Monday, November 30, 2009


So here I am in Armidale, here for the Australasian Ornithological Conference (AOC). It's a nice town. That said I only momentarily got distracted with the architecture while in search of a decent coffee! Armidale is at a reasonable elevation (>1000m) so is relatively cool - warm days and cool evenings. Yesterday I joined a Susie & Isabel from Massey on a trip out to Little Llongothlin, a highland wetland. This in itself is special as these days wetlands are disappearing at a frightening rate here in Australia (and other countries for that matter). Great little spot and some great birds - highlights were the gorgeous Superb Fairy-wrens, Sea-Eagle and Crested Grebe. The grebe especially as it was one of those birds in my birdbook as a kid I always looked forward to seeing one day - crazily, its taken this long.
Little Llongothlin, New England, Australia

The delightful Superb Fairy-wren

Friday, November 20, 2009

Retrieving data-loggers

Processing station - Manawatu Estuary

About to release a banded godwit
A couple of weeks back now an important catch took place down at Foxton Beach, at the Manawatu Estuary. The main purpose of the catch was to retrieve as many of the 24 data-loggers back off birds that had been carrying them around the globe. Data-loggers record data on hours of light/dark while attached to a bird. From this data longitude and latitude can be calculated, giving the migration journey of the birds. However, to retrieve this data the device needs to be removed from the birds leg, where it has been sitting for a year (or in some cases 2 years). Of the 24 birds that had dataloggers placed on them all 24 had been sighted back in New Zealand, 23 of those in Foxton and 1 in Christchurch. A 100% survival indicating no adverse effects on these datalogger birds. We were able to join with a number of NZ birders and DOC staff to catch birds with cannon-nets, the dream goal being to retrieve all 23 data-loggers from the birds present. Radio NZ was also there, recording the action and seeking insights from participants as the day unfolded. A touch of careful movement of birds from down the end of the beach found them roosting in the catching zone, so then 3,2,1 fire! Off went the cannons, firing the nets over the birds. We raced to the shore to release the birds and within 10 minutes all birds had been placed safely in bird boxes, thankfully with no casualties! In the end, amongst the catch, were 17 birds with data-loggers. A good result, though still leaving the question of how to get the other 6 or 7?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Manawatu Estuary - a local gem

Another aspect of the Fellowship I have enjoyed this year is the time spent at Manawatu Estuary. It really is a local gem, with a great diversity of bird and plant life. While the regular birds at the estuary (godwits, knots, oystercatchers, spoonbills, wrybills and so on) are fantastic in themselves the chance to see a bit of a rariety always adds to the visit. Over the year visitors have included a pied shag, glossy ibis, white heron, sharp-tailed sandpiper, golden plover, turnstone and red-knecked stint. Here's a couple of shots of a wrybill and juvenile turnstone I took down the estuary recently. You can read more about Manawatu Estuary Trust at their site.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wader ID

You'd think by now, a year into my fellowship, I'd be nailing the bird identification in the field. I'm certainly getting better, but those waders can be tricky and so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity over Labour weekend to attend the wader ID course at Miranda. For me the time to be at the shellbanks observing the birds, getting the size comparisons, differences in body shape, plumage characteristics and feeding techniques allowed me to become even more attuned to the subtleties of waders. We had a good range of birds present over the weekend including NZ Dotterel, Banded Dotterel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Pacific Golden Plover, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and a Red-necked Stint.

One of the other aspects of the weekend I enjoyed was having my kids up so they could check out the birds too, hopefully a bit of the interest will rub off on them!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wangauni Pelagic Trip

October's windy weather had already resulted in the postponment of one pelagic (meaning open water as opposed to coastal) trip off the coast of Wanganui. However, a break in the weather and good timing saw the opportunity to get out on the water on Tuesday. Ten of us from Wanganui and Palmy had chatered a fishing vessel and a 7am departure from port meant an early rise for the Palmy crew. Choppy, sloppy seas greeted us and depsite optimistically popping sealegs prior to leaving home a number of us quickly turned green-faced and took turns farewelling our breakfasts (Wild Bean Coffee & Muffin, $4.90, going, going gone!). Still the seabirds more than made up for it and soon after departing the shores we were joined by White-capped Albatross and Northern Giant Petrel. Laying out a line of chum at a later point resulted in higher number of visitors with a number of White-capped Albatross, Cape Petrel, Fairy Prion, a Fluttering Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater. Other birds came and went over the day and the spectacular dynamic soaring of the albatross was always a stirring, stunning sight to witness. Seeing these birds above the waves should surely be on everyone's bucket list. Here's a few shots from the day...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Communicating Science

