Shorebird monitoring can be both fascinating and frustrating. The fascination happens during summer when there are thousands of birds to watch, photograph, and count. By the end of summer I usually have a list of questions that will take a while for which to find answers – and then the birds are gone on their northern migration. This is the start of the period of frustration.
During winter the shorebird watcher sees only a few hundred birds where there were thousands during the summer and these birds are often harder to approach. Next summer it will all start again. There will again be large flocks of birds to monitor but a whole new set of questions for which to find answers.
Right now shorebirds are getting ready for their migration to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. They prepare by putting on stores of fat, and by putting on their breeding plumage.
By the time they leave here many birds have put on so much weight that they look as if they are waddling rather than walking. The extra body fat is necessary for the long non-stop flights that they make.
The Bar-tailed Godwits make the longest non- stop flight northwards. When they start from here they do not stop until they reach the Yellow Sea area of China. This is a distance of approximately 10,000 kms. They then fly on to Alaska. The Ruddy Turnstones, which are much smaller birds, make an initial non-stop flight of 7,600 kms to Taiwan. They then fly on to their breeding grounds in Siberia.
Breeding plumage for shorebirds is much more brightly coloured or more heavily marked than what they show here during the summer.
On February 7th this year, I recently photographed a male Godwit beginning to show breeding plumage out at Inskip Point. (See above). The red colour down its front will get darker and completely cover the front before it leaves. The female standing behind the male will also get a wash of this same colour down her front.