Monday, 23 May 2011

Farewell to the Godwits

By Rosemary Penwarden

It hasn't been a good summer for identifying godwits; however, this
autumn was one I will never forget. It was the 4th of March and we
were, as usual, watching the godwits from the road at Evansdale. By
March all the birds are in top shape; the males looking especially
gorgeous with their rusty chests in full breeding plumage. I love
watching them; they often behave as a single unit, all sleeping with
their bottoms turned away from the wind, wobbling like little weather
vanes. There were 580 of them, half the number we had seen two months
earlier, and they were noisy; trilling and strutting up and down the
ranks as they shifted position, lifting up and circling, then landing
again. Then a small group of 38 lifted into the air and circled. They
continued circling and calling until they were much higher than I had
seen before, and then flew north until all we could see was a tiny
dotted line of birds high above Seacliff. We were witnessing the first
couple of kilometres of their 9,000 km journey to the Yellow Sea.
The next day, there were no godwits at Evansdale, but at the end of
Warrington spit we saw a second bunch of 24 taking off to the north.
This time a group of four broke off from the group and landed; they
must have decided to stay longer… maybe they lost their nerve. I know
I would have second thoughts attempting such a journey. All I could do
was silently wish them well. With a tail wind and probably quite a bit
of luck most of those we saw leave will have made it to Alaska as this
Blueskin News goes to print, after spending April and most of May
refuelling near the Yellow Sea, between China and South Korea, for the
next leg to the Alaskan breeding grounds. They will be joining the
6,000 godwits who were seen passing the Portland observatory in
southern England on April 28, going north from Africa to the same
Alaskan breeding grounds.
There are still 100 or so godwits roosting at Evansdale or at the end
of the spit at high tide. These are the youngsters, barely a year old,
waiting out their first winter and plumping up for next year when they
will be strong enough to make the Alaskan trip next March.
Occasionally among them is an adult that didn't get strong enough or
for some reason decided not to make the journey this year. Keep your
dogs on a lead down that end of the spit so as not to disturb them.
Safe journey my pretties!

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