As part of my year I need to be communicating to others about my fellowship. Of course this blog is part of that but at the moment it is also being complemented with a few speaking engagements. The most recent was at Napier Forest & Bird where I spoke. It was a talk I wasn't sure I'd get to give as the weather when we left Palmy packed in and we were greeted by snow as we travelled through the gorge! This continued right through to beyond Norsewood and thick snow settled onto the roads making for a slow, treacherous drive.
I also enjoyed putting the whole year together as a presentation, there's some great stories to tell and photos to share. I always admire great communicators, Paul Callaghan being one of the best science communicators around - he can make science accessible and just engage an audience with his experience, knowledge and clear commincation style. Actually I'm currently reading his great book, As far as we know, basically transcripts of his Saturday morning interviews with Kim Hill, which I highly recommend. I can only hope my talks are enjoyed and give a sense of the awe I feel about the epic migrations of these amazing shorebirds.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

They're coming back!

The godwits are returning and arriving exhausted after their journey south. I took the opportunity last Sunday to head down to Foxton and see about 100 godwits that had returned over the previous week or so. That is about half of the resident population down there. A number of Jesse Conklin's datalogger birds have also returned, which is great for his project where he'll be able to get a record of their flight paths. I didn't get any photos of the birds (godwits, red knots and pacific golden plovers) before a pair of inconsiderate kayakers went close to the roosting colony and spooked them off. However, I did get a nice shot of a white heron which has been resident at the estuary this winter - a nice treat.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Miranda - mistnetting

The birds flying in at dusk - Miranda

Last weekend we made a journey up to Miranda to do some mistnetting over a couple of nights. The main goal was to catch Godwits and Red Knots to collect blood from the juveniles that had overwintered in New Zealand rather than migrating north to the Russian/Alaskan breeding grounds. These birds would then be used as a comparison group to the adult godwits and knots that are due to arrive back from the breeding grounds this month. We aim to catch some of these birds soon after their arrival, again collecting blood, to look at their physiology such as amount of muscle fatigue. While not specifically for the project I'm working on we did take the opportunity to get samples of any red plumage that birds had on them.

As you can see from photo, it was a beautiful evening on the first night but perhaps too clear and the high tide a little too early as the birds flew over to the stilt ponds just prior to total darkness. As a consequence many avoided the mist nets. Consequently, our catch of godwits was low, just the one. We did catch half a dozen red knots and a huge number of South Island Pied Oystercatchers (SIPO) which we didn't particularly need for the study, but banded for records. On the second night the godwits showed their superior intelligence and figuring we were up to something, didn't come into the stilt ponds at all. Still plenty of SIPO though, even a recapture from the night before! This did mean I had the opportunity to upskill on my banding with the fine teaching of Gillian Vaughan. Always good to be the field!

Me banding a SIPO

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bird Photography

One of things I did part way through this fellowship was purchase a Canon 450D camera so I could get better at digital photography. This combined with Phil's gorgeous f5.6, 400mm lens has allowed me to learn a lot about photography and take some great photos. As a kid I always dreamed of doing bird photography and now this year, for the first time, I've really been able to get my teeth stuck into it. Particularly so in Alaska where a colleague Murray Potter, who is an excellent photographer, gave me lots of practical advice on white balance options, ISO levels and so on. It's been one of the most satisfying aspects of the year. This complimented the evening photography workshops I did with Bin Trinh, one of Palmy's best photographers. Now I'm always looking for opportunities to photograph birds. Even the other day, while I was out with friends down Cape Palliser, I was able to have a go using my basic 70-300mm lens and end up with a couple of nice shots of spotted shags. Now I need to save my money big time, so I can improve my lenses and continue getting some great shots next year when my access to such a nice lens disappears.

