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Godwits in time for Conservation Week

8 September 2008

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,” saysTanya 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

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