The sun rises this morning and I watch it inch up over the horizon. Today, I can't stop thinking about the huge journey ahead of me. I am about to begin a 7,000-mile migration! That is hard to imagine. We'll fly about 250 miles a day, depending on the weather and other unexpected events. How funny to think that this journey is routine for Abuelito, and the others who have done it before.
As I think of the trip, Jorge lands on the mud next to me and feeds. Most of the time he acts silly or mischievous and flies in funny ways to catch my attention. Today however is different. He knows that I am anxious about leaving and wants to help me feel better. He calls out to me, repeating, "rememberů persistence and accuracy, persistence and accuracy." If I focus on these two things I just might make it to the Arctic!
Above us, many kinds of birds fly over in a beautiful sweeping motion. They are heading north. Suddenly our group takes flight and joins the patterns in the sky. I too am swept into the scene and I spot Maria and Oxy off to the west. I know that there will be many days, and even weeks, when we won't see each other. But, maybe, just maybe, we'll land next to each other after our 2,000-mile trip.
Here we go! What in the world makes us take this long journey? How is it that our breeding and wintering grounds are so far apart? It is hard for anyone to answer this question. All we know is that we seek "eternal spring" - warm sun and lots of food resources. During migration, we stop at wetlands along our route to rest and eat. These staging areas, or migratory stopover sites, are nutrient-rich wetlands that give us space to rest and rebuild our food reserves for the next part of the trip. We basically leapfrog - "hopping" from wetland to wetland all the way from the tropics to the Arctic.
Gusts of wind push me from behind as I think about all of this. It is a "rush" to be carried by the winds at two or even three times my normal flight speed. We spend many hours searching for the best pockets of air to fly in. At 6,000 feet it isn't always easy to see land when many clouds block my view. Abuelito taught me to look for 'visual aids'. A "visual aid" is something that helps me navigate. I look for landmarks like coastlines, rivers, and mountain ranges or even the moon and sun and stars. Some believe that an "internal" compass in my head helps me find my way by following the Earth's magnetic field. Visual aids make our survival possible. If we fly or are blown off course by just one degree, we could miss our destinations and die along the way. The fact that many of us complete our journey shows the incredible accuracy of our navigational aids.
As I fly, I think back to Abuelito and his descriptions of what California looked like from the air. Now, what he described is opening up in front of my very own eyes. It is amazing to peer down and see the coastline and all the human settlements. There are many parts of Southern California where the air has a yellow or brown haze to it. There must be many creatures that live and breathe below this pollution.