Alaska - the contrasts

One skinny godwit, Alaska
For my final reflection on our recent work in Alaska I can't help but marvel at how godwits have to adapt so quickly to such radically different habitats, the tundra being so different from the inter-tidal flat in New Zealand. These contrasts struck us regularly:

- the wide open grassey tundra, miles from the coast, compared to the sandy/muddy inter-tidal flats and the obvious associated change in diet. The birds we saw were mostly eating berries, compared to polycheate worms and other invertebrates in NZ.

Australian bird (orange flag) eating berries in Alaska.

- feeding is determined by tide cycles in New Zealand, birds getting to feed on low tides, yet in Alaska feeding depended, at least for breeding pairs while we were there, on being able to get off the nest. We went with assumption of 12hr shifts, though we had no strong evidence of this. Other failed breeders of course could eat as they wanted.

- birds in NZ congregate together, whereas on the tundra they were largely isolated pairs, possibly kilometers from the nearest godwit. Failed breeding birds did start congregating towards the end of our stay however.
- they shift from NZ cycles of night and day, to 24 hours daylight
- birds had to deal with entirely different species around them, long-tailed jaegers contrast massively to knots, gulls and other birds from NZ. Godwits would be regularly seen beign chased by, or chasing jaegers. One thing that surprised us though was how the majority of godwit nests we encountered were in close proximity to a jaeger nest!
Overall, no matter how you look at it, you can't help but marvel at these amazing birds. Not only for their staggering migrations, but also for how they can cope so well in such contrasting environments.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Alaska - the nests & chicks

While wandering across the tundra on the hunt for godwit nests we would regularly stumble across nests of other birds. Often this discovery arose following the heart-stopping flush of bird from the nest as we stepped only centimetres away. Ptarmigan often gave the most dramatic flush from the nest. Nest discoveries sometimes proved useful for other researchers in the area at the time, such as those working on Short-eared Owls or Pacific Golden Plovers. The size of a clutch would vary - all Godwit nests we found had 4 eggs, long-tailed Jaegers 2 eggs, but Ptarmigan nests typically had over 10 eggs, the largest I found had 14. There was also a variety of nest type and colouration of eggs. Here's a few examples

Ptarmigan Nest

Godwit Nest

Short-eared Owl Nest

We were also fortunate enough to still be around as the chicks hatched. It was always a delightful sight seeing a chick bumbling its way across the tundra, in the company of the adult or hunkered down on a nest.

Short-eared Owl

Of particular interest was the fact that due to the abundance of voles and lemmings the clutches of some birds, such as Rough-legged hawks, was unusually large. In the photo below you can see a picture of a Rough-legged hawk chick, one of 6 in the nest. According to Ted Swem, a biologist who has been studying rough-legged hawks for 25 years, the typical clutch is 2-3. He had seen only two clutches of 6 in the past 25 years.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alaska - the other wildlife

So there's no denying that one of the major perks of being in Alaska was being able to see such amazing wildlife every day we headed out into the field. While the bears stayed at a comfortable distance, I did find myself wishing for a closer encounter (though not too close!). Winning us over the most were the Musk Ox. We saw them every day, with one exception, and delighted in observing them with their young.

Reindeer were a common site in the area and we were told by a local Inupiat how they would round them up using helicoptors and remove their antlers for sale to overseas markets, a valuable source of income for the indigenous communities. The Red Fox we saw were few and far between, but we did encounter depredated nests (why not predated one asks?) which could have fallen victim to a fox visit.

The Arctic ground squirrels were great little companions, popping up in all sorts of places as if to say Hi. I love New Zealand and I love our birds, but I sometimes wish the country had evolved with a few mammals present so we could have our own encounters in the bush, as they really add to the whole experience out there. I'm not sure our introduced possums, deer & pigs cut it I'm afraid. That said, we probably wouldn't have such iconic birds like kiwi, kakapo and takahe had that been the case. I suppose it means I just have to keep travelling!

Alaska - collecting data

During our time in Alaska, the focus was on catching male Godwits, such as this gorgeous male with the most stunning breeding plumage. Unfortunately, despite a number of treks across the tundra to this male's breeding area, we never managed to catch him. He was just too clever.

However, of the ones we did catch we recorded typical data such as mass, bill length, wing length, and plumage details. We also collected feather samples to analyse for melanin content and to score the degree of wear.

