Steve Happ Photography Ramblings and dissertations

October 15, 2009

Bar-tailed Godwit from New Zealand

Filed under: Birds — Tags: , — admin @ 9:17 pm

Please find attached two photos of the Bar-tailed Godwit with the engraved white leg flag BLN that we observed at Stockton Sandspit on 2 October 2009. These photos were taken by Steve Happ.

Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Thanks for the pictures. Another bird stopping short in Aus. This was banded 14.02.09 aged 3+ and it is the first sighting since banding. It was seen at Stockton Point by Steve Happ, Liz Crawford and Chris Herbert

Australasian Wader Studies Group

Bar-tailed Godwit
C8698 BLN
was banded at Miranda on the Firth of Thames
aged 3+
and this is the first sighting

From: AWSG Leg Flag Sightings

Sighting details:

A Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica was sighted by Steve Happ, Liz Crawford and Chris Herbert at: Stockton Sandspit, Hunter Estuary, near Newcastle, NSW, Australia 32deg 54min 0sec S, 151deg 48min 0sec E on 2/10/2009 with flag(s) as follows:

LEFT leg: nothing/unknown on tibia (upper leg) above metal band on tarsus
RIGHT leg: white engraved flag on tibia (upper leg) above nothing/unknown on tarsus

This bird was flagged Miranda Firth of Thames, approximate co-ordinates 37deg 10min S, 175deg 19min E, which uses the flag combination White Engraved, on 14/02/2009.

The resighting was a distance of approximately 2187 km, with a bearing of 276 degrees, from the marking location.

The flagged bird was identified as female.


Please find attached the official recovery report for the New Zealand-flagged Bar-tailed Godwit (White Engraved ‘BLN’….Y8698) that was sighted on the 2/10/2009 at Stockton Sandspit, Hunter Estuary, near Newcastle, NSW, Australia by Steve Happ, Liz Crawford and Chris Herbert.

Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme
Marine Initiatives Branch,
Marine Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
Australian Government

Please note that as the two or three character alphanumeric code on the engraved flag (or five-character individual colour-band code) has been identified, this record will be ‘officially’ processed as a recovery by the ABBBS. Once this has occurred the attached ‘interim’ flag sighting report will be deleted. The banding details were as follows:

Band Number: Y8698 (engraved flag BLN)
Date of banding: 14/02/2009
Age of bird when banded: 3+
Locode: NZWS34 (Miranda Firth of Thames)

Bar-tailed Godwit Migration Route
This is a possible migration route for this bird. (My hypothesis only)

Here is my theory of the migration route based on the work of the satellite trackers, taggers and Rob Schuckhard.

1. Bird is in New Zealand in February 2009.
2. Flies to Yellow Sea in China around april-may ’09
3. Flies to Alaska in May 09.
4. Breeds in Alaska from June-July
5. Flies towards New Zealand ~ September 09
6. Does not have enough fat reserves at Fiji, makes decision to fly to Australia instead.
7. Rests at island near New Caledonia, forget which one.
8. Flies to Queensland
9. Flies down to Newcastle, seen on 2/10/09
10. ??? Will fly across to New Zealand, when?

If anyone wants to modify that theory please do so.


  1. While I tend to agree with the general geographical area, I would presume that the flight from New Zealand to Yellow Sea in China indicates its preference to travel along or near the coastline. It would not do for such flocks to risk their fat deposits on an oceanic point-to-point flight. I would therefore suggest that the flight from Alaska to New Zealand would have also been along the continental coast line and then hopping across to islands in the Pacific, as it suggests from stopovers at Fiji, and then arrival at Australia.

    Bharat Bhushan –

    Comment by Bharat Bhushan — November 20, 2009 @ 10:05 am

  2. Hi Bharat,

    Thanks for your comment. There have been radio transmitters put on some birds and i think it pretty well shows definitively that some or most of the Bar-tailed Godwits fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand.
    Have a look here:
    I cant find the official Asia-Australasia Flyway site but do a search for Bar-tailed Godwit migration and you should find the articles about the transmitters etc..

