Monday, February 16, 2009

Fellowship Reflections (week 3)

A few fascinating facts about Godwits

  • The Godwits' breeding grounds are in Alaska
  • They migrate from their breeding grounds to other areas around the world, including Australia and New Zealand, after the breeding season
  • The migration from Alaska to New Zealand is non-stop, is about 11,500km and lasts approximately 8 days (See the famous story on E7 here).
  • Birds can double their mass before departure and have about 55% body fat
  • They burn their body fat during migration (they don’t eat during the migration south) and break down muscle proteins to supplement water loss through respiration
  • It is thought that birds can switch off part of their brain while flying, effectively having a partial-sleep while they fly.
  • Northward migration from New Zealand is via Korea or China, but these regions’ tidal flats are being seriously threatened through land reclamation

This week we tried to catch some birds again with mist nets at Foxton. It was my third night at it and previously we had caught only two terns and no godwits. The conditions were perfect, an overcast evening (making it nice and dark), relatively still and a super high tide set for 11.38pm - this was hopefully going to force the birds up towards our nets. Unfortunately, by 2am we had only caught one unbanded juvenile godwit. While I always enjoy the night’s activities the hit-and-miss nature of the mist netting at Foxton Estuary (putting up the nets in strategic positions and hoping the birds fly into them) is a strange beast – it comes with no guarantees. A further attempt on Friday led to a similar lack of captures. Patience and persistence are two virtues that biologists working in the field obviously need in great measure!

Phil doing measurements on a godwit

This Wednesday I head off the famous Broome Bird Observatory, Roebuck Bay in Broome, NW Australia. We will be part of a team of researchers working on shorebirds before the birds migrate north for the breeding season. Expect a lengthy blog post on my return!


Jane Nicholls said...

You will love Broome. It is the most beautiful place with the most amazing wildlife - just watch out for the ones that want to kill you, there are a few of those :)

I have teacher friends in Broome if you need contacts let me know

Craig Steed said...

Thanks Jane, I can't wait! We will be based out at BBO, so I doubt I'll get any chance to spend any free-time in Broome, but thanks for thinking of me.

Jenny's Learning Journey said...

It must be rewarding doing this king of research. Your findings will be of great use for the generation to come.