In Australia as we move into the warm Spring weather, our wader friends the Bar-tailed Godwit, who have spend our winter months breeding on top of the world in Alaska and Siberia, return after a 16,000 km (8 day) non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean, via New Zealand to Australia. They are the world’s most endurant bird and in one year fly over 36,000 km.
Last week after weeks of seeing nothing but egrets and herons (non-migratory waders) on the mudflats at low tide, I finally saw the return of the first wave of waders. Interestingly enough, while in Newcastle last weekend I saw none in areas where they are found in great numbers during the summer months, so the flock featured here must be one of the first to return.
The Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) it’s latin name means ‘mud dwelling bird from Lappland’. If you want to view this bird, you need to watch the tides and go after low tide has come to watch them graze on the coastal river mud flats. So now in the summer months, the tides become an important part of my birding consideration. Now you may wonder how the name ‘Godwit’ came about. Some think I like this bird because it has ‘God’ in it’s name, but certainly because of its amazing flight record it gets my thumbs up, for the act of endurant faith is certainly exemplified in these small quite ordinary looking birds. However, the word Godwit is actually thought to be derived from the sound they make. If you listen carefully to my video you may hear a tweeting sound like ‘godwitt, godwitt’ depending on how good your imagination is. Click on photos to enlarge them
Note the beautiful barring of the tail plumage when they fly, hence their name. Similar to other migratory waders, ducks, geese, ibis etc it is the flock community that enables them to accomplish the great feats of long distance travel. Forming the classic V shape they are able to fly, the strongest first and the tiredest at the rear. By means of changing position in formation at regular intervals they can maintain flight for longer periods than if on their own, due to the art of slipstreaming. The tired birds are refreshed at the rear while the front birds exert the most effort.
Unlike many other birds, it is the Bar-tailed Godwit female which is the larger and heavier bird, and has a longer beak than that of the male, as you can see above. They differ from the Black-tailed Godwit in that of the tail plumage colour and the beak shape. The Bar-tailed Godwit has a slightly upturned beak and the Black-tailed has a straight beak.
You may have noticed the army of Soldier Crabs running from the Godwits as they cover the beach. While these can provide food for the Godwits they prefer the smaller crabs which they extract with their beaks from below the sand.
It is strange to watch as the Godwits appear to ignore this great feast laid out for them on the beach.
It is almost humorous watching the crabs clamoring to get away from the Godwits, and the Godwits showing no real interest, but for the occasional indulgence.
On the far end of the beach, well away from me or anyone else I saw a lone Eastern Curlew feeding with the Godwit flock. I have seen one Curlew on this beach many times before, last summer and in previous years, it is probably the same one returning. These birds are extremely shy and frightened of mankind and will give an alarm call and fly off at the slightest sighting of approach. These are taken from some distance away.
With hightened expectation, having seen the return of the Godwits, I drove through the Royal National Park to Maianbar Shorebird Reserve where I found a small flock of Eastern Curlew. Note the massive expanse of mudflat at low tide. This is one of my new wader observation areas. Again, these birds due to their timidity, have to be viewed from a very great distance way, so I apologise for any fuzzy photos.
This is one of the signs around the mudflats, giving information about these migratory waders. Sadly I see several locals walking their large dogs, off their leash in a reserve where dogs are banned from entry, but no one is there to enforce it.
As I approached even standing far away, the Eastern Curlews took flight and landed further away to graze. We await the return of the remaining waders, including Sandpipers, Tattlers and other waders seen in our area.
Spring, not only marks the return of the waders but also the birth of the next generation of birds, such as these Wood Ducks at Audley. The proud mother and father watch over their brood as they forage. The white markings on the duckling bodies are important camouflage, making it difficult for potential predators to spot and identify the bird as a bird from afar. Other ducklings of differing species have very similar markings. The Tasmanian Devil also have similar markings for the same reason, which make it appear difficult to discern from afar. Sadly this year I have seen a reduction in the number of breeding resident waterbird in our local reserves.