    Edit: It seems there are two flight paths and I am not sure if they are different sub-species of Bar-tailed Godwits.
    1. The North-west Australian Barwits fly to China, then Siberia. and back again to the Broome area of Western Australia.
    2. The New Zealand Barwits fly from Alaska to New Zealand, then to China, then Alaska and back to NZ.

    I have a feeling that the Broome and the New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwits are different sub-species but I am not sure about that.


    Comment by admin — November 21, 2009 @ 6:11 am

  3. Another very interesting tidbit. From the BBC.

    “It is believed the Maori discovered New Zealand after following them on their southward migration”

    How amazing is that. But it makes perfect sense. Of course the old Pacific Ocean navigators knew the migration patterns of birds and would follow them to where they know is land.
    I would follow migrating birds if I was an ancient Polynesian navigator. How cool.

    Comment by admin — November 21, 2009 @ 6:17 am

  4. Re. island-hopping, After the E7 tracking, we now presume the New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwit flies directly from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping, unless forced to divert due to local intense weather. I suggest your hypothetical line is correct, showing the path directed to NZ, then a forced change to the east.

    I also understand that the Broome bar-tailed and the NZ bar-taileds are indeed different sub-species. Broome is the usual summer location for menzbieri, and eastern Australia and New Zealand has baueri. (Woodley 2009 “Godwits – Long-haul Champions”)

    The comment by the BBC re. Maori using the godwit to navigate is a nice idea but challenged by Woodley…” there is some skepticism among shorebird researchers that early navigators were able to track Godwits. For one thing, they point out, the optimal altitude for migration flights is around 3000 m, which would make them difficult to see, and, in many cases, hear. While they were undoubtedly aware of Godwit migrations, it could be that for these navigators other birds had greater utility.” Woodley goes on to suggest that birds like Sooty Shearwaters would be more likely used. There were many more of them, they fly lower, it would have been known that they needed land to breed yet did not breed on the islands, they flew south each spring, and their seasonal movements encompass the whole of the Pacific.

    Comment by Katherine — January 20, 2010 @ 9:34 am

  5. Lovely image, BTW, Steve.

    Comment by Katherine — January 20, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  6. Thank you very much Katherine for that information.

    The use of migrating birds by Polynesian navigators is a fascinating subject I reckon.

    I will quote your flickr comments as well here if you do not mind.

    “The PTT signals are programmed to go only for 4 hours every five days for the first five weeks, after which they went on a six-hours-on and 36-hours-off reporting cycle. E7’s transmitter was like this. But lasted almost twice as long as they thought it would. That’s why they were able to track her from Miranda (17 March) directly to Yalu Jiang (24 March) where she stayed for 5 weeks. Then, with a few stops she flew up to Alaska by 15th May. Then, most amazingly, from Alaska (29 August) non-stop back to New Zealand where her battery gave its last signal from just west of the northernmost tip of New Zealand (7 September, early afternoon). It was presumed she landed back at Miranda early that evening. She was spotted there the following January. ”


    Comment by admin — January 20, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

  7. Hi Steve
    I have just published a post about a Bar-tailed Godwit from Alaska which has turned up in Narooma (South Coast of NSW).
    I linked to your report as further documentation of these migrations, and especially trans-Tasman migrations.
    Mick, from Sandy Straits and Beyond gave me several useful links which document the migrations very well.
    Also they have the full history of the bird known as E7 to which you referred (in the BBC story)
    Re the “Australian Asian Flyway” which you mentioned, their reports are found in an magazine known as “Stilt”.
    There are links to other reports from the Victorian Wader Studies Group, in my report, which have lots of information too.
    Bob Gill from the USGS, and Clive Minton from Melbourne seem to be the key researchers.
    You must have been very pleased to have recorded the flagged bird, and good photo as well.
    Denis Wilson

    Comment by Denis Wilson — January 26, 2010 @ 4:32 am

  8. Thanks Dennis,

    I will have a look at your post and check out those references.


    Comment by admin — January 26, 2010 @ 7:41 am

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