RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Sure, you can do the eco-vacation that involves flying to an exotic faraway land to help save sea turtles. It’s a great cause and would be a memorable trip—but who has the time or money for it? Not to worry, you have plenty of great alternatives right here in the U.S., perhaps just a few hours from your home. And many are quite reasonably priced—even free. Another perk? These getaways are often located in national wildlife refuges, so you’re guaranteed to escape the hustle and bustle of typically crowded vacation spots. What’s more, you get to work alongside park staff and scientists doing important wildlife research.
Here are several great “mini” eco-vacations and event ideas to consider this summer and fall:
Birds and butterflies…
Fall marks an incredible migration of songbirds, raptors, and monarch butterflies, as they had south of the border to warmer climates.
• Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, New Ringgold, Pennsylvania, open year-round. The Autumn Hawkwatch is open daily from Aug. 15 to Dec. 15. This year celebrates the 72nd annual watch, when an average of 18,000 birds of prey are expected to migrate through this hawk, falcon, and eagle hot spot in east-central Pennsylvania. To sharpen your scouting skills, check out the raptor ID workshop (for ages 12 and older) on Sunday, Oct. 3.
This amazing and historical sanctuary doesn't just focus on raptors, either. The Monarch Migration Celebration at Hawk Mountain will be held on Sept. 18, when you can scout out Mexico-bound monarchs at Hawk Mountain's Lookout. If you live on the West Coast, check out Pismo Beach in California between late October and February, when hordes of monarch butterflies flock to dance among the area's eucalyptus trees.
• Birding in Cape May, New Jersey, year-round (prime time in October). The Delaware Bay is world-renowned for birding, and picturesque Cape May offers an extraordinary array of events for birders beginner to expert: walks along the shore, skimmer boat rides through marshes, and The Beanery, a nearby farm that leases birding rights to the Audubon Society. Enjoy special events for children, Q&As with naturalists and book authors, and sunset birding outings on your trip to this beautiful New Jersey coastal resort. Check the New Jersey Audubon and Cape May Bird Observatory calendar of events for complete details.
• Midwest Butterfly Tagging, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa, Sept. 11. Citizen science at its best! Help the staff capture, tag, and release monarch butterflies as they head south on their great migration.
• Shorebird ID Workshop, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware, Aug. 21. This half-day event involves classroom and fieldwork and will teach you how to identify shorebirds. Registration deadline: Aug. 19.
• Whooping Crane & Wildlife Festival, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin, Sept. 18. This always-popular celebration of wildlife and the extremely endangered whooping crane features children's activities, bus tours of the refuge, and even a 10K and 5K Run/Walk.
Bugs and other cold-blooded beasts...
Monitoring different bug species and other cold-blooded animals in your area can help researchers gauge and report on your community's biodiversity health. Plus, it’s fun!
• Discover Cold-Blooded Creatures, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge/Cache River Wetlands Center, Illinois, Aug. 28. Learn how to tell a harmless snake from a poisonous one while visiting this amazing refuge in southern Illinois. The event includes a hike to look for other reptiles around Heron Pond.