Sunday, February 24, 2013

Miranda means admirable, you know

We took a drive south to Miranda today, to have a look at the godwits before they depart in a couple of weeks' time for their long, long journey all the way to Alaska to breed in the northern summer. The world is full of mysterious, idiosyncratic and perversely long migrations of birds, but the bar-tailed godwit has been shown to make the furthest non-stop journey of any bird: 11,026 km from here to the Yellow Sea in China, in 9 days. Later, a tagged female, the inspiringly-named E7, was recorded as flying for 11,680 km from Alaska to the Firth of Thames - but, of course, that's downhill, so pft.
It's the most astonishing journey for these otherwise fairly nondescript waders to make, and it's really hard to imaging them flapping and flapping for so long and so far, over all those seas and the Pacific, through wind and storms and baking sun, without stopping. And that makes it so heart-breaking to read that China is so busy expanding and reclaiming land and building on it that they are destroying the wetlands where the birds stop for their desperately-needed rest and refuel before resuming the flight to Alaska. Sigh. The godwits, and other migratory birds, do have their champions there, but it's a very one-sided battle.
We sat in a hide and watched them, out on the flats in their thousands as the tide slowly pushed them closer towards us. It was another hot day, and it was very pleasant to sit there with a warm breeze in my face, bringing the smell of the sea and the sound of the waves beyond the cockle-shell bar, and waving the bunny-tails growing along the edge of the beach. All neatly facing into the wind were gulls and oyster-catchers, some herons and a pied stilt, a black-backed gull and lots of red knots in amongst the godwits, prodigious migrators themselves, despite being half the size. And I think I'm a traveller.

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