Friday 26 March 2021

Godwits, God wot

Godwits are amazing birds. Our bar-tailed godwits are the largest of the species, but they're still only about 40cm head to tail (and a fair-sized section of that is beak) - pretty flimsy for a creature that flies, non-stop, up to 12,000 km, twice a year, every year. What's more, they can do the journey between Alaska, where they breed, and here in just 8-9 days, averaging 56km/h. Talk about exhausting - and also, really, godwits? Do you have to? Couldn't you find more convenient breeding and feeding sites? 

Leaving aside my incomprehension about why so many species of birds make their lives so difficult for themselves, insisting on flying across the Sahara, or over the Himalayas, or, in the case of the incompletely-named Arctic tern, doing a 90,000km round trip every year from one pole to the other - which equates, over a lifetime, to going to the moon and back three times. Leaving that, as I say, aside - the arrival of the godwits at their feeding sites here is a celebrated event, and not just by binoculared birders. 

When they turn up at Miranda, on the Firth of Thames just south of Auckland, all sorts of people go out to see them, and be heartened. That happens around September, and they spend the summer here assiduously feeding on the mudflats before, about now, heading away again. Some of them have satellite transmitters fitted (it's always a slight niggle, how much harder that might make the journey for them, though they seem to manage ok). Individuals are known by their number, like this season's record-breaker 4BBRW who, thanks to some inconvenient winds, flew the longest-ever recorded non-stop flight of about 12,000km and got here in 11 days. (His name seems a bit clinical but just refers to the leg band colours - blue, blue, red, white.)

The Miranda Trust does all the tracking and communicates the data, and is now following them as they head north again. Maybe because it's uphill (actually, probably head winds), they do stop on the return journey, in Asia (not without problems, sigh, because of loss of habitat in some places there) and it's been announced that some of them are already in South Korea.

South Korea! I went there once, back in the golden days... I only went because I'd been invited, to help publicise a new Air NZ route, never having seriously considered it as a destination before. Big mistake. It's a really great place to visit - nice people, excellent architecture, colourful culture, vivid history, natch - and the food! Just SO good. I was really pleased to have gone there, and would happily go again.

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