As the sun was setting over the Firth of Thames in New Zealand, dozens of bar-tailed godwits shuffled about lazily on the edge of the bay, the wind fluffing their feathers.
The tide was coming in, submerging the mudflats where the birds had been feeding, sticking their long bills into the soft earth to dig up worms and crabs. As the water advanced, they stopped foraging and waded ashore, inelegantly carrying their plump, butterball bodies on stilt-like legs. A bit homely and ungainly, with drab plumage, godwits appear quite ordinary. As the sky turned orange, they settled down to roost. Resting for hours on end, they can seem rather sedentary.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Six months earlier, these birds had made an epic journey to get here, flying all the way from Alaska. Astonishingly, they didn’t stop along the way. For eight or nine days straight, they flew, beating their wings the entire way: about 7,000 miles, more than a quarter of the way around the world.