creating beautiful journals and books

Disappearing Godwits

Since I first heard about the Overwintering Project (organised by Australian printmaker Kate Gorringe-Smith), I have been learning all I can about migratory shorebirds birds. The Overwintering Project is an environmental art project inviting artists from Australia and New Zealand to respond to the unique nature of their local migratory shorebird habitat. I was drawn to the project because as a child growing up in New Zealand, I was fascinated by godwits. Godwits overwinter in the many estuaries around the Shoalhaven river in NSW, near where I live now.

This month I have two new books out in the world. Disappearing Godwits#2 is currently in the Guild 17 exhibition at Civic Library in Canberra and Disappearing Godwits #1 is part of an exhibition by the NZ Association of Book Crafts at NorthART Gallery in Auckland from 8th October

Migratory shorebirds are the fastest declining group of birds in New Zealand and Australia. Millions of birds fly tens of thousands of kilometres around the world each year and development is threatening their vital feeding grounds.

As I researched in the making of my godwit books, I was amazed to find that the bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica bauera known in Maori as kuaka) is distinguished among migratory birds for its nonstop annual flight from the Arctic Circle to the southern hemisphere.disappearing godwits#1

The bar-tailed godwit travels more than 11,000kms over eight to nine days of continuous flight. This is the longest known migration among birds. Some godwits travel in groups. Others migrate for the first time on their own.

The birds arrive exhausted in New Zealand and Australia, weighing less than half their original weight. They stay for about five months over the summer before making the return journey each autumn.

Godwits on the wing are known in Maori as waka kuaka. Their cries are loud as they fly. In ancient times the arrival of the kuaka was looked upon as a great event. Maori observed their seasonal movements and noted that no one ever found their nests or chicks.

Bar-tailed godwits are now listed as vulnerable and are endangered.

Wetland habitat loss and degradation is a significant threat to these birds. Many pressures contribute to this degradation, including climate change, population growth and associated coastal development. The conservation of important sites here and along their migration routes is essential to their survival.

A few years ago, one radio-tagged godwit flew from New Zealand to Alaska and back, then decided to stay in New Zealand permanently. The bird continues to live in retirement on the Miranda coast in the Firth of Thames south of Auckland.

The bells of New Zealand’s Christchurch Cathedral  were traditionally rung to welcome the Eastern Bar-tailed Godwits (which were adopted by Christchurch city as a harbinger of spring) and farewell them in autumn.

After Christchurch’s cathedral bells were silenced by the 2011 earthquake, the city of Nelson’s Christ Church cathedral picked up the tradition saying the occasion was a chance to reflect on the beauty and wonder of nature and the importance to care for our environment

You can become involved in The Overwintering Project. Visit Or email Kate at

Marama Godwits Canberra

Guild 17 Exhibition at Civic Library, Canberra. Photograph Marilyn Townsend.

Disappearing Godwits Books#1 and#2 by Marama Warren

Unique  artist’s books based on a waterfall structure using assorted prints and papers. © Marama Warren. 2017



3 comments on “Disappearing Godwits

  1. greengaze
    October 2, 2017

    what a fascinating subject interpreted so beautifully. Congratulations, Marama. x

  2. pearlbuttonbridal
    October 2, 2017

    Your book looks so inviting and the leaves remind me of the feathers of a bird and would make a beautiful sound as you Meade your way through it. Such an important story you are telling too.

  3. Alan
    October 3, 2017

    Great work! They are amazing birds. I was fascinated by their story in a series of broadcasts on ABC Radio last year. I imagine you found them in your research – ‘Flying for your Life’
    Cheers :)

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