The first newly arriving birds were spotted on 9 September by local Ornithologist Grahame Bell, who was checking on the birds at the request of the Christchurch City Council.
Mr Bell reported a flock of 290 birds, including obvious new arrivals feeding voraciously over the high tide, with some still showing vestiges of red breeding plumage – which they usually moult prior to departure from the Arctic.
Christchurch City Council Parks Ecologist Andrew Crossland advised that Saturday’s godwit arrival at the estuary was the second earliest on record, two days later than the 7 September last year.
“The birds landed after a six-to-eight day non-stop flight covering a distance of 11,700km from the Yukon river delta in Alaska,” says Mr Crossland.
“Data has been showing the birds arriving earlier in recent years. Previously, arrival dates have ranged between 9 to 20 September, which is up to two weeks later than arrival dates 30+ years ago.”
Mr Crossland says last weekend’s arrival was an influx of 115 birds on the flow of 175 mostly juveniles that had stayed at the estuary while the adults were away nesting in Alaska.
“Over the next few weeks another 1000+ godwits are expected to arrive on the Avon-Heathcote Ihutai Estuary,” says Mr Crossland.
“We can also expect additional flocks of 200-400 arriving elsewhere in the Christchurch area at each of the Brooklands Lagoon, Lyttelton Harbour and Lake Ellesmere.”
New arrivals can be distinguished by red feathering in their tattered plumage, thin bodies and frantic feeding behaviour.