Archives For Migration

What is brown and grey, gets easily spooked, and connects New Zealand, China and Alaska? While it’s entirely possible that other things fit under that description, the answer we’re looking for is the much-loved Eastern bar-tailed godwit.

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By Bruce McKinlay, Technical Advisor, Ecosystems and Species

DOC is engaging in bird conservation in China. Why you might ask?

Both the bar-tailed godwit and the red knot are declining. The best science we have shows that declines in both these, and other shorebird species, is due to habitat changes in the Yellow Sea, where they stopover on their migrations to and from the Arctic breeding grounds to refuel and gather food.

Red knot in plumage near the shore.

A lesser or red knot in breeding plumage

These birds are all part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which is one of seven flyways that circle our world. This flyway extends from Awarua Bay in the south of New Zealand to the North Slope in Alaska, and from as far west as Myanmar to Alaska in the east. It is one of the most significant biological features on the planet and it is in trouble.

Reclamation, pollution, and hunting are causing declines in the numbers of bird species of 5-9% per year. The most important driver of change is reclamation in the Yellow Sea, where research has shown a 35% loss of intertidal habitat area across six key areas since the early eighties.

A flock of red knots takes flight.

A flock of red knots takes flight

Protection of the New Zealand populations of bar-tailed godwits and lesser knots requires engagement with partners as far away as Russia and USA, but in particular China and North Korea.

New Zealand is a member of an international body seeking to guide governmental and non-governmental action to ensure that declines of migratory waterbird populations are reduced and that key habitat along the flyway are protected and where possible enhanced for the migratory birds.

A plump and pale male godwit.

A male godwit showing how fat they are before migrating to China

A key partner in this work is the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust who have a long and respected history as a passionate advocate for shorebirds.

DOC staff will be visiting China and North Korea along with the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust to to engage with governments and local organisations on how to work together to protect the habitat of these shorebirds.

By Rudy Tetteroo, Programme Manager (Community Relations), Motueka

Pauline Samways, together with the Motueka Arts Council, has greatly increased local community awareness of godwits: birds who complete their non-stop migration from Alaska to here in New Zealand.

Pauline observing the godwits on the Motueka sandspit.

Pauline in Motueka with the godwits

Pauline was recently recognised as a Conservation Champion for her tireless work in helping raise the profile of Motueka’s most important annual visitor.

Just over ten years ago, Pauline left the classroom behind after being awarded a Science, Mathematics and Technology Teaching Fellowship by the Royal Society of New Zealand. This allowed Pauline to spend a year on the Motueka sandspit learning about its ecology. It was this experience that made Pauline realise just how truly amazing godwits are.

After following the progress of the satellite-tagged birds, Pauline saw how important the DOC managed Motueka sandspit was to the long-haul travellers who nested there. After her submission to the local council to ban dogs from roaming on the spit was unsuccessful, Pauline wrote articles for the local newspapers about the different birds that were found on the spit and relied on it for their survival. Her submission was later revised and the last 200 meters of the sandspit are now dog free thanks to her efforts.

People viewing the godwits using telescopes.

People viewing the godwits

In 2008 the Motueka Arts Council joined the unofficial Godwits Appreciation Club whilst looking for a new project that would be special to the Motueka Township. They came up with the idea of a ‘Welcome to the Godwits’ celebration—an exhibition of art, photography, poetry and sculpture by adults and school children, along with information about the birds and the importance of the estuary.

“We visited schools to enthuse the children who in turn carried the message to their parents,” says Pauline.

Pauline’s own “Viewing of the Godwits” event saw local Ornithological Society of New Zealand members set up their telescopes on the old wharf over-looking the estuary. People came out to view the godwits feeding and to hear about the amazing journey they made every year. The “Viewing of the Godwits” event paired up with the Motueka Arts Councils festival for three years following its debut and included guest speakers, a dress up parade and art on the waterfront. These events encouraged one local school to publish a book (called ‘Never Ending Summer’) on the topic with the first 200 copies selling out.

Godwits landing on the Motueka sandspit after their migration from Alaska.

Godwits landing in Motueka

In the past three years, a colony of white fronted terns has been nesting at the end of the sandspit. To help manage these predators, DOC provided Pauline with six traps, which she and a friend now monitor regularly.

The increased awareness of godwits in the Motueka community is greatly due to Pauline’s hard work and her partnership with the Motueka Arts Council, as well as the support from DOC and the Tasman District Council.

Pauline has been the community voice working in a methodical and persistent fashion in the best interest of the birds. It’s the quiet, unassuming style that has allowed her to succeed where others have failed.

Pauline using her telescope to observe the godwits.

Pauline using her telescope