Just like snowbirds, many creatures with fins, wings or fur follow the pod (or flock or herd) during their annual migration in North America. We charted the routes of Pacific gray whales, monarch butterflies, elk and snow geese, then sought out good spots to view the wildlife as they pass through to rest, mate, give birth and/or eat, then do it all over again. The map at right gives an approximation of the four migrations detailed below.
-- Andrea Sachs
PACIFIC GRAY WHALES
* Migration Route: Pacific gray whales summer in the icy Chukchi and Bering seas near the Arctic, then in October migrate 12,000 miles south to Baja California, Mexico, only to U-turn it in the spring. On both legs, the whales hew pretty close to the coast.
* Best Wildlife Viewing: The largest number of gray whales (about 2,000) congregate in Laguna Ojo de Liebre in Baja California. Other Mexico spots include Magdalena Bay, the southernmost point, and San Ignacio Lagoon, 80 miles south of Laguna Ojo . . . The whales swim by Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument, near San Diego, mid-December through March, peaking in the middle of January; set up your binocs at Whale Overlook and Old Point Loma Lighthouse . . . See the whales from the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Ore., for the spring (late April to June) or winter (starting in November or December) migrations, or from 93 feet above in the Yaquina Head Lighthouse . . . On Vancouver Island, some whales swing through from March to late October, while others make B.C. their home . . . Male whales start returning to Alaska's Kodiak Island and Nelson Pass around mid-March, with the moms and babies arriving into July.
* Tours and Festivals: Each March, Vancouver Island kicks off the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, with public viewing stations at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse, a seafood chowder cook-off and the Parade of Whales. Info: 250-726-7798 . Various companies also offer whale-watching tours from Ucluelet and Tofino.The Middle Beach Lodge and Remote Passages (800-666-9833, www.remotepassages.com/package.html), for example, have a spring and fall whale package with two nights' lodging, whale-watching or sea kayak trip, and breakfast, from $125 per person double. Kodiak Island hosts a week-long Whale Fest Kodiak (www.whalefestkodiak.org) in April, with a whale-watch walk, nautical movies and more.
In California, the Oceanic Society (800-326-7491, www.oceanic-society.org) offers naturalist-led whale-watch- ing tours to the gray's northern migration waters outside San Francisco Bay from December through May; cost is $35 for a half-day trip, $63 for 61/2 hours. Whales and alcohol do mix at the Mendocino Whale and Wine Festival on March 4-5 and the Fort Bragg Whale Festival March 18-19, which features microbrews. Info: 707-961-6303, www.mendocinocoast.com.
With Earthwatch Institute, join scientists on a six- or 11-day whale-counting and feeding expedition in Canadian or Mexican waters. Various dates; prices from $1,195. Info: 800-776-0188, www.earthwatch.org.
* Migration Route: Millions of monarchs head south in August, following two major routes: Those east of the Rockies lift off from Canada and the eastern half of the United States (from Minnesota to Maine), then head down the Great Plains, over Texas and into Michoacan state, 100 miles west of Mexico City. The butterflies west of the Rockies winter along the northern and central coast of California until late February. Mid-March, the Tigger-colored insects in Mexico are on the move again, heading back north.
* Best Wildlife Viewing: In Ontario's Presqu'ile Provincial Park (613-475-4324) and Point Pelee National Park, watch the monarchs take off for their long journey . . . Pacific Grove, Calif., which calls itself "Butterfly Town, U.S.A.," is home to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary (888-PGMONARCH, www.pacificgrove.org) . . . Two butterfly sanctuaries -- El Rosario and Chincua -- are near the Mexican town of Angangueo. A third, the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, is by the resort town of Valle de Bravo . . . From the end of September and over the next four weeks, the monarchs alight in such Texas state parks as Lost Maples, southwest of San Antonio; Guadalupe River, in Texas Hill Country; Seminole Canyon, on the Rio Grande; and Abilene State Park, west of Fort Worth. Info: Texas Parks &Wildlife, 800-792-1112, www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
* Tours and Festivals: Natural Habitat Adventures (800-543-8917, www.nathab.com) organizes six-day butterfly tours in Mexico from January to March; cost is $2,795 per person double, land only. Point Pelee (519-322-2365, www.pelee.com) offers a variety of monarch programs in the fall, including naturalist-led migration counts. On Oct. 1, Pacific Grove throws the Butterfly Parade, followed by the Butterfly Bazaar. Grapevine, Tex., hosts the Butterfly Flutterby festival Oct. 15 (800-457-6338, www.grapevinetexasusa.com), with a butterfly release and a parade.
