If you are not yet bewitched by Sociable Lapwings we certainly hope you will be by the time you’ve explored this website and made a few return visits to see how the birds are progressing on their Amazing Journey.
All of us involved in Sociable Lapwing conservation have naturally become big fans of the species since we’ve been immersed in the fascinating details of its biology, migration and conservation.
What we’d like to know is whether you are as “mad about the bird” as we are and, if so, why you care about its future?
Here’s how I got hooked…
I’ve been fascinated by birds since I was a tiny child and over the years I have had many exciting encounters with many different birds. Every so often however, one comes along that really leaves its mark.
One Sunday afternoon in mid October 2008 I was birding with friends on the Isles of Scilly when we received some surprising news of a new arrival.
Scilly is a small archipelago 28 miles off the most south westerly tip of the British Isles that is renowned as a rarity hotspot. Every autumn birders from all over Britain, and quite a few from beyond, visit the islands to look for rare birds that have strayed from their usual migration routes and and have found their way there.
Like most breaking news of a rarity on Scilly we were first alerted to the bird’s presence by CB radio. After a quiet day in the field, the radio crackled into life around 4 p.m. and the voice of a lone birder – walking the coastal path up by the airfield on St Mary’s – came over the airways. His message was a slightly embarrassed report-cum-confession as he told all those listening that he needed help identifying a ‘strange plover with a huge white supercillium’ that had just landed close by.
This was the first really exciting news we’d had all week and the hairs on my neck stood up straight! In that moment my mind raced – firstly optimism gripped me – Could it be a Caspian Plover? – there had only been four British records in the last 50 years in the UK and one of those had been on Scilly in 1988. I hadn’t seen one and the lure of getting to grips with a new species is part of the appeal that’s kept me returning to Scilly each Autumn for the last 15 years.
A rather harsh and cynical voice barked out “Dotterel” as a suggestion. Dotterel are an annually occurring passage migrant on the islands – and the response that came back like a whiplash – refuted the suggestion with markedly indignant tones!
For the next few minutes the radio remained silent as we waited for more news. We started making our way towards the airfield knowing instinctively that this report merited further investigation.
Shortly after this, the first birders on the scene confirmed it was a Sociable Lapwing although they called it a Sociable Plover as the species was previously known in Britain.
As soon as the identification was confirmed, birders from all points on St Mary’s started making their way up to the airfield in long thin wavering lines. Old and young, novice and expert all converged on the airfield. Long before I got within a mile of the bird, the ID had been confirmed but rather than being disappointed it wasn’t a Caspian Plover, I was thrilled it was a Sociable Lapwing. The positive news quickened my pace. Although I and most of my birding pals had already seen a handful of Sociable Lapwings in the UK before, none of us had seen one on Scilly, as this occurence was a first for the islands and all the more special for that. The lure of a ‘Scilly tick’ invoked a mass twitch and an – oh so sweet – feeling of anticipation for me as I headed up the long steep coastal path around to the airfield. Freshly arrived plovers on Scilly are notoriously unsettled and I knew there was a high chance the bird might fly off again before I arrived.
After about a twenty minute walk I got to the point where the bird could be seen and found myself amid a huge, very happy and excited crowd. Bingo! The Sociable Lapwing was right in front of us and behaved impeccably running back and forth on the short sward picking Crane Flies and other insects off the airfield perimeter while giving us all fantastic views.
That day all connected, all had good views and all were happy.
And then amid the celebration the realisation dawned that here was a rare bird that was unlike almost all of the others we usually celebrated seeing on Scilly.
Normally the rarities we encounter there are just rare in Britain – out of range, and blown miles of course. Back home they’d be relatively common. This time, this bird was different. Here was a rarity that was truly globally rare. This waif was of a higher calibre altogether as Sociable Lapwing is deemed Critically Endangered and as such, one of the world’s 190 most threatened species.
I wished in that moment that I could turn all the energy, excitement and passion all around me were displaying into a force for conservation that might save the species from extinction and insure this kind of experience could be enjoyed by others for centuries to come…
Here were my two worlds crossing – work and leisure combined in a moment and I realized I was very lucky to be present at this historical event and marveled again at the bird in my binocular view…
Jim Lawrence – Development Manager – BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. Picture: Sociable Lapwing – Tom Tams – Isles Of Scilly, UK, October 2008.
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