The barges arrive | RNZ
When barges land at Motueka Sandspit near Nelson after their record-breaking non-stop flight from Alaska, church bells ring – a tradition that began in Christchurch when migrating shorebirds arrive there each spring.
But Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center residential manager Keith Woodley says Auckland is a barge hub and its citizens should consider marking the occasion with some sort of celebration.
“Between the Firth of Thames, Manukau Harbor, Kaipara Harbor and, to a lesser extent, Waitemata Harbor, all have herds of barges – in fact, maybe 50 percent or more of all barges New Zealanders are found in the Auckland region. ”he says.
“If every spring, when the barges come back, Auckland would consider having some kind of festival, some kind of celebration, that would really be the barge capital.”
About now is the time to have it, but he doesn’t say what form it should take – “it’s up to others to come up with ideas,” he says.
And these little birds deserve to be celebrated.
They may not look like much, stalking the mudflats in search of bivalves and sea worms, but every bird has a story to tell about incredible voyages. These stories are told by trackers and transmitters who are revealing more and more about them.
Birds with improbable names such as 4BWRB and 4BBYB travel approximately 12,000 kilometers from Alaska, flying six to nine days at speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour without stopping, stopping at places like the North Korea and China to refuel. They also don’t tend to get high – doing it the hard way, beating all the time. If they confuse, they have the ability to make decisions to re-evaluate their trip and turn away, but adults will return home every time.
Once home, they stuff themselves up to twice their body weight, ready to leave for Alaska in March.
In 2015, the barges were named Bird of the Year, the same year their status was raised to ‘near threat’, but they were classified as migratory birds and therefore could not receive funding for the conversation. It’s now changed.
Thousands of people around the world follow their trips on Facebook and Twitter (of course), where you can find maps retracing their transmissions.
Today in The Detail, Woodley explains to Sharon Brettkelly why barges fascinate him; how they are captured and banded; and how climate change and development issues in the Yellow Sea countries could negatively affect these little fighters and deplete their numbers.
“There are a lot of question marks for all of us to come,” he says.
“If we look at something like climate change, that alone will impact these birds at every point on their annual compass.
“Where you have sea level rise and hard edges, you’re going to start losing areas of mud flats. On the tundra (in Alaska) where there are changes in the water table, changes in vegetation … especially the warming of temperatures on the tundra advance the emergence of insects which are the main source of food for these birds and their chicks .. it’s happening earlier than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
This means that the birds have to adjust their timing, arriving earlier – but when they leave the southern hemisphere with different light patterns, it will be difficult for them to make those changes.
“There are long-term implications for these birds, and it remains to be seen whether they can adapt soon enough.”