Flight over, let's feed

21:59, Sep 18 2013
JOURNEY'S END: Godwits on the Motueka Sandspit.

The first of the godwits have arrived in the region, marking touchdown for exhausted birds who have completed the longest non-stop migration in the world.

Ornithological Society member Pauline Samways said she got the first reports of godwits leaving their Alaskan breeding grounds on Friday, September 6 and on Tuesday there were well over 100 "feeding frantically" in the Moutere estuary, having flown 11,500 kilometres.

The Motueka Sandspit is the second most significant site for godwits in the region, with Farewell Spit hosting about 11,000 last season and the sandspit hosting about 2000. They can also be found around the fringes of the Waimea estuary, in places such as the tips of Rabbit and Bell islands and Nelson Haven.

They arrive exhausted and hungry, having lost more than half their body weight. They sit out the Alaskan winter on the sandspit, feeding on worms, shellfish and crabs before they return to their breeding grounds.

The birds will continue to arrive until as late as early December.

The Motueka Sandspit also hosts a wintering-over population of juveniles who are not ready to fly to Alaska to breed. This winter about 125 juveniles wintered over in Motueka, which Pauline said was a typical number. But over the past decade, summer populations have declined from about 18,000 at Farewell Spit in 2000 to 11,000 in 2012.


Because Farewell Spit can only be visited by licensed tours and the roosting sites in the Waimea estuary tend to be remote, the Motueka Sandspit was the best place to see godwits, said Pauline. The best time is a mid to low tide, when the birds feed near the water's edge. She said binoculars were sufficient to see the birds then, as oppose to low tide when they are too far from shore. Godwits do not like to get too close to shore, so tend not to feed at high tide, she said.

There will a public viewing of feeding godwits hosted by members of the Ornithological Society on Sunday, September 29 from 10am till 12pm at the old wharf on Motueka Quay beside the Janie Seddon.

Members will have will have telescopes to look through and there will be an information tent with photos and facts about the godwit life cycle and artists from the Motueka Art Group painting and exhibiting.

An art exhibition titled "Godwits, estuary and shore birds of Motueka" will be at the Motueka Sprig & Fern from October 2 to 29, and October 16 will see a slide show of the birds of the local estuaries, by Rebecca Bowater, FPSNZ and Ornithological Society member at 7.30pm at the SeniorNet rooms, 42 Pah St, Motueka.