JACKSON HOLE ELK
* Migration Route: During summer, about 14,000 elk from the Jackson Hole herd roam Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Park and the southern area of Yellowstone -- all in northwest Wyoming. As winter approaches, starting in late October, the herd travels south to the 24,000-acre National Elk Refuge (307-733-9212, nationalelkrefuge.fws.gov) near Jackson, Wyo., where they will stay from November to April. When the snow begins to melt, around mid-April, they return to the higher elevations and the summer ranges.
* Best Wildlife Viewing: Overlooks on the eastern side of U.S. Highway 89/191, just north of Jackson, offer drive-by winter views of the elk . . . At Grand Teton (307-739-3300, www.nps.gov/grte), elk populate the 16-mile stretch along Teton Park Road during summer months . . . In Yellowstone (307-344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell), hike the remote Two Ocean Plateau to see some of the Jackson Hole pack. Other herds also wander northern Yellowstone, from Mammoth through the Lamar Valley to the park's northeast entrance, and north to Gardiner, Mont.
* Tours and Festivals: View the Teton-area elk in the refuge on a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon. Info: 866-787-9005, www.elkadventures.com; $9. Grand Teton's Elkfest (307-733-9212) is held the second and third weekends of May, with the highlight being the Boy Scout Elk Antler Auction (the antlers are shed naturally). Grand Teton park rangers offer free wildlife-viewing excursions by car caravan or foot during the fall rutting (mating) season, when visitors can see elk among the moose, antelope and bison. Contact the Moose Visitor Center (307-739-3399) for dates and times.
GREATER SNOW GOOSE
* Migration Route: The greater snow goose has a multi-part route: About 750,000 birds gather in the Quebec area in April and May, then head north to breeding grounds on Canada's Baffin, Ellesmere and Bylot islands. The birds leave the Arctic region in September and fly down to Cap Tourmente and Isle-aux-Grues in Quebec. In late October, they wing it south, where they spend the winter along the Eastern Seaboard, from New Jersey to South Carolina.
* Best Wildlife Viewing: From mid-September to mid-October, the birds swing through Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (418-827-4591, www.qc.ec.gc.ca/faune/faune/html/nwa_ct.html) near Quebec City, which has the largest marsh of American bulrush, the geese's favorite snack . . . Around the same time, the birds take a pit stop on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, particularly the Baie-du-Febvre, a freshwater basin, and Montmagny, the "Snow Goose Capital" . . . Thousands of geese land in Milton, Del., in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (302-684-8419, www.fws.gov/northeast/primehook) from the third week of September to the first week in November . . . The numbers peak in mid-November at the Bombay Hook NWR (302-653-6872, www.fws.gov/northeast/bombayhook) in Smyrna, Del., on the Delaware Bay shore, part of the Atlantic Flyway; go for the spectacular sunrise takeoff or sunset landing . . . Around October and November, start checking for snow geese in the Chincoteague NWR (757-336-6122, www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco), particularly in the marshes along the main road or the three-mile Wildlife Loop. Come late March, they will be gone.
* Tours and Festivals: The Montmagny Snow Goose Festival (418-248-3954) runs Oct. 7-16, with bird-watching and goose-tasting. Saint-Joachim (877-BONJOUR, www.bonjourquebec.com) celebrates the birds' October arrival with four days of exhibits, music, naturalist talks, etc. Both are in Quebec.
The Hawk Festival at Lighthouse Point Park (203-264-5098) in New Haven, Conn., adds snow geese into its migratory bird walks and talks.
Assateague Explorer (866-PONY-SWIM, www.assateagueisland.com/birdwatching_tour.htm; $30) offers bird-watching cruises in the two Virginia/Maryland refuges. During National Wildlife Refuge Week (Nov. 24-27), Chincoteague opens up its seven-mile service road to cars for waterfowl viewing, including the snow geese. In Delaware, Prime Hook's Waterfowl Festival on Oct. 8 offers live music, bird walks and more than 40 exhibits on the geese and its fair-feathered friends.
The Wings Over Water Festival Nov. 1-6 (252-441-8144, www.wingsoverwater.org) on North Carolina's Outer Banks includes ghost-town birding and sunset kayaking.