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Photographing Animal Migrations

Updated on September 19, 2013

Great animal migrations has been a topic that I have been longing to cover for quite some time which more than likely would have taken me to various exotic locations around the world.

Most of us think of Africa as the only place where a great migration in the animal kingdom can be photographed and while this continent is definitely one of the places that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime to witness the massive animal migrations, like that of the wildebeests, and all of the beauty that this continent can offer, there are many other places where migrations can be photographically covered.

Take for example the Monarch butterfly which every year migrates from Canada to Mexico and parts of California during the summer months.

"The Monarch is famous for its southward migration and northward return in summer from Canada to Mexico and Baja California which spans the life of three to four generations of the butterfly." Wikipedia.

The spectacle that thousands or even millions of them presents to a photographer while they literary and totally cover trees in the Mexican country side is nothing short of awe inspiring. Photographs should be taken that fully display this massive gathering accompanied by images of individuals.

Another example is the pink salmon which every year returns to the rivers where they were born to spawn and create a new cycle in their lives and upon spawning usually perish mostly due to the exhaustion brought about by their rigorous journey from the ocean to the rivers.

"Most Atlantic salmon follow an anadromous fish migration pattern,[2] in that they undergo their greatest feeding and growth in salt water; however, adults return to spawn in native freshwater streams where the eggs hatch and juveniles grow through several distinct stages." Wikipedia

Take images that shows them in mass as they swim across the rivers. Also worth photographing are samples that wash up on shore once their life cycle ends as well as the opportunistic shots of the various predators who gather by these same rivers in order to feast in the abundance of fresh fish. Make plans to take a camera that has been readied for underwater photography, although most rivers where the salmon congregate will not be deep and recording their images should not be hard, it is good to have a good set up in place.

If you live near the ocean you can visit the shoreline for migrating bird species of seashore birds such as the sandpiper which normally return to the ocean shores and beaches during the spring or fall.

"A similar situation occurs with waders (called "shorebirds" in North America). Many species, such as Dunlin and Western Sandpiper, undertake long movements from their Arctic breeding grounds to warmer locations in the same hemisphere, but others such as Semipalmated Sandpiper travel longer distances to the tropics in the Southern Hemisphere." Wikipedia

Taking their images is not difficult, but the aid of a telephoto lens makes the process much easier to accomplish. In Florida one can observe thousands of white egrets and several other species that make theirs nests and roost at several locations through the state, especially at various preserves inside the Everglades National Park.

Often the sight leaves one wondering where to begin taking photos as there are hundreds of trees than turn from green to white, but its not the leaves that change, it is the thousand of white egrets that roost on one single tree and make it appear as if it where white. This normally takes place during the winter months from November to January.

Be selective with your images here as there are several very good vantage points. Take photographs of nesting pairs, the young and be attentive to the occasional life and death struggles as many of the fledglings can and often fall to the water below and are quickly dispatched by the ever present alligators.

Up north one can witness the annual migration of the fastest animal in North America; the pronghorn antelope which goes on migrations that can span 60 to 90 miles, something which they have been doing for over 6,000 years all along the Wyoming territory and other parts.

Other North American animals that migrate every year are the buffalo and the caribou.

The buffalo or better known as the bison do not migrate in the full meaning of the word. They are continually moving from grassland to grassland thus they seldom eat from the same grassy field twice in the same year. There are few wild specimens left, the majority can be found in Yellowstone National Park and on many private lands.

These are dangerous animals if they feel threatened so taking their images will require a long telephoto lenses. Make sure to include scenes of males, females and young as well as some of their more typical behaviors such as "wallowing".

The caribou migrate every year from grazing grounds to more fertile pastures all about the northern part of the North American Continent, especially in Alaska.

"For centuries this herd of caribou has migrated from its summer calving and feeding grounds on the coastal plain of Alaska and the Yukon south to winter in the mountains and valleys near the Brooks Range... "The migration route can take them over 800 miles (1300 km) distance each year"

Depending on where you live there are sure to be migratory species and planning a project should be done at least months in advance. If planning a more extended trip such as one to the African continent, then also be sure to check some of the local customs and people so that upon your return you have a more complete photographic project.

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Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

If any photographic project requires research before undertaking it, this is it. Be attentive to the lenses that you bring with you. They must allow you to take photographs of mass gathering of animals, even if they look like indistinguishable clumps and of individuals. Only then can you do true justice to the theme.

Not only does one have to research the individual subject that will be the focus of the project, but times, seasons, travel routes, behaviors and a host of other facts need to be fully understood to accomplish the project to its proper essence. Not to mention are the travel arrangements, what gear to take, clothing and son on.

As photographers, especially if they consider nature to be their main interest, need to take one of these "migrations" of their own at least once to truly experience what nature has to offer.

Many of the resulting images can be used as the basis of a book, used by many nature publications, greeting and poster publications as well as for individual prints which are one of the most popular mediums to present and sell them.

For those brave enough, parts of North Pole and South Pole can also present many an opportunity such as migrating penguins and the great seal congregations.

Whatever the region or species that you choose to capture through photographs this is sure to be an unforgettable experience which should be treasured for ever.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      randomcreative: Thank you

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great photography subject! I definitely agree with Lynn.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Yes Lynn, that's true.

      I have often stopped dead on my tracks to admire something in nature. Its power is undeniable

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      Very unique hub. What is it about nature that just fascinates us to the point where we just stop what we're doing and admire it?

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      tammyswallow: Thank you, yes it would great to live free amongst nature's wonders

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from North Carolina

      What a wonderful life it would be to give up all our wordly possessions and live among nature. You mnake it very appealing! Great hub!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Joe Macho: Thank you, Nature is truly amazing and never ceases to amaze and inspire awe

    • Joe Macho profile image

      Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

      Very interesting hub Luis. I've always wanted to make it to the coast to see the great salmon runs. Here in Colorado, we get Kokanee salmon runs in our lakes and reservoirs, but I'm sure it's not even in comparison to the large coastal runs. For the short time I spent in Wyoming, I was able to see Antelope moving all the time. One herd I saw must have not liked paved roads, because when it came time to crossing it, they just jumped over the whole deal. Animals are amazing creatures that many take for granted. Now if I could only get a good camera...