The arrival of fall means different things to different people. For some, the beautiful autumn colors make it a favorite season, while for others it's the mild temperatures, the World Series, or heading back to school. But for birders and their friends who like to watch butterflies, dragonflies, and other animals, the arrival of fall means only one thing: migrations.
The best natural migration corridors occur in mountain ridges, river valleys, and along coastlines. Yet it's possible to see migrating animals just about anywhere. Here are some tips for enjoying the passing hordes.
Birds — Early morning often provides great looks at birds just finished with all-night flights. As the sun starts to rise, some birds that find themselves out over ocean waters or above the Great Lakes will suddenly head for the nearest land. Hundreds of birds can come pouring inland at these times, among them thrushes, warblers, vireos, and tanagers.
During daylight hours, the skies can be filled with everything from White Pelicans to Bobolinks. Expect lots of shorebirds, cormorants, terns, and gulls at the seaside and hawks, swifts, flickers, jays, swallows, and robins overhead almost everywhere.
Butterflies — Most people have heard about Monarchs and their fall migrations to the mountains of southern Mexico, but lots of other butterflies travel in autumn. Some even head north!
Watch in the same places that bird migrants concentrate for American Ladies, Question Marks, Red Admirals, and the more abundant Monarchs — all moving southward. By contrast, Cloudless Sulphurs may be headed north in fall, as their southern populations expand, and Painted Ladies and Common Buckeyes can be watched for flying north or south.
Dragonflies — Dragonfly watching is fast coming into its own on the North American nature scene. Partly that's because several excellent books have appeared to help folks tell these handsome creatures apart.
A small number of dragonfly species migrate in substantial numbers during the fall. Look for the monster Green Darner in particular and the world's most cosmopolitan dragonfly, the Wandering Glider. Others include the Black Saddlebag and the Carolina Saddlebag.
Mammals — Mammal watching is not nearly as easy as bird or insect watching. After all, the mammals first must be found, which usually involves some trekking, and they're not terribly cooperative subjects. Still, the rewards can be considerable.
Among the migratory mammals worth watching are some species of bats (Hoary, Silver-haired, and Red) that can occasionally be seen flying south during daylight hours along shorelines or even over bodies of water. Marine mammals, of course, can be observed from boats or coastal promontories. The large baleen whales occur in good numbers on their southward migrations and delight people even from a distance.
Learn more about hawk migration.
Learn more about butterflies and dragonflies.