Thursday 7 May 2015

Little Curlew migration update - Inka Veltheim and Clive Minton on behalf of the AWSG

Since the last update from a week ago most of the little curlew have been enjoying a rest at stop over locations. Again, we are quite astonished and delighted to see that five of the six little curlew left Australia on migration. It is very exciting to watch this many birds migrating at the same time. It also raises a lot of questions about why the strategies and migration paths are so different for each bird.

Little Curlews Numenius minutus in flight. Photo: Ric Else.
Three of the birds are currently on separate islands of Indonesia, despite two of them apparently travelling together from Broome originally. Birds 61 and 65 have now been stopped over for a week at Roti and Sulawesi (respectively). Bird 63, which left together with 47, was heading straight for Bali but eventually landed on southern Lombok. We had a bird in 2014 stop over in Lombok, but on the northern side of the island.

Little curlew 47, if you remember, was fitted with a tracker in 2013 and we have already had a northward and southward migration from this bird in 2014. We have been fortunate that the battery has lasted this long. It has been transmitting intermittently for the last couple of months and we have a partial track for this bird, which shows it’s on northward migration again. Unfortunately, it has not transmitted since 27th April, and we suspect the battery has now ceased operating.

Our Derby bird, ID 64, has not transmitted since 23rd April. It was due to transmit on the 25th April again but all data transmissions have stopped. These dates coincide with the first birds leaving Australia (61 & 65) but we can’t confirm either way whether this bird began its migration. The movements up to the 23rd April were considered normal and what happened to this bird, or the transmitter, will remain a mystery.

What is most fascinating to see though, is the journey of the last one of these little curlew to leave Australia. Bird 62 has progressed the furthest out of all of them. It has flown 2000 km over two days and is having a stop over on the tiniest of the Philippines islands (Beni Island). This is near the northern tip of Palawan, an island where one of the three little curlew (ID 43) stopped over in mid-June 2014.

In 2014, the first bird (ID 45) arrived on the Chinese coast on 5th May. This bird flew all the way to the Siberian breeding grounds (10,000 km in a month). Will this year’s birds make it? Watch this space to find out…!

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