A Natural Wonder for Each Month of the Year
Mexico: Monarch Butterflies migration
Like many a snow-weary New Yorker seeking some sun down Mexico way, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies flee south to avoid the wintry chill of the northeastern United States and Canada, this species of butterflies being one of the few insects capable of making trans-Atlantic crossing.
Each new generation of butterflies manages to land in the same 215-square-mile area of central Mexico and sometimes the length of these journeys exceeds the normal lifespan of most monarchs, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer.
After beating their little wings for up to 2,000 miles, by the end of October, the population east of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, near the small town of Angangueo, where they will spend January through March hanging out in sunlight-dappled forests by turning the oyamel fir trees, rocks and anyone who stands still long enough a vibrant shade of orange. If you love butterflies and want to be a witness to this spectacular natural wonder, then you have the option of renting a room at one of the basic hotels in Angangueo or at the beautiful Rancho San Cayetano in Zitácuaro, located at merely 40 minutes away from the butterfly action, offering a secluded retreat with nine rooms and three chalets.
Brazil: The Longest Waves in the World
Poroc-poroc or pororoca is a tidal bore, with waves up to 4 meters or 15 feet high that travel as much as 13 kilometers inland upstream on the Amazon River and can last about 30 to 40 minutes, its name coming from the indigenous Tupi language, where it translates into “great destructive noise”. Pororoca rolls down Brazil’s Rio Araguari, near the Amazon Basin, twice a year in February and March, being generated by the resistance of the narrow Rio Araguari against the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Along the branches or “caños” in the Orinoco Delta, pororoca is known as macareo, which is also the name of one of these branches, and this site has become increasingly popular with surfers, but surfing the Pororoca is especially dangerous because the water sweeps up trees and dangerous fauna, but it also contains a significant amount of debris from the shores of the river.
Since 1999, an annual surfing championship has been held in São Domingos do Capim and since then, the longest time captured on tape riding the wave, 43 minutes, is by the Brazilian Picuruta Salazar. If you want to see this incredible natural phenomenon or enjoy the local surfing activities, if you dare, then situate yourself close to the Pororoca in one of the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge’s 16 wood-paneled rooms, located on a bluff overlooking the Rio Negro in the Amazon Basin.
Denmark: The Black Sun
The Black Sun or Sort sol in Danish is a nature phenomenon in the marshlands in southwestern Jutland, Denmark, in particular the marsh near Tønder and Ribe and refers to a gathering of black starlings each spring, early March through April, and autumn, from mid-September through October. Very large numbers of migrational starlings move between their winter grounds in southern Europe and their summer breeding grounds in Scandinavia and other countries near the Baltic Sea, this flight taking place in the hours just after sunset, usually lasting for about 20 minutes; the largest flocks gather above Tønder Marsh in southern Jutland and form huge formations on the sky, their movements being compared to a dance or ballet, just before they decide for a location to roost for the night. The ultramodern ten-room Hotel Homeland, in Herning, West Jutland, makes the perfect place to stay and spend a night or two.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts: Whale Migration
Each October as northern ice pushes southward, in the Eastern Pacific, small groups of gray whales starts a 2–3 month, 8,000–11,000 kilometres (5,000–6,800 mi) trip south, believed to be the longest annual migration of any mammal. Traveling night and day, the gray whale averages approximately 120 kilometers (75 mi) per day and by mid-December to early January, the majority are usually found between Monterey and San Diego, but by late March or early April, the returning animals can be seen from Everett, Washington to Puget Sound to Canada.
From April through October, whales make a big splash off the coast of Cape Cod, where they can find food-rich waters of a huge underwater plateau called the Stellwagen Bank. You can have a close-up experience by renting a whale-watch cruise from one of the many ports in this part of Massachusetts, including Provincetown, Barnstable, and Plymouth and you can spend here a night or two at one of the classic Cape Cod’s lodgings or at the 216 room Chatham Bars Inn, located in the quaint town of Chatham.
Texas: Biggest Bat Colony
If bats freak you out, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the area of central Texas, and most notably the Texas Hill Country outside Fredericksburg, especially between May and mid-October, when the Mexican free-tailed bats gather in large numbers to feed on tasty Texan insects and raise their young in the area’s many caves. Bracken Cave is the largest known habitat for Mexican Free-tailed Bats, being located outside the city of San Antonio and owned by Bat Conservation International, which restores the land around the cave to support an abundant variety of wildlife.
Bracken Cave houses a colony of over 20 million bats, making it the largest known concentration of mammals, except for humans; the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that hang under Congress Bridge are believed to be the world’s biggest urban colony. If you are interested in witnessing this nature phenomenon or you simply love bats, than rent a room for at the 98-room Watermark Hotel & Spa in San Antonio, 60 miles away from Fredericksburg.
