Phenomena worth travelling
Phenomena Worth Travelling: From flashing plankton to singing sand, the world is full of weird and w
1. Midnight sun
AKA White nights, polar night, midnattssol
What is it? When the sun stays above the horizon 24 hours a day, remaining visible even at midnight.
Where? Within the Arctic and Antarctic circles, though also occurs up to 90km outside circle regions.
The midnight sun means twice as much holiday, sort of those long hours of daylight allow you to hike, sail, wildlife watch and explore until the wee hours; many travellers report needing less sleep when surrounded by all this illumination.
AKA Flocking, sort sol (black sun)
What is it? The amassing and movement of a large flock of roosting starlings; murmurations occur just before dusk, autumn and winter.
Where? Murmurations seem particular to the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris). The birds like to roost in sheltered spots such as woods and reedbeds, though are happy in urban settings too.
A murmuration is a like an avian aurora. The birds perhaps 100,000 of them twist and billow as the lights do, creating ever shifting shapes; they swirl like smoke, explode in blooms and plummet like waterfalls. Each bird somehow reacts to those around it, so the flock flurries as one.
The UK is a prime spot good locations include Gretna Green, Leighton Moss in Lancashire, Saltholme near Middlesbrough and the Somerset Levels. The latter has an RSPB Starling Hotline (07866 554 142) so you can get up to date info on the most likely roost sites.
In Denmark, they call this phenomena the black sun from mid March to mid April and mid September to mid October, the skies over Jutland s marshes are painted black by the starlings wings.
3. Singing sand
AKA Whistling sand, barking sand
What is it? Sand that emits moaning and/or booming noises when disturbed by wind or feet. Thought to be sounds bouncing between the surface and a hard layer below; may be dependent on the sand s grain size and silica content.
Where? Worldwide only about 40 dunes ?sing .
Whichever tuneful dune you visit, it needs to be totally dry to perform. Choose an especially arid spot, such as the 200m high Eureka dunes of Death Valley when the grains tumble down the dunes steepest face, they rumble like a distant plane.
Other surreal sandy spots include Mingsha, at Dunhuang, China; the dunes near Liwa Oasis, UAE; and the white Witsand Roaring Dunes in the Kalahari, South Africa.
4. Polar night
AKA 24 hour darkness, polarnatt, kaamos
What is it? When the sun stays below the horizon 24 hours a day though the darkness is seldom absolute, with an ethereal twilight illuminating the skies for several hours (depending on date and location).
Where? The Arctic and Antarctic circles; the darkness length increases closer to the poles.
Sounds depressing? Polar night isn t as gloomy as it sounds. The pink golden dusk light that does put in an appearance is cheery and cherished. Plus, the snowy landscapes reflect any rays, so the world feels that bit brighter.
This is the time to hit the Arctic for winter high jinks husky sledding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and general admiration of the icy north. The Svalbard darkness lasts from 14 November to 29 January ideal for moonlit snowmobile forays, scouring for stars and drinking in the camaraderie at Longyearbyen s bars.
Similar activities are on offer across Lapland, plus ski runs are illuminated and restaurants flicker with candles. Whalewatchers should visit Norway s Andfjord, where pods of orca along with humpback, fin and sperm whales feed on herring during winter.
5. Northern lights
AKA Aurora borealis, revontulet (fox fires), kinguyakkii
What is it? Light display caused by charged, fast moving particles from the sun entering the earth s atmosphere.
Where? Particles are driven towards the poles by the earth s magnetic field, so northern lights are more prevalent above the Arctic Circle; however, displays are seen further south.
You need dark skies, clear skies and a little luck. Aurora is a fickle maiden sometimes flashy and brazen, sometimes coquettish or unforthcoming. But if you head to the far north, between September and March, for several nights, you might see the heavens erupt in a fantasia of swirling yellow purple green.
Good spots include Sweden s Abisko Sky Station (renowned for cloudlessness); the Northern Lights Centre at Whitehorse, in Canada s Yukon; and Finnish Lapland, where it s estimated there are around 200 auroral displays a year.
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