? What color are their necks?


After taking in the beauty of the river mouth, we got back in our car with kayaks, surfboards, and paddles boards strapped on top and drove towards the ocean. It was the first big swell in a long time and overhead waves pounded the shore. Another sign of fall, more steady swells are back. What else in the ocean indicates changing seasons and migration?

Gazing out at the ocean, memories swelled up in me. When I lived on the Hawaiian Islands I was blessed to witness the Humpback Whale migration up close. These amazing marine mammals winter in Mexico and Hawaii giving birth to their calves in the warm waters. I remember watching them arrive, they would breach lifting their whole bodies out of the water before splashing back in causing huge ripples outwards. Have you seen one breach before? The underside of their flipper is white and that helps me identify them when they breach ore move their flippers in view.

Now is the time of year they begin to travel south towards these warmer waters so they can give birth! Bring binoculars out to the coast and shift into owl eyes, keeping your eyes soft and in wide-angle vision so you can pick up movement in the water. See how far you can see to the horizon line. I have been amazed by how far out I can spot a whale spout! We are blessed to have the opportunity to spot these migrating whales! There is nothing like watching one heave its huge body out of the water and become air borne for moment. The humpbacks that will be hugging our coastline this fall are heading down to Mexico to winter. Make a point to hit the coast this fall and watch for these beautiful animals. It will fill you with goodness.

Humpbacks may be one of the larger migratory animals with a long migration of up to 6,000 miles! Can you imagine that? While they swim through the Pacific Ocean there is another smaller fluttery animal also making an astounding migration. The Monarch butterfly.

Monarchs begin their migration in October, those living west of the Rocky Mountains head to California and Mexico. Here in California they hibernate in Eucalyptus trees, forming large clumps and going back to the same tree generation after generation even though they never migrate twice. The Monarchs migrating south are the great great great grandchildren of the ones that migrated north the previous spring. In between the migration they go through 3 generations, the 4th generation born in sep and early oct. are the ones who migrate back. When it warms again in spring they head north to lay eggs on Milkweed plants, the only food that monarch caterpillars eat. There they continue their cycle until the next fall returns and they head south to hibernate. Sometimes traveling 2,500 miles!!! That’s a lot for butterfly!

As the leaves yellow and fall on the trees that remain rooted all year round so also the geese, humpbacks, and monarchs express the fall through movement. So many other amazing animals are moving in the sky, oceans, and air… The world around us turns and changes following its natural order and we find our selves some where in it, becoming more of nature the more we connect to life around us.

Watch the monarch softly flutter onto a leaf, hear the honking geese above, imagine the sound of humpbacks singing their way down south. Do not stray from the beauty of them, their colors, their ways, when you close your eyes see the geese flying overhead. Wake to hear them. Look for the monarchs arriving. Imagine how far it has traveled on its delicate papery wings… Be like that.

Be keen. Be connected. Go out. Notice the migration, the movement, and also the stillness, the grounding. What do you observe around you?

~ by rcnature on October 2, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: