In Christchurch, we have become accustomed to making do and that includes heralding the arrival of the kuaka (godwits).
Before the February 2011 earthquake, Christ Church Cathedral rang its bells for 30 minutes to herald the arrival of the godwits. Last year St. Paul’s Church in Papanui rang its bells. This year, Shirley Library rang its hand bell to herald the arrival of these amazing birds.
These small birds fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand in eight days. They leave the cold Alaskan winter for the warmth of the Avon-Heathcote estuary. They spend the summer here and, if you go down to the Spit, you might see them feeding on sea worms, mud crabs and shellfish. They need to put on enough fat to make the return trip in autumn. Their return trip is via the Yellow Sea, China and Korea, but the environment of these staging grounds is being destroyed. We can do our bit to help them. While they are here, please don’t disturb them or allow dogs to chase them.
Why not read about the godwits before heading off to the estuary? The library has several books and Christchurch City Council, together with other organisations, has published a fact sheet. You might also want to check out the display at Shirley Library (including a brief video of the bell ringing).
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.