Tuesday, April 6, 2010

3 Weeks Left To Earth Day! Week 14: Migration

I’m back in Montreal, after driving up from Florida over a period of four days; even with a one-day stop it seems to knock the wind from my sails!  All the more reason to marvel at all those creatures that migrate long distances every year!

Just before leaving Florida I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings passing through the back yard on their way north, and a couple of hummingbirds that I hadn’t seen before, were hanging out in the old oak tree, pausing on their northward journey.  In Virginia, my friend Ingrid awaits the arrival of the hummingbirds   and tells me that each year, they almost always arrive on the same date – April 23rd!  Awesome!  Last week I read about an Osprey that travelled 10,000 miles to come back to the place where he has started a family before! 
Then there’s the annual roundtrip of the Arctic Tern, which is approximately 71,000 km  (44,117 miles) not to mention the Monarch Butterfly, whose epic journey south from Canada and the northern United States, to Mexico is one of the wonders of nature!  Given all these incredible voyages, my little jaunt up from Florida, in a car, pales slightly!  

As I was driving, I began to wonder how warming temperatures and climatic changes are affecting many of these species.  Migratory species use up tremendous amounts of energy on their long flights, swims or walks!  Pregnant Caribou cows, for example, travel an average of 20 km per day and are totally reliant on the early spring forage, which is obviously dependent upon snow melting.  Many migratory birds rely on berries when they are traveling, while in their settled habitats, they might feed mainly on insects.  (A recent Science Article reminds us that we could learn a lot about healthy eating from birds' feeding habits!)  Colder winters, warmer springs and summers impact wildlife and vegetation in different ways, but there is no doubt that all of life is being affected by these global changes.

Lesson Plans
1.  Follow the journey of an Arctic Tern, discover the places they visit on their marathon journey!  Here is a National Geographic Lesson Plan for K-2.
2.  Caribou are always on the move; learn about these northern ruminants and some of the challenges that they face on these journeys.  They can actually smell the lichens that are buried under the snow!  Look at some of the Energy Demands and how they have adapted to live in cold climates.  Here is another National Geographic Lesson Plan for K-2.
3.  Several Whale Species species make long migrations from southern to northern waters.  They typically travel to warmer waters to give birth and to cooler waters for feeding; learn about the different species and the geographic locations they travel through.
4.  What about Human migrations?  Around the world people are constantly on the move and have always been to some degree.  Here is a Lesson Plan for Gr. 3-5 about the story of Human Migration.
5.  What migratory species pass through your neighborhood?  Find pictures of some of these birds or butterflies and post them by the window inviting children to be on the lookout.  Create a chart with some of the pictures so that you can post the dates on which they are observed.

We are all intricately connected to species that migrate.  How so?  Because our lifestyles, our communities and the way we farm and grow our gardens affects the food resources available to many migrant species.  The Monarch butterfly, for example, feeds on milkweed, a plant that used to grow prolifically in hedgerows and fields.  With the advent of large farming operations and landscaped gardens, the availability of milkweed plants to nourish the traveling Monarchs, has been diminished.  Birds feeding on berries and fruits help to disperse the seeds of those plants to new areas, in fact it is believed that many of the plant species in Florida grew from seeds dropped by migratory birds!  
Green Action of the Week!
Plant a Monarch Butterfly Garden; plant flowers, bushes and trees that will provide nourishment for migratory species passing through your backyards.  Make colorful markers to put beside the plants so that the children learn which plants are important to which species.  
Mighty Monarch of the Ocean is a song about whales and since they are one of the migratory species, it should fit in well!
It is only recently that we have been able to track migrating species; long ago people knew that birds departed at a certain time of the year, but did not know where they went to.  However, it has long been believed that birds navigate their journeys by the stars and the Milky Way is one constellation that figures in folktales associated with bird migrations.  The Legend of the Milky Way is one such story that originated in China.  
Thats it for this week!  I am off to record a new CD next weekend, in Winnipeg, but I shall try to get my Blog Post up on Sunday!  We are almost at Earth Day, so I hope this series has been helpful!
Have a great week!
In gratitude for life and this beautiful Earth!

Photo of Cedar Waxwing by Ken Thomas.us
Photo of Arctic tern by Toivo Toivanen & Tina Toppila

Photo of Caribou by Dean Biggins US Fish & Wildlife Service

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