Anxious wait for the southern migration
September and October are nervous months for watchers of migrating shorebirds on the Southeast Asia Australasia Flyway.
Along coastlines and at traditional feeding grounds they scan for ‘incoming’ and will do their counts by year’s end.
They know the threats these amazing birds face on their 10,000 km-plus return journeys from climate-change-threatened breeding grounds across the Arctic region.
Freezing cold, searing heat, predators and storms are bad enough, but for many they are in greatest peril as a result of habitat loss at key feeding stations along the way.
Many shorebird populations have been halved in recent years – some by 90%. In Cairns (north Queensland) where I live, the waterfront mudflats supported flocks of several thousand waders until quite recently. Now there are just a few hundred and 2017 returns have been sparse so far.
Still too early
But Nigel Jacket, warden of the Broome Bird Observatory in Western Australia says it is too early to know whether numbers are up or down.
“We will have a better idea when we do complete counts in November and December. So far [mid-September] numbers in Roebuck Bay are growing quickly but it is hard to tell to what extent. “Long-toed stint numbers seem a bit down but it might be too early to make that call.”
The first godwits
He suggested a delayed or extended northern breeding season could account for slow returns to the southern hemisphere.
Across in New Zealand, the message from Miranda wetlands manager Keith Woodley was much the same: too early. The first flock of godwits (about 500), arrived on 7 September, and based on weather predictions at the Alaska departure point, a second influx was expected within days. But it would be some weeks before comparisons could be drawn.