Before releasing the birds we would add Aplha numeric flags and metal bands so they can be identified in the future, hopefully this summer back in New Zealand! So keep an eye out for J6, J8, J9, K0, K1, K2, K3 and K4, coming to an estuary near you soon.

Alaska - the catching

As you can see from the photo below, the Alaskan tundra is a vast expanse of low lying vegetation, pocky mounds, typically moist and below which lies a layer of permafrost. In this vastly different habitat from the inter-tidal mud flats, godwits nest... somewhere. We had to find that somewhere. Our job had four key steps: 1. Find the birds. 2. Find the nest 3. Catch the birds on the nest 4. Process and release the birds. However, both step 1 and 2 required hours upon hours of work each, mixed with a large measure of good luck. Once we had established typical "Godwit habitat", finding the birds became less problematic, but finding breeding birds was always a challenge. We needed birds on the nest to capture because Godwits typically sit tight on the net and don't flush until a person is remarkably close, in fact, in all cases we could lower the net over the bird and it would stay on the nest!

Locating the nest typically involved relying on viewing a nest exchange (where the male swaps with the female to incubate the eggs, or vice versa). Working on the assumption of 12 hour shifts we would observe foraging individuals to work out schedules and predict when an exchange might occur. Sometimes this worked perfectly, other times not at all... maybe the 12 hour shift idea was a good assumption, maybe not? Once the nest was located however, the next steps of catching and processing the bird could be completed within an hour.

The photo above shows Jesse and I taking the net to lower over a Godwit. The photo below is of a female Godwit still on the nest, look carefully and you can see the net at the top of the photo!
Once the eggs had hatched, catching relied on an entirely different approach and involved catching the young chicks briefly so that the parents would swoop in and be caught by a mist net being flicked up with perfect timing. We also tried various other strategies, such as using recorded chick calls and decoys (to little effect mind you). All up we caught 9 Godwits and 3 Red Knots. This might seem like small numbers, but it has been known for people to be out for up to 6 weeks and not catch a single bird on the breeding grounds. They can be very illusive.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Well I made it to Nome, Alaska about a week ago now and have had a brilliant first week here. The godwits have been tricky to find but strategic searching, along with networking with other birders and some good luck has enabled us to catch three pairs of godwits on the nest. To our knowledge, this is the first time pairs of godwits have been caught on the breeding grounds.

The weather is warmer than anticipated, so the mosquitos are out in force on still days, never before have I been happy for the wind.

The wildlife as we travel around is stunning - musk ox are seen daily, bears, squirrels, Artic hares, moose and caribou have all benn seen. It's great.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 20)

The Pandemic has begun

Last night, just four days before I am due to travel 36 hours sardine-like in an aeroplane and associated congested airports, the World Health Organisation announce the world is officially experiencing a flu pandemic. Does this really make any difference? Honestly, I don't know, it will depend on how others react and what officials decide to do about it. No recommended changes to international travel are recommended at this stage, so I am feeling comfortable about it all. That said, I have taken advice and armed myself with Tamiflu and facial masks for my travel. My only concern really, is getting some small cold or sniffle and being quarantined as a "suspected case" because I exhibit "flu-like symptoms". Here's hoping all goes smoothly and come mid-next week I find myself comfortably enjoying the view from my cabin in Nome - better still, from my wanderings across the Alaskan tundra!

One of my highlights of this week was getting back into the classroom again, admittedly with students much younger than I am used to. I was able to visit a bunch of great kids at Aokautere School who are studying Antarctica. I was able to take down some of the museum resources from the Ecology Department, such as a King Penguin and Polar Bear skull & leg. I was able to link in their studies with some of my work on Godwit migration, comparing some the geology and fauna of the Arctic with Antarctica. It was great fun.

