Frequent flier flies again

News release
20 June 2018

AKK - male Bar-tailed godwit resighting

Photo: Adrian Boyle

One of Adelaide’s most frequent flyers, a migratory shorebird carrying a unique tag on its leg, has been sighted after three years missing in action.

The reappearance of the long-distance local on a beach in China (photo above) has overjoyed local shorebird watchers after he was snapped by wildlife photographer Adrian Boyle using a mobile phone down a telescope.

Every autumn, thousands of migratory birds depart Adelaide’s shores to undertake the 13,000 kilometre journey to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.

But the epic trip has its perils: diminishing habitat, hunting and exhaustion all take a toll on the thousands of birds who leave each year from beaches along Gulf St Vincent.

A distinctive yellow tag marked AKK has enabled experts to confirm that the bird, a male Bar-tailed godwit, is safe and well and on his way once again to breed in the Arctic during the northern summer.

‘AKK’ was tagged at Thompson Beach north of Adelaide in 2012 by volunteers from the Victorian Wader studies group, as part of a monitoring program set up by Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges (AMLR) and Birdlife Australia.

The following year AKK was seen in China, and then back at Thompson Beach in 2014. In 2015 he was again sighted in China but for the past three years there has been no sign of him and bird enthusiasts feared the worst.

So when AKK was spotted taking a quick snooze at Nanpu on Bohai Bay in China, his reappearance was greeted with great joy by local birdwatchers.

The sighting of AKK is due in no small measure to the talents of wildlife photographer Adrian Boyle. Originally from Adelaide, Adrian has been a regular visitor to Bohai Bay to count and scan the mudflats for flagged birds. He is part of the Global Flyway Network, a partnership between researchers worldwide who are devoted to the long term study of long distance migrating shorebirds.

As well as counting birds, the researchers record bands and flags of birds banded throughout the East Asian-Australasian Flyway arriving at the important staging grounds on the shores of the Yellow Sea in China.

Godwits undertake the longest non-stop flight of any bird, with one satellite-tracked bird from New Zealand making a nonstop flight of more than 11,000 kilometres in just nine days.

In AKK’s case, his annual migratory journey from Adelaide to the Arctic via China involves a round trip of around 26,000 kilometres. And given that Godwits can live for up to 30 years, a long-lived bird could fly around 800,000 kilometres in migratory journeys during its life, about the same as a return trip to the moon!

Adelaide’s northern coastline is a haven for migratory birds such as AKK, and the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary, Winaityinaityi Pangkara, was established in 2016 to protect resident and migratory shorebirds and the habitat that supports them.

In Adelaide, Natural Resources AMLR and Birdlife Australia monitor local shorebirds and map their habitats as part of a national shorebird conservation program.

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More information

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges