'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

What's inside a Godwit.

I've just come back from another stay at the wonderful Miranda Shorebird Centre where I was researching and gathering photographic material for my next show.

One time I was walking the path through the fennel forest when a skylark started singing high above. I tried to photograph it but it was a tricky subject against the pale sky. But in front of me was a good selection of the local plants, and I couldn't resist this bumblebee visiting these blue flowers. There's a ladybird there too, which I didn't see until I cropped the image. The more often I visit Miranda the more I see.

So much for the pretty picture. Next one is not really for a chocolate box. Just an advance warning for you.

This visit I caught the last two days of the Field Course, and took part in the cannon-netting (oystercatchers this time) and a Godwit dissection which I really wanted to see. This desire may sound gross, but I've always been fascinated by almost everything, dissections not excepted, but they are not often available.

This was a Godwit that had been injured, probably on the road, and had been kept in the freezer for this demonstration. (I hasten to add Godwits are not killed for this purpose!)

It was great to see all the bits and pieces, and especially learn how Godwits are adapted for their stupendously grueling journeys between New Zealand and Alaska twice a year. Among their adaptations is their ability to shrink down their digestive organs for the actual migration flights, to cut down on weight. They are not needed of course, as Godwits neither eat nor drink when flying long-distance, a fascinating fact by itself.
They also can lay down huge amounts of sub-cutaneous fat and this one, killed last February, already showed a thick layer under its chest. Godwits have been recorded carrying 55% of their body weight as fat, just before they fly north in the New Zealand autumn. This fat is their 'fuel tank' that they gradually use up on the journey.

Here you can see Jodi the veterinarian holding out the beautiful wing for us to see. I've decided to censor the bloody bits because I know not everyone is as fascinated in them as I am. But if you really want the unexpurgated version, email me, and I'll email it to you it in a brown paper wrapper.

Tomorrow: cannon netting, measuring and tagging Oystercatchers.

Thanks to Keith Woodley for the last image.


  1. Hey Kate great to find you. Lovely to have a photo of you taking a photo too!! Audrie

  2. Godwits are really little heroes. Their individual journeys are truely epic.

  3. Audrie! Thanks for coming by so soon!

    Yes, I didn't realise he'd taken it, but perhaps he'd spotted me a moment before, taking one of you two and thought he'd get his own back.

    Alden - They are wonderful creatures.

  4. The name Godwit originates in Old English with god meaning good, and wit coming from wihte, meaning creature.

  5. How right you are YP. And this is also mentioned in Keith Woodley's excellent recently- published book
    "Godwits, Long-Haul Champions"


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