Next time I write will hopefully be next week from Alaska!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 19)

A close shave

Over this week the four of us heading to Alaska depart with various separate schedules. The first to leave was Jesse on Saturday, reason being, he was to visit Fairbanks to look at museum specimens of godwits - take photos and do some spectrometry work. However, in the 5 months here at Massey we had no success in getting the spectrometer to work as we required. First attempts back in February centered around trying to get the light source (a Xenon PX-2) to fire up while connected to the spectrometer. We then found out from the sales rep. that we were missing the breakout box, a critical part that assisted communication between the two pieces. That then got ordered. Arriving April or so, we tried again. Still no luck - we then had to go through each part to work out where the problem lay. We finally identified the actual spectrometer had faults and so needed repairing. Now early May we faithfully shipped it off to the States with URGENT written all over it, hoping repairs could be completed prior to our departure, early June. Well, Wednesday last week the part arrived, 3 days before Jesse headed off and needed to take it with him. We carefully put all equipment together, having already tested each part knowing individually they worked, we then pressed the critical ON button and... silence. It still didn't go! Grrrrrrr!! Thursday morning, as a final desperate check, we were up at the Chem lab at Massey (they had a functioning unit we could troubleshoot with), we then piece by piece replaced their parts with ours, the hope was to create our own fully functioing unit. Eventually we found that one cable was the cause of the problem - the thing was, for the whole system to work the cable actually needed to be inserted upsidedown! So, now with just over one day to go before departure, we needed to perfect the actual use of the gear. Talk about cutting it fine!

Here's the setup I'm talking about...

Innocuous looking stuff, caused us enough grief though. Anyway, positive outcome in the end.

So, Saturday was a great day because I got to pick up my Sibley Field Guide to North American Birds. I've always travelled with a field guide for each country and have a great stash of them in my book shelf. This one though will be very special as the birds we see in Alaska are going to be just amazing. I will of course, gleefully scribble each sighting in my book as a wonderful record of my time up there. I love being a bird geek!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 17)

Alaska Planning

Diagram - polartrec

A fair amount of time over recent weeks has been spent planning the forthcoming trip to Alaska. It has been hard to avoid some horrendous flights to get to where we are going (I have something like 36 hours worth of travel to get to Nome - Nome is home for 3 weeks), but it's going to be worth it. We are heading up to Nome because the Seward Peninsula is a good breeding ground for Bar-tailed Godwits, though they are notoriously hard to find on their nests.

A Nome Godwit - Ralph Poanessa

They have fanastic cryptic plumage and sit tight on their nests, apparently you can get 1-2m away before they fly off! So the trick will be finding them. A current expedition in Alaska, finding Bristle-thighed curlews, is taking about 40 person-hours per nest. Here's a great photo to give a sense of what the challenge will be...

Photo USGS

Nome is also the ending point of the the famous Iditarod, the trail dog sled race. Not quite the season for it when we are there, given we will have 22 or so hours of daylight, but I'm sure we'll find some of the history of the race around the streets of Nome. Bring it on!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 15)

Sexing It Up

Red Knots are monomorphic, they show no significantly different features that would allow them to be sexed in the field. So, over the last week or so, my focus up here at Massey has been on methods to extract DNA from Red Knots and to use this DNA to determine their sex. Of importance is developing a method that allows me to extract and amplify DNA from feathers. We usually pluck only about 3-5 breast feathers and 2 scapulas from the birds. I therefore have trialled just using one feather as a DNA source and this has been hugely successful. I was able to extract DNA using a couple of methods, amplify it using PCR and primers that were specific to our lovely Knots, then run then DNA through a gel to get our results. Here's me looking all geeked up in the Farside Lab, part of the Alan Wilson Centre at Massey (I think the blue gloves will take off on the catwalk this winter).

An interesting thing about bird sex is that unlike humans, where the male is XY and the female XX, in birds the male is ZZ and the female ZW. Therefore, when doing electrophoresis the female gives two bands, at 400bp and 600bp, and the male a single band at 400bp. Here's a photo of my first gel, which shows a bit of messiness in the first column, beyond the ladder, but a clear male in the second column and some clear females out to the right. It works! Yay.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 12)

Yikes, my feathers are wearing out!

The birds have flown, so the feild work takes a pause for a bit. Now it's time to get into some lab work. My attention is being divided across three main areas: Genetic sexing, feather reflectance measurements and microscope work to examine feather wear. I will get into genetic sexing of red knots soon, they are monomorphic and we need to be able to determine sex from feather samples using PCR. Feather reflectance is a major part of our study, yet we have had all sorts of problems getting our incredibly expensive equipment to work effectively, that's frustrating! So, the most recent work has been on looking at feather wear. Birds moult and replace worn feathers and we are interested in how melanin investment affects the wear and reflectance of the feathers. You can see in this photo below, a relatively new feather and a worn feather.

