Their wings beat non-stop as they fly across the Pacific,

 

leaving behind the cold of Alaska and landing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Spring is the season for the return of the kuaka (godwits). They may now be seen on sandbanks and estuaries along the coast of Aotearoa.

The flight of the kuaka showed Pacific navigators the way to a new land in the South, and back again to Hawaiki. It is said that Kupe followed the kuaka on their annual migrations, knowing that he would find land.

Thank you kuaka for showing the way.

A whakataukī

Ko te kaupapa waka ki te moana hoe ai ko te kāhui atua ki te rangi rere ai.

Whilst the fleet of canoes over the ocean are paddled, the flocks of godwits are above in the heavens flying.

 

Free to fly

 

People are not flying across the world so easily now.

But birds are free. A flock of kuaka can fly non-stop for 12,000 km. They fly together, the leader breaking the force of the air for a time, then retiring for another to take its place.

They are fat when they leave, lean and exhausted when they arrive. Because the kuaka cannot land on the sea their fat flesh must sustain them for 8 to 10 days of flying.

Other migrating birds have also returned from their long journeys. You may have heard the pipiwharauroa calling its distinctive tune, and maybe the koekoea, the long-tailed cuckoo.

 

 

Seeking the birds

 

When I heard that the kuaka could be viewed on a sandbank at Te Atatu Peninsula in Auckland, I decided it was time for an adventure. My friend and I, masked and distancing, wandered along a coastal pathway spotting a heron, tōrea, and other birds on rocky outcrops in the sea. However, the sandbank was empty of kuaka. There was just a shining strip in the sun, that seemed to be floating on the blue.

We wandered further along the shoreline. When we returned, the tide had receded a little more from full and there they were, the kuaka along the shining strip all facing the same way and mostly still.
I counted about 200. The kuaka seem mysterious visitors. I am awed at their ability to travel and navigate their way across the hemispheres of the globe. Their shape is streamlined as if shaped by generations of wind. Their stillness fascinates me. Are they resting? Or waiting for something?

 

Finding space

 

Looking through the binoculars brings me into intimate connection with a few birds in the flock that are moving slightly. I watch their elegant long beaks dipping into the mudflat to find marine worms and other food.

My spirit lifts. Bird watching is a way of extending my perspective even while we are in lockdown, and of breathing into a more spacious world.

What new spaces are you breathing into?

How are you feeding your soul?

 

Photo credit Tanya Cumberland

A spring festival for Aotearoa

 

Spring is a season of new arrivals. It is a season of inspiration when the horizon opens and ideas take flight. The imagination, like birds, has wings.

 

Where are your wings taking you at this time?

 

The wings of my imagination fly into a future where the northern hemisphere import of Halloween has long since been dropped in favour of a glorious festival of welcome for the kuaka and other migrating birds. (In Christchurch, people already have a custom of gathering at the cathedral while the bells ring to greet the kuaka.)

Awareness of the kuaka in Christchurch has encouraged people to keep their dogs on a leash near the birds. Imagine if we all became aware of these precious visitors to our shores, and acted to protect them.

 

A new dance

 

The welcome festival would be for more than the returning birds; it would also be for whatever arrives on the wing. It could be hope, revival, inspiration, or renewal.

Imagine if our spring festivals included bell-ringing and dances of welcome. We might dance like a flock that flies with intention, exchanging leadership with smooth side movements. We might feel into coherence as a nation after times of division and dance in a new formation for a more gracious world.

 

What would your dance of the kuaka look like?
What musical instruments would you use?
Creative readers, this is my call to you!

Season’s Blessings,
Juliet

 

 

You may read more about the return of the birds in my season’s books:

Celebrating the Southern Seasons

Dancing with the Seasons

Sun, Moon, and Stars