Botswana: Elephant Migration
The largest elephant herds in the world reside in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and neighboring Chobe National Park, the third largest park of the country with one of the largest game concentration in Africa continent, in the northwest region. Between June and November, when the delta dries up, the elephants head south in family groups or sometimes in hefty herds of up to 500 to search out watering holes in the Kalahari Desert. When the rainy season comes, the elephants head back to their original home, being lead by the older female elephant of the pack. This is an incredible experience and if you don’t want to lose the luxury, even if you are in a safari, than try the four luxurious tents at Zarafa Camp at Zibadianja Lagoon in Chobe National Park, complete with shady verandas, copper baths and fine dining under canvas.
South Africa: The Sardine Run
The sardine’s swirling shoals are an amazing sight to behold especially during the months of June and July, when these tiny swimmers get together off the coast of South Africa to migrate to the Indian Ocean’s warmer waters. This spectacular phenomenon has a less interesting cause: the sardines have to run a gauntlet of predators like the dolphins, gannets, sharks, whales, and seals, that herd them into a silvery mass known as a bait ball before attacking these little creatures and feed on them.
Experienced divers can get right into the action while the inexperienced can witness the feeding frenzy as they snorkel above; you can even spend a night or two in this area by going five miles from Plettenberg Bay, along the Garden Route, where you will find the Tsala Treetop Lodge which has 16 villas perched on stilts, with floor-to-ceiling windows and views over the tree canopies.
California: Perseid Meteor Shower
You’ll have to escape big-city light pollution to see the Perseid meteor shower, which is the name of a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle and observed for about 2000 years, with the earliest information on this meteor shower coming from the Far East. The Perseids are so-called because the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus, these meteors being in fact debris, ice and dust, shed from the Swift-Tuttle comet, this year, on August 12–14, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower being between 60 and 80 meteors shoot overhead per hour.
The Joshua Tree National Park with its pitch-dark desert is the perfect location to spot an “earthgrazer”, which is a meteor that skims the atmosphere by giving off a beautiful trail of color that lasts longer than dime-a-dozen shooting stars. The best way to enjoy this amazing sight is by pitching a tent at one of Joshua Tree National Park’s nine campgrounds, the campsites being opened between the months of June and September.
Florida: Cownose Ray Migration
The migration of stingrays south each fall from their summer feeding grounds off the coast of Florida to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, then back again in late spring, is one of those natural occurrences really worth seeing.
The cownose rays, their name being given because the two lobes at the front of their raised head give them a bovine appearance, migrate in groups, known as fevers, of as many as 10,000, and even though they seem like shy beings they are in fact armed with a poisonous stinger that can grow as much as 15 inches long.
The Little Palm Island Resort & Spa on Little Torch Key has almost 30 bungalows built in a British Colonial in style, with four-poster beds festooned with white netting; this would be the perfect place where to rest after witnessing the golden glow of the stingrays.
Kenya and Tanzania: Wildebeest and Zebra Migration
Each year, more than 1.5 million beasts complete a circuit of 1,800-plus miles from the plains of the Masai Mara to the savanna of the Serengeti in constant search of grass, in what is one of the largest animal travels in the world. Known as the Great Migration, this travel is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, with more than 1,300,000 wildebeests, 360,000 Thomson’s gazelles, and 191,000 zebras migrating in a vast ensemble north from the Serengeti plains in search of fresh pasture, and return to the south around October; this movable feast of herbivores attracts hundreds of predators and hungry animals, most notably lions and hyenas but also leopards and in the proximity of waters, alligators. Head to Tanzania in late October and early November, when animals blanket the Serengeti Plain; or, plan to catch the spectacular crossing of the Grumeti (Tanzania) and Mara (Kenya) rivers from July through September; you can book a room at the Signet Grumeti Sasakwa, lodge which reigns over 340,000 acres directly in the migratory path of the wildebeest and zebra.
Australia: March of the Red Crabs
When the monsoon rains start pouring, in late October and November, an army of tiny red crabs advances from the forests of Christmas Island, an Australian territory closer to Indonesia, as they make their five-mile crusade toward the sea, through gardens and houses, covering the highway routes to the coast so densely that they can be seen from the air. The red crabs are known throughout the world for their migration which can last up to 18 days; over 130 million crabs turn the ground scarlet as they cross rail tracks and golf courses, in some parts existing specially built bridges that carry the crabs over highways while some roads are even closed during this time of the year to avoid the crab carnage. To witness this phenomenon, as it lasts several days, book a room at one of the many inns or hotels on Christmas Island.
Norway: The Aurora Borealis
December and January are the best months to see the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, in the Northern Hemisphere, which are usually observed at night, deeper inside the polar regions. The green, red, and purple glow in the night sky is caused by solar wind interacting with the earth’s magnetic field and in the southern hemisphere you can witness another natural phenomenon similar to Aurora Borealis but known as Aurora Australis or the southern polar lights, with similar properties as the first one.
These luminous displays are truly spectacular and if you expect to see an alien sign of life, than ask the help of Kjetil Skogli, from Norway, who organizes small-group nighttime tours focused on discovering alien sightings. If you are only interested in the Aurora, then rent a room at the Juvet Hotel, located on the farmstead of Burtigard on Norway’s west coast, and allow yourself some day of relaxation away from your chaotic daily life.11