Please consider the photos to be copyrighted and ask permission to use them in any way. Thanks, David Clapp
The other day we headed back to a favored haunt; the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield, Massachusetts. This 500+ acre site is well known to local naturalists for many reasons, primarily birds; but its topography is also very interesting. This was a salt marsh area in the early 1800s and was diked off from the sea to make into a salt marsh grazing area. The enclosed marsh then “composted” down in elevation about eight feet making the whole area a polder; land below sea level. Over the next century the land freshened and became both pasture and farm land. In the 1980s it was purchased by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and began a new life as a wildlife sanctuary.
There are a couple miles of trails and a viewing platform on the only hill. The fresh water marsh is a cattail haven and the tidal waters flow again into the creeks and make for a nice variety of fresh and brackish habitats. There are two observation blinds (hides) from which a man-made pond can be observed and photography undertaken. Well, we were here because the fields had been plowed, harrowed, smoothed, and planted in grasses. Actually that work was done twice this year. The first planting died off as we had an extremely dry summer. The second planting seems to be doing well and here in mid-November it looks a bit like a turf farm or even a shaggy golf course.
The grasses have attracted sandpipers and plovers, so in addition to the usual array of birds of prey there are now Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, and a single Hudsonian Godwit; with a scattering of Horned Larks and American Pipits.
Now that telemetry is light and dependable recorders are easily put onto birds; emitter so light and small that the birds are not hindered. One of the Bar-tailed Godwits in Alaska was outfitted with a nano tag and then followed as it flew non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand. (Take a minute to look at a map.) That is really non-stop; no food, no sleeping, no floating on the ocean . This last migration one of the birds flew about 7500 miles (12,000 kilometers). The most staggering part of this may not be the distance but that the bird flew at about 35 mph for 11 days!! Eleven days non-stop, no food, and hit the target; landing in New Zealand. The speed averages out at just under 30 mph, (11 days = 264 hours; 7500 miles divided by 264 hours equals 28.4 miles an hour) but given that the bird flew through and around storms the distance and speed are hard to figure exactly. The bottom line is that it is remarkable, nearly unbelievable, and simply fascinating. How to they steer? How do that metabolize? How much weight do they lose? How do they navigate in the day, the night, in a storm? Part of it is that most migratory birds allow unneeded organs to shrivel up and organs that they depend on to enlarge. Thus reproductive organs are essentially non-existent during the non-breeding season making the birds lighter and aiding a bit with flying. Specialized high density fats are created to power the birds. As it is they still lose about half their body weight during the flight.