LocalMatters       

Strong easterly winds see godwits blown way off course

Posted at 12:30pm Monday 12 Oct, 2020 | By James Addis editor@localmatters.co.nz

Godwit 13 touches down in Snells Beach after stops in China and Alaska.
Godwit 13 touches down in Snells Beach after stops in China and Alaska.

Juvenile godwits embark on their first 12,000km journey at just 14 weeks old. All photos, Michele MacKenzie
Juvenile godwits embark on their first 12,000km journey at just 14 weeks old. All photos, Michele MacKenzie

Exhausted birds crave some peace and quiet to help them recuperate.
Exhausted birds crave some peace and quiet to help them recuperate.

Strong easterly winds have pushed migrating godwits further west this year forcing some to make unscheduled stops in Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia rather than their preferred sanctuary at the northern end of Snells Beach.

Despite the mishap, the displaced godwits, known for their faithfulness in returning to the same site each year, are expected to continue to New Zealand once they have rested and recovered.

Meanwhile, Snells Beach shorebird advocate Michele MacKenzie says other birds landing at Snells Beach have made the journey from Alaska relatively unscathed, though many are predictably exhausted.

Fortunately, they narrowly missed a huge plume of smoke generated by the Californian wildfires.

Recent arrivals include juvenile godwits of around 15 weeks old, some with their bills stained yellow from the iron in the Alaskan tundra.

Among the interesting sightings is “13”, the first bird tagged as part of an ongoing research project in Yalu Jiang, China, to be seen in New Zealand.     

The bird was tagged in April on its way to Alaska.

Adrian Riegen, of the Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists' Trust, says the bird was tagged as part of a study run by Chinese student Shoudong Zhang.

Zhang is eager to find out how the birds move around the 60km coastline of the Yalu Jiang nature reserve while resting and refuelling. The reserve is close to the border with North Korea.  

“Knowing which ones have arrived here during the southern summer will help him know that they are at least alive now and have completed another round-trip migration,” Adrian says.

Adrian says last year was a very good breeding season with many young birds making it to New Zealand. This year things don't seem quite as promising, possibly due to more predators in Alaska.

“Climate change is an ongoing issue and we are not quite sure how it will affect these birds, but it almost certainly will, just as it is affecting almost all life on earth,” he says.  

Michele urges visitors to Snells Beach to take care not to disturb the birds.

“We can all make a huge difference and save their lives by just letting them rest and have their space,” she says.

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