The wear in this case maps the black outline of the feather - black has different proportions of melanins than the red coloured feather. Our job is to come up with a method that allows us to consistently score the degree of wear. We have spent some time looking at the feathers under 90x magnification, examining barbs and barbules and the wear. Here's some shots- up close and personal.Above you can see how the barbules have worn off the barbs. Zooming in (though admittedly on a different feather), these look a bit like this...

and zooming in again...
Who would have guessed there was so much to a feather? Looks aren't everything, are they? Yet for birds they are a lot - camouflage, quality signals, status signals and more. Hmmm...better leave it there, so I don't wear you out.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Royal Society Reflections (week 9)

Where are they now?

Godwits in flight (photo by Craig)

So, last night, with a Southerly kicking in, Jesse Conklin (a researcher at Massey) reported the last likely departures from Foxton Estuary (bringing his 17 nights or so of migration watch to a close). The birds are all but gone, but prior to their departure Phil caught this photo of a Red Knot from Foxton that was well and truely ready to go - it's staggering to see the amount of fat stored on the breast, reserves for the huge flight ahead. How can it even get off the ground?

One fat Red Knot (photo by Phil Battley)

So, where are they now? Well, birds are heading north west from NZ towards their first stop-over, the staging grounds of the Yellow Sea. Here they will feed up for a few weeks before heading off again to the breeding grounds in Russia or Alaska. This photo below shows some of the tracked godwits and their movements around the Yellow Sea.

Yellow Sea - photo from USGS site

The shores of the Yellow Sea are critical refuelling sights for migrating birds, yet throughout East Asia and Australasia, 85 per cent of shorebird populations are declining, and 40 per cent of shorebirds inhabiting Oceania are classified as threatened or near threatened (read more here). One of the major reasons for decreasing populations may be due to the reduction of sites for birds due to land reclamation of intertidal flats. Loss of fields of mud seems to cause less concern globally than loss of some other habitats, yet these are vital for the survival of numerous species. Conservation efforts are underway. The Ramsar Convention makes efforts to recognise wetlands of international importance, acknowledging that migratory birds do not bother about the boundaries humans have drawn on our 2D world maps. As the convention says...Wetlands included in the list acquire a new status at the national level and are recognised by the international community for being significant not only for the country, or countries, in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole. New Zealand has 6 Ramsar's sites: Manawatu River Mouth & Estuary, Firth of Thames, Farewell Spit, Awarua Wetlands, Kopuatai Peat Dome and Whangamarino . Other groups raise awareness of the issues around land use and conservation of such important sites, for example see Birds Korea. I encourage anyone to find out more and support local initiatives for conservation of areas used by our shorebirds, such as The National Wetland Trust, Miranda Naturalists' Trust and D.O.C's Wetland work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 8)

And they're off...

I spent the past weekend up at Miranda, doing some mist-netting. We were targeting Godwits in particular, trying to get plumage samples, but had a good catch of Red Knots, so we took advantage of that as well. The evening’s catching was very successful, with 70 birds flying into the mist nets we had set up at two locations in the stilt ponds. I worked with a great team of keen birders, extracting the birds from the nets and processing them - carrying out measurements and putting on metal bands and alpha flags.

Miranda is a great spot, if you've never been there it is well worth it. This time of year there are thousands of birds including about 2,000 wrybills. They are such endearing birds, with spectacular aerial displays, see below.

Over the weekend I was based at the Miranda Shorebird Centre, a great little place with education programs and resources about the area. While staying at Miranda I was able to witness four Godwit departures. These were amazing to witness as the birds called to each other, flew up and formed the characteristic V-shaped flying pattern and headed north up the bay. To see them fading as small dots, then disappearing from the view through my scope was awe-inspiring. These tiny things won’t stop for about six days, until the reach the shores of the Yellow Sea, likely an inter-tidal flat of Korea. There they will feed up again before making the final flight to the breeding grounds of the Artic. It was a privilege to witness.