Today (3 March) those cute little intercontinental travellers – aka the godwits (kuaka) – will be formally farewelled as they start to depart the Avon Heathcote Estuary on their epic annual journey to Siberia.
For some years now the Christchurch City Council has “adopted” the godwits, celebrating their return as a signal of spring and ringing the Cathedral bells when the first bird is spotted on the Estuary.
I’m a sentimentalist and I like this idea. Godwits and their epic journeys also resonate in New Zealand literature – The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde, James Belich has a chapter Waiting for Godwits in his Paradise Reforged and in Godwits return: “Some of the New Zealanders who have helped shape the country’s cultural and intellectual life reflect on their reasons for choosing, finally, to live in New Zealand and what they have found on their return”.
All these allude to the idea of talented New Zealanders travelling long distances from their homeland to pursue their dreams. My favourite godwit literary link is James McNeish’s As for the Godwits which he wrote about living on Kawhia Harbour. He renamed the remote settlement of Te Maika as Te Kuaka and this book and the sequel An Albatross Too Many were a wonderful evocation of people and place.
Back to the Christchurch godwits. Apparently they have been having some good seasons and numbers are up in the Estuary, Brooklands Lagoon and upper Lyttelton Harbour. To find out more about these fantastic little birds read Godwits; long haul champions by Keith Woodley.