Windcatcher: an amazing tale of migration, conservation and survival
Great animal migrations are a phenomenon that occur right across the world. Africa is renowned for its huge numbers of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle trekking across vast distances. And whale-watching is a worldwide past time built on the migratory patterns of these magnificent mammals.
But did you know that closer to home there is a remarkable bird that faces just as many dangers as any zebra or gazelle, and travels much further than any enormous whale?
The short-tailed shearwater flies a round journey from the edge of the Southern Ocean, to the rim of the Arctic Circle – an extraordinary 30,000 kilometre trip!
In Windcatcher award-winning children’s author Diane Jackson Hill explores the mysteries of seabird migration through the life of a small bird called Hope.
Hope’s adventures begin as soon as she leaves her burrow and starts her marathon journey to the Arctic Circle.
We asked Diane to tell us why she was so inspired to write this story.
The Short-tailed Shearwater is not considered threatened, nor is it particularly striking in its appearance – so what is it about this plucky little bird that captured your imagination?
Seeing the spectacle of thousands of them circling silently above me and realising that these small birds fly to the North Pole – and back – every year. I was in awe of their strength of body and mind in achieving this, even though it was something that was inherent in their being.
Shearwaters aren’t currently threatened, but research is uncovering severe plastic ingestion in high percentages of some flocks which has the potential to wipe out massive colonies. Some years ‘wrecks’ occur where thousands don’t make it home due to starvation (from industry overfishing and pollution problems), which lowers their resistance, particularly to bad weather conditions. I thought by writing the shearwater story and exposing their amazing journey, I may be able to help their preservation in some way.
This is your second book based on marine birds found in the South-west region of Victoria – what is it about this region that you love so much?
I live in the area and have first-hand knowledge and love of its beauty. I was excited to meet others passionate about our environment and the animals that co-habit, and to learn of all the volunteer programs in place to try to protect and preserve what we have.
And why birds?
I’ve always been a twitcher I think. I have a beautiful collection of bird-decorated birthday and Mothers’ Day cards from my grandchildren, who have realised my passion. Birds have good brains and are clever at adapting. I can spend hours watching them fly and enjoy it when they trust me to come close.
This is also your second time collaborating with illustrator Craig Smith – can you tell us about your collaborative process?
Museum Victoria originally paired me with Craig Smith for Chooks in Dinner Suits: A Tale of Big Dogs and Little Penguins (external link). It was my luckiest ‘break’ ever! And then we were accepted as a team with CSIRO Publishing for Windcatcher – even luckier!
Craig has a wonderful sensitivity to my words and his illustrations have exceptional energy, richness and heart. He thoroughly researches the subjects and spends time in the story localities, intent on creating a true sense of place.
Craig has complete artistic licence to interpret my texts, but both times it has turned out better than I could have ever possibly imagined. In Windcatcher I think he has painted a masterpiece!
What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?
To discover beauty in their environment and an appreciation of the struggles for survival. I hope in this, to encourage them to help with programs that sustain their local habitats and to work on finding new solutions to restore their wonderful environment.
You too can follow the amazing 30,000 kilometre annual migration of the short-tailed shearwater in Diane’s book Windcatcher: Migration of the Short-tailed Shearwater, available now through bookshops or order online through our website.