Tuesday, September 18, 2007


We had this recent shake up in Singapore last week, resulting from the massive under sea earthquake near Indonesia, the first of which measured 8.4 on the Richter scale. Since the local news was slow in breaking the news and since I was convinced that the rocking back and forth experience was due to a tremor and not my whiskey that i had just started on, I began searching for data on the United States Geological Survey for verification. They had the earthquake located and detailed on their website instantly it seemed. I had not visited the USGS website in a while and this time, it was something else that caught my eye other than the earthquake and it was titled "Bird completes epic flight across the pacific".

I was under the impression that USGS website contained only geological survey material. Turns out I was wrong and they have several projects going on including a joint study on the migratory pattern of certain birds. They have teamed up with researchers using various private and Government grants, to install tiny radio transmitters (via satellite) that would give the position of the birds in flight. This story was about a particular species, a land bird actually, called the Bar-Tailed Godwit. While they have radio tagged many Godwits, it was one called as E7 that got the scientific community in a tizzy. This female completed what can only be termed as an amazing flight non stop across the water (The Pacific) from Alaska to New Zealand. They determined that she was flying non stop because of the constant forward speed recorded by the radio satellite tag.

I cannot write better than what they have done on the USGS website and I encourage all bird lovers to take a look for themselves. Here is one paragraph of the journey that I felt overwhelmed about and I quote: "The last leg of E7's journey is the most extraordinary, entailing a non-stop flight of more than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a round trip flight between New York and San Francisco, and then flying back again to San Francisco without ever touching down."

I know aviators including myself who would marvel at this achievement because it is a bit beyond human capability at this time unless you strap on a huge gas tank and make a lot of noise and we'd still need advanced avionics to tell us where we are headed. What got the attention of the researchers is that E7 flew a route back from Alaska that is not commonly used and is perhaps the only bird recorded to have done this route. When going through the information on the USGS website, I'd encourage the reader to look at and pay attention to the maps provided highlighting the route that E7 took and you'll realize too that this is one amazing bird on a really amazing flight. Hail the Godwit!

USGS website: http://www.usgs.gov/
Link to the story: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=1774


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Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

I've stuck treasure! You've given me valuable information. Till now, I had only heard about the arctic tern's fascinating migratory journey from artic ocean lands to antartic, but this is really amazing. I'll go through the website too....it all seems too extrodinary!

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

PS: What is the name of the website?

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

HI Lakshmi, me too, I thought nothing compared to the Arctic Tern. The godwit is such a small land bird, it is even more fascinating that she can do this! I cannot find enough superlatives to describe the journey. I have been a inter-continental ferry pilot and I enjoyed the freedoms of being over the ocean (terror for some) but I'd have been in serious trouble without the navigational equipment on board. The navigational accuracy of this bird, in doing an 18,000 mile annual trip is phenomenal.

The web site is of the U.S. Geological Survey. Main web address: http://www.usgs.gov/ and look under "Recent News Releases". Most Godwits recorded, fly the New Zealand to China to Alaska route and do it backwards the same way. This little godwit, E7, did a brand new route (may be other godwits do it too).

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

I went to birders.net, and, as you said, it is a small land bird, wading in water-type! This is really amazing! And I must say, you do have some nerve to fly over oceans, I am a bit scared of the oceans, and flying over them can sometimes make me feel tizzy.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks for the link, I am unable to find birders.net now. There is a New Zealand website that describes the bird: http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/kuaka.html
There are Bartailed godwits in the U.K. as well as the Royal Society for protection of birds (RSPB) has a page for the godwits and interestingly, on the top left of the webpage you'll see a button for playing and you can actually hear how the bird sounds! Pretty cool. Their website:http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/b/bartailedgodwit/#

One of my early flights over the North Atlantic, over freezing water, is documented in a five part series that I wrote on my blog last year.It starts with "Out of Scotland-Part 1" and ends in July 2006 with "Tribute to North Atlantic pilots-Part 5". Most of my flights have been rather uneventful and this one I have described was by far the most nerve wracking.

krishnamurthy vasudevan said...

Dear captain Anup Murthy,

Greetings & Thanks for your infomration ...

Would you spend some time ...enlightning me ...to cross the pacific or for inter continental flights of birds...they require energy, yes ENERGHY

1.Where do they get it from ? ...or where do they store it in their body ? can they carry all the " FUEL " ?
2. Non stop flight...for days, do not the mucles get tired ? exhausted ? What is the secret?
3. I request you to kindly advise me ...please reply me to ...vasuyes@yahoo.co.in

Thanking you
krishnamurthy vasudevan


Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Dear Mr. Krishnamurthy Vasudevan, thank you for your comment. I wish you had read the website whose link I had given in my blog. The USGS website which gave details of the ultra-long flight also had details on the bird's feeding habits before they undertake a long flight. I would encourage you to read that as well as info on the world wide web and there's lots of it. You'd find answers there easily.
What one should understand is that energy can be stored by way of calories. Also, what appear to be strenuous to man, need not be so for birds, their endurance and capabilities are very different. Also, the bird is rather small in size and weighs very little. In aviation, the power to weight ratio matters and in this bird that is a plus point. These birds are waders and are not equipped to land on water either to rest or feed. They do not have webbed feet. For reasons only known to them, they do hundred of thousands of miles of long distance flying in their lifetimes. Wish humans knew the answers for everything.