Winter update and request for recent sightings

Last September, four Sociable Lapwings left Kazakhstan to begin their migrations fitted with working satellite transmitters but shortly afterwards we unfortunately lost track of these birds, and the large flocks of Sociable Lapwings they were travelling with, when we stopped receiving any transmissions. This has been a disappointing setback for the project and means we have received very little information on the Sociable Lapwings’ last migration to their wintering grounds.

Initially we were not too concerned to lose satellite transmissions at the outset of the birds migration, as in previous years the majority of lapwings we have tracked moving first west into Russia and then south have not provided a wealth of location information on the first leg of their journeys. We had hoped to receive transmissions again once the birds were more advanced along their routes but, as time went by, we realised that either these birds’ tags had ceased operating, the harnesses holding the tags had failed, or the birds themselves had perished. For now, regrettably, these birds remain ‘missing in action’.

We are however pleased to now be able to report on a number of sightings we have recently received that confirm the presence of Sociable Lapwings in most of their regular wintering areas.

We would still like to gain more information about the wider distribution of Sociable Lapwings during the past few months, so if you have any records or photographs to share or know of any recent sightings please do submit them online here.

Last year we were delighted to report that a record flock of more than 90 birds had been found wintering in Oman. Regular sightings of wintering birds have been made in the country again recently, though not in the same numbers. The Birds Oman website records the first returning Sociable Lapwing in 2011 as an individual located at Qatbit on November 9th. On November 15th seven birds were found at Sahnawt Farm, Salalah and over subsequent days the flock grew to a maximum of 29 birds on November 25th. Subsequently five Sociable Lapwings were located at Sun Farms, Sohar, on November 26th and three birds remained there until at least January 13th.

Sociable Lapwing wintering at Dubai Pivot Fields January 2012 © Mike Barth www.mike-barth.blogspot.com

Another regular wintering site for Sociable Lapwings in the Middle East is at the Pivot Fields in Dubai. Sightings reported this last season on the UAE Birding blogsite start with a single bird returning on November 23rd 2011. This was seen regularly until December 5th when it was joined by a second bird. These two Sociable Lapwings (one of which carried a limp) stayed throughout December and January until a third bird appeared on February 11th. The most recent report from Dubai is of six birds together at the Pivot Fields on February 25th.

We have just received news from Bahrain today that two Sociable Lapwings have been located at Hamalah Farm, Manama (March 2nd, 2012). Howard King reports these are freshly arrived birds that will probably now stay a few days as the area is currently suffering strong winds.

Sociable Lapwings arriving at Hamalah Farm, Manama, Bahrain, March 2nd 2012, © Howard King

We have also received several interesting records of wintering Sociable Lapwings in India.

Reporting from Rajasthan – Amazing Journey contributing photographer Gaurav Bhatnagar reveals that good levels of rain have stimulated the growth of tall grasses rendering several of the most reliable sites, such as Tal Chhapar, unsuitable for foraging Sociable Lapwings. It is however quite possible that these conditions have resulted in the displacement of regular wintering flocks to more suitable areas of the huge Thar Desert which remains largely unwatched.

In Gujarat Sociable Lapwings have been recorded by regular contributor Jugal Tiwari and colleagues of cedobirding.com on three occasions. They located four birds at Banni near Chhari-Dhand on both December 20th and December 24th and fourteen birds there on January 15th, 2012.

A further report of a flock of eighteen birds together, on an unspecified date in December 2011, also in Banni but near Bhirandiara, suggests more birds have been present in the area. However, the Banni grassland is some 3,847 sq kms in area and whilst offering great habitat for Sociable Lapwings, is a very large area to monitor with limited resources. This flock was some 40 kms away from the major concentration of birds present in January and February 2011.

Sociable Lapwing wintering in Gujurat February 4th, 2012 © Mital Patel, www.wildart.in

The rains have also rendered searches for Sociable Lapwings particularly difficult near Ahmedabad which is another place Sociable Lapwings have previously been regularly encountered in the past few years. Despite heavy rains swelling the lake at the Thol Nature Reserve so that it covered the usual areas Sociable Lapwings are seen, regular visits eventually paid off on February 4th, when Wild Art photographers Mital Patel and Kunan Naik located the single bird shown in the great photographs by Mita Patel at the head of this post and above.

In addition, another single Sociable Lapwing was also present near Ahmedabad at Nal Sarover on February 2nd and was found feeding near the main highway with a flock of Indian Coursers. This record was reported to us online by Kalyan Varma and Divya Mudappa.

Sociable Lapwing wintering in Gujurat February 2nd, 2012. © Kalyan Varma, www.kalyanvarma.net

We know from the birds (like Erzhan) that we’ve tracked in previous years and from subsequent follow-up surveys, that Sudan and probably several other adjacent countries in north-eastern Africa are primary wintering areas for Sociable Lapwings.  We also know that birds pass through Saudi Arabia on their migrations to and from here. At this point in time we have received no reports of wintering birds from any of the countries in this region so any recent sightings you might know about from this area would be particularly valuable.

If you have any Sociable Lapwing sightings to report or know of any wintering birds not mentioned here please do submit your sightings here or get in touch by leaving a comment.

We thank all contributors to this update and we hope to soon bring you further news of Sociable Lapwings as they start to make their long journeys back to their breeding grounds.