CONSERVATION

The godwits have landed

Monday 8 September 2008, 2:29PM
By Christchurch City Council
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 The first lot of Godwits from Alaska arrived at Christchurch's
Avon-Heathcote estuaries almost two weeks early; their arrival on Sunday
afternoon coinciding with the start of the Conservation Week (September
7-14).

"They snuck in under the radar," says Council Ranger Andrew Crossland,
who was both surprised and concerned at the early arrival. "We are just
glad they are here, and we are slightly concerned at the decision taken
to leave their home so early," says Mr Crossland.

Early arrivals have already bumped up the wintering juvenile numbers at
the estuary by 122, taking the total bird numbers at the estuary to 326
this (Monday) morning. "They are definitely arriving now," says Mr
Crossland, who keeps a good account of the birds throughout the year.
Other areas in Christchurch where the godwits reside for the summer are
Lyttelton Harbour, Brooklands Lagoon, Lake Ellesmere and the Ashley
Estuary.

The Eastern Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri) arrives in New
Zealand after a non-stop 11,000 km flight over the Pacific, landing
tired, worn out and starved, and get down straightway into the job of
filling out for the trip back home.

The godwits have been steadily losing large chunks of their feeding
grounds in Asia, where the birds stop over on their return trip to
Alaska at the end of the austral summer.

"We will continue to make the Avon-Heathcote Estuaries safe and stable
for these birds, focusing on protecting their estuarine habitat and
minimising disturbance impacts," says Mr Crossland. He adds that most
local estuaries are protected in some form or another so the habitat
situation was well managed.

"But disturbance can be a real problem, especially at high tide when the
Godwits roost on the beach and are disturbed by passing walkers or dogs
off their leads. If the birds cannot get sufficient rest they are
unlikely to reach peak condition prior to migration and risk dying from
exhaustion at sea," he says.

Also coinciding with the arrival of the godwits is the distribution to
Christchurch primary schools of a children's book celebrating the
importance of godwits. The distribution is undertaken by the
Avon-Heathcote Ihutai Trust, a non-profit organisation formed by the
public and supported by Christchurch City Council and Environment
Canterbury.

"Skalaska's New Home" will be sent out to schools over the next 14 days,
with the aim to develop a better understanding among children for the
godwits. "It is delightful story for children to understand what it
would be like to be just a little bird in a strange country and the
problems it faces to survive," says Tanya Jenkins, Education committee
member for the Ihutai Trust.

The story is about Skalaska, the young godwit who flies into
Christchurch with his family, and the problems they face in the estuary;
Skalaska gets caught in litter carelessly dropped by people visiting the
estuary, putting him into a very dangerous situation.

The book is written by Marlene Bennetts, local well-known children's
book author with delightful graphics by another local, Trish Bowles,
says Ms Jenkins

Safety note:

Walkers can minimise their impact to almost zero if they give the
roosting flocks a wide berth and walk between the birds and the dunes
(never between the birds and sea as this frightens the birds). People
walking dogs have a legal obligation to prevent their animals from
chasing protected wildlife, so all dogs should be under effective
control. If any member of the public observes dogs chasing the Godwits
or other wildlife they should report this to the CCC animal control
team.