On Earth Day, April 22, the movie, Earth, makes its debut in theaters. Created by Disney, the BBC, and The Discovery Channel, the film tracks the migration of three different animal families — a polar bear and her cubs, an elephant herd, and a humpback whale and her calf. You can take your grandchildren to the Cineplex, but it's so much more remarkable to actually encounter marine life, four-legged animals, or birds in the wild. We've found some wonderful ways for you and your grandchildren to get up close and personal with wildlife.
Watching Loggerhead Turtles
Bald Head Island, N.C.
[photo turtle align=right max-width=150]When Dick Johnston’s granddaughter, Kenan Hill, was 6 years old, she held a newly-hatched loggerhead turtle, took him to the water's edge, and released him into the Atlantic Ocean. Three days after a nest hatches on the beach at Bald Head Island, N.C., the naturalist at the Bald Head Island Conservancy schedules an excavation to dig up the nest and count the hatched shells and the eggs that didn't hatch. Sometimes the team finds a few viable baby turtles. Kenan was so moved by the experience she now does as many school projects involving turtles as she can.
The conservancy also holds Turtle Walks during the turtle-nesting season, from early June through mid-August. After a 45-minute presentation, participants are led to the beach to await word from the beach patrol for directions to any nesting sites. Hatchings, also seen on Turtle Walks, generally occur during the last half of September.
"The experience of seeing a several hundred-pound female dig her nest, lay her eggs and then cover it with her flippers before making her way (exhausted) back to the water is emotionally powerful for the young and old," says Johnston, a volunteer for Bald Head Island Conservancy. "All eight of my grandchildren have done this at least once."
[photo hummingbird max-width=150 align=right]While visitors watch, hummingbird-banders capture, measure, weigh, and mark wild hummingbirds so they can track their migration through Arizona. Then the banders place each hummingbird on a visitor's outstretched hand, and the bird uses it as a launch pad. Even toddlers who are calm enough can hold a hummingbird. Banders ask fidgety children to hold their hand palm down, or may even hold children's fingers to prevent their grabbing the tiny bird. Hummingbird-banding generally takes place at San Pedro House. Find the date on the calendar and then call (520) 432-1388 to confirm that the banding-session you’re interested in will be taking place. Sessions usually begin in mid-March and continue through mid-October.
If your grandchildren are fearless, they'll love the Airboats & Alligators guided tour on Lake Trafford. This lake boasts one of the highest alligator populations of any lake in Florida so you're guaranteed alligator sightings, from small to really big ones. The tour also includes birds and other wildlife in the area. You might see boar and deer, in addition to alligators.
Viewing Bald Eagles
New York State
[photo eagles max-width=150 align=right]During February and March, New York State has some of the best places to observe bald eagles, a species slowly returning from the brink of extinction. Along the Upper Delaware River, you'll find two well-marked viewing areas near the Mongaup River Valley — at the Rio and the Mongaup Falls reservoirs; the latter has an information booth. You may also spot bald eagles, the U.S. national emblem, at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Basom, N.Y., and in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge at Seneca Falls, N.Y. The Eagle Institute, a nonprofit organization in Barryville, N.Y., dedicated to protecting the bald eagle and other birds of prey, sponsors affordable guided tours, habitat excursions, and educational workshops.
Experiencing Marine Life
Guests of the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea can take advantage of a complimentary outrigger-canoe excursion, offered Monday through Friday year-round. Each outrigger adventure, with two instructors, can accommodate three guests. Everyone paddles, and the views are breathtaking. You might see manta rays, tropical fish, green sea turtles, stingrays, sea lions, and dolphins. From December through April, humpback whales visit Hawaii’s protected waters.
Shadowing Yellowstone National Park Animals
[photo yellowstone max-width=150 align=right]When Sage Garrett was 6, he attended the four-day Family Wonder Week (now called Yellowstone for Families) at Yellowstone with his grandparents, Dave and Sharon Holmstrom. They saw wolves and their pups, buffalo, baby antelope, coyotes, and deer. Sage took endless photos and made a journal of what he experienced using watercolors. Three years later, he still has the journal to remind him of that special trip and he wants to go back. The Yellowstone Association hosts this experience and others for multigenerations.
There are more than 330 different species of hummingbirds. They are only found in the Western Hemisphere and they can live a decade or more in the wild.
Alligators have five toes on each of their front legs, but only four toes on each of their back legs.
About 25 percent of the more than 530 species of reef fish native to Hawaii are endemic to the islands — found no place else.
We've got more ideas for getting close to wildlife. Try swimming with dolphins or taking a safari adventure here at home. If you can't get outside to see wildlife, take a look at these webcams gone wild.
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