The Godwits Are Here

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” ~ William Blake (1757-1827)

Godwits en route

Photo by Bob Gill.

We know it’s spring here when the first Bar-tailed Godwits appear in the South Island.  The Bar-tailed Godwit is the holder of the longest non-stop flight by birds covering about 11,000 km from Alaska to New Zealand. And then at the end of our summer, they do the return flight, another 11,000 km back to Alaska to breed.

In preparation for this long, non-stop flight to New Zealand, that can take as many as 10 days, the birds stock up on fat during the early fall in Alaska.  They use their pencil-thin bills to gorge on tiny clams, the size of a fingernail, found in the mudflats of south-west Alaska.

They put on so much fat that their body shape is totally changed before they start their journey and according to Bob Gill, who studies shorebirds at the USGS Science Centre in Anchorage, “They probably use all of that fat and then burn protein (muscle) for added energy.”

Gill and his counterparts in New Zealand and Australia, have been tracking the flights of these birds for several years.  They have proved that the birds make their migratory flights without stopping as in an experiment two years ago, they implanted satellite transmitters into several of the birds.   And they say that no other creature has ever demonstrated such a feat of endurance.  Read more about these birds at the Alaska Science Forum

Christchurch Cathedral Before 22.02.11

Christchurch Cathedral after 22.02.11

Christchurch Cathedral on 22.02.11

Traditionally, when the birds are first seen in the South Island of New Zealand, usually in the second or third week of September, the bells of Christchurch Cathedral ring out to welcome them.  However, because of the major earthquake in February, the bells are out of commission and this year the bells of another church in Christchurch were rung.

So the headlines in the Christchurch Press today read The arrival of the  Godwits in Christchurch has been marked by the bells of St Paul’s Anglican Church this year.”

The organiser of the bell-ringing at St Paul’s, Bill Thew, says the church’s bells are similar to those at the cathedral and it takes eight people to toll them. He also said that the church had suffered some damage in the earthquake but the bell tower is unscathed.

As an aside, does Sarah Palin claim the Godwits as part of her constituency of voters?

At about the same time that the Godwits were seen, another visitor was arriving some 360 km to the south.  And the bells rang out in Dunedin, marking the arrival of a Royal Albatross (tagged and named Rob ) at the world’s only mainland breeding colony at Taiaroa Head.

It was the second year running that Rob was the first springtime arrival.

“After spending almost a year at sea and with most birds circumnavigating the southern hemisphere in that time, arriving back to Taiaroa Head within a few days of their previous arrival date often astounds me,” Department of Conservation ranger Lyndon Perriman told the Otago Daily Times newspaper.













23 responses to “The Godwits Are Here

  1. I didn’t know about Godwits. What fascinating birds.

    I appreciate the Sarah Palin humor. I was sitting her thinking, “What did I do before I made fun of SP?” and then I remembered–I made fun of Geo. W. Bush.

    The second photo of the cathedral is heartbreaking.


  2. sitting here–I always notice my typos just as I post.


  3. That’s amazing that those birds travel that far! They’re internal compasses and instincts are fascinating! That’s nice that another church rang their bells for their arrival!
    Obviously, Rob is an early bird….har har har…..


  4. You enjoy movies… you may want to see Fly Away Home. A sweet film about the Canadian geese. Their migration is by no means as great as the Godwit migration, still it is a good movie.

    Sad reminder about the bell tower and Christchurch.


    • Well I do seem to have been to quite a few recently. Usually it is several months between them but we have just had the International Film Festival here so…
      I will look for Fly Away Home. Maybe I can rent it if it isn’t showing anywhere.


  5. Godwits are fascinating. First time I have seen them and amazing that they migrate so far! It’s strange to think of you going into spring as our summer days are gone and now leaves are turning and there is a pleasant nip in the air!


    • Yes well all the months you have been complaining about the heat Chris, we have been in the winter here. So it’s our turn now.
      Have you settled into your new home. I hope so. 🙂


  6. Very interesting and thanks for the chuckle re: Ms. Palin.


  7. Beautiful church, wow, it sure did suffer some damage from the earthquake.


  8. I love that name . . . Godwits!
    Sarah Palin can’t claim the Godwits . . . she gets the Badwit votes.

    No worries, mon. Swing by when you have a chance. 😎


  9. I knew about the migration of the Godwits and how far they fly but I did not know about the bell ringing in Christchurch. I’m pleased that ceremony could still happen albeit in a different church.

    It won’t be long now until I hear the Shining Cuckoo’s call. Another migratory bird.


    • Well the Godwits always herald spring to me ever since I first read about them when we arrived in NZ. I will miss the Shining Cuckoo again in town this year. 🙂


  10. The Godwits are amazing! And to think I have been known to complain because the grocery is a mile from home…


  11. What interesting birds! I’ve never heard of them. I think it’s an amazing place that heralds birds with church bells, and the paper deems them worthy of a headline.
    So that’s where you’ve been! I knew you were still posting on your blog, so I surmised you must be all right. Just thought maybe you’d had a nice, warm day to go out and play and forgot to come back!


    • We did have a couple of warm days and then bam! On Monday we had a southerly that brought hail and snow. And this is Spring?
      Anyway, the birds are really welcome here after their long trek and I too think it’s great that they welcome them with the church bells. As we say, only in New Zealand! 🙂


  12. How interesting! I’ve never heard of Godwits before. Pretty remarkable flight they take.


    • Isn’t it amazing how things we know about and almost take for granted are unknown by so many others. The Godwits are regular visitors to the South Island of New Zealand and return each year. With the tagging they now see that many return year after year. 🙂


  13. Pingback: Spring Fever | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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