7 Natural Wonders to Celebrate Earth Day
Updated: Jun 12
Today is the 50th anniversary of #EarthDay – take a moment to celebrate the beauty and importance of these seven amazing wildlife destinations
Katmai National Park | Alaska
Each summer, when the sockeye salmon migrate from Bristol Bay into the creeks, rivers and lakes of the Naknek drainage, Katmai's Alaskan brown bears rub their paws in anticipation. Around 100 stake out the Brooks Falls area, snatching leaping fish in their jaws and pounding through shallows in pursuit of a slippery feast. Various wooden platforms provide superb (and safe) views of the spectacle.
Sea of Cortez | Mexico
Join an expedition cruise to the Sea of Cortez and you will be entering seas that support one of the world's greatest concentrations of cetaceans. They're attracted here by plankton blooms sustained by nutrient-rich upwellings from a submarine maze of canyons and sea mounts. It's all eyes on deck as you scan the deep azure waters for the 12m-tall spout of surfacing blue whales and the blows, breaches and flukes of fin, humpback, minke, sperm and Bryde's whales. Common dolphins can often be seen in superpods 1,000 or more strong, while more elusive cetaceans include dwarf sperm whale, pygmy killer whale and orca. As well as whale watching, you may encounter huge 'swarms' of mobula rays (with individuals leaping out of the water) or stop at remote islands to visit sea lion colonies.
The Lower Zambezi | Zambia
The Zambezi flows past floodplains and silty islands in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Fig, ebony and sausage trees jostle for space on the riverbanks, merging with stands of winterthorn acacia and miombo woodland as the valley floor rises to meet the northern escarpment. Elephant and buffalo are abundant. You can sometimes see large herds wading in the river, or even crossing over to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. The bird life is also stunning. The plaintive, almost gull-like, cry of the African fish eagle is quintessential Lower Zambezi. You can often see the majestic raptors perched on dead trees near the water's edge. Also look out for white-fronted bee-eater, giant, malachite and pied kingfishers, various egrets and storks, plus the exotic narina trogon and Meyer's parrot – preferably from the seat of a canoe paddled gently along a backwater of the Zambezi River.
Danum Valley | Borneo
One of Borneo's top wildlife locations, Danum Valley covers 438 sq km of pristine dipterocarp rainforest – home to Sabah's 10 species of primate, including orang-utan. The orange-haired 'man of the forest' often makes an appearance when the durian trees are in fruit. Explore forest trails and stake out the canopy walkway during the early morning and you may also glimpse (or, more likely, see signs of) other rarities like Asian elephant, clouded leopard, flat-headed cat, Sumatran rhino and sun bear. Bearded pig, mouse deer and Bornean red muntjac are more easily spotted, and there are always plenty of hornbills, barbets, broadbills and other birds about. Night walks, meanwhile, shine a light on the secretive nocturnal world of the giant flying squirrel and slow loris.
Kakadu | Australia
Many of Kakadu's mammals are either shy or nocturnal: sugar gliders and northern quolls hide during the day in tree hollows, while bandicoots shelter in logs. Wallabies and wallaroos are more readily seen and dingoes can be heard howling at night. Flying foxes roost in large colonies in mangroves and paperbark forests, dispersing at night to feed on fruit and nectar.
Kakadu supports over 280 bird species, the most conspicuous being dry-season flocks of magpie geese, whistling ducks and other waterbirds. Brolgas, jabirus and egrets pace the shallows, while comb-crested jacanas tiptoe across lily pads. Woodlands are home to kookaburras, lorikeets and honeyeaters. The national park's 117 reptile species range from saltwater and freshwater crocodiles to pythons, goannas and the bizarre frill-necked lizard.
Svalbard | Arctic
Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen is the departure point for voyages in the breathtaking Svalbard archipelago. Riven by deep fjords, with huge glaciers squatting beneath snow-capped peaks, this Arctic gem is the realm of polar bear, walrus, Svalbard reindeer, Arctic fox and prolific birdlife. The peak time for polar bear watching is late July to early August when pack ice has retreated enough to allow ships access to prime bear habitat along the northern and eastern coasts. Seabird breeding activity, however, reaches its peak by late June or early July.
South Georgia | Antarctica
A ravaged scimitar of land over 2,000km east of Tierra del Fuego, South Georgia defies the brutal storms of the Southern Ocean, its mountainous backbone shielding bays along the island's north coast where one of the world's greatest annual gatherings of seabirds takes place. No less than 60 million birds are thought to breed on this wild, uninhabited and strikingly beautiful island. Wandering albatross hunker down on clifftop nests, Antarctic shags stake out rocky shores, and storm petrels seek gaps and crevices in screes in which to lay their eggs. Southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals commandeer beaches, littering the strandline in vast, twitching hordes, but nothing can upstage the birds on South Georgia – and there is one species in particular that steals the show. King penguins breed in such numbers on the island that their massed ranks transform entire bays into a monochromatic melée of sleek black-and-white bodies, speckled with the bright orange flashes of their ear patches and the shaggy brown coats of chicks.
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