Satellite-tagged Sociable Lapwings are on the move again

With a lack of trackable Sociable Lapwings to report on over the last year, we are delighted to now reactivate the Amazing Journey website to bring you news about the migrations of three new birds that scientists from RSPB and ACBK fitted with satellite tags earlier this year.

The lapwings – a male and two females – are breeding adults that were caught at the nest and satellite-tagged at separate colonies near to Lake Tengiz, in central Kazakhstan, this summer. Each successfully fledged young before leaving their small nesting colonies to gather together with birds from other nearby colonies in readiness for their autumn migration. This gregarious behaviour is why the species is called ‘Sociable’ Lapwing.

RSPB's Professor Rhys Green and Dr Rob Sheldon fitting a satellite tag in June 2013.

Since mid August we’ve been anticipating the newly-tagged birds’ migration would soon begin. As days passed with no movements and then days turned into weeks, our monitoring team started to become increasingly concerned. While signals received from the tagged lapwings seemed very good, no changes in the birds’ locations were detected.

Most years Sociable Lapwings depart from their breeding areas in mid to late August. Was something up? Were the new satellite tags working properly? Could our birds really still be in the Kazakh Steppe, OK, and just waiting to depart?

We were all immensely relieved when the action finally began, confirming that all was well with the lapwings and that their tags were working properly. Remarkably all three of our tagged birds departed on the same day – Tuesday 17th of September.

A post-breeding flock of Sociable Lapwings gathering before migration.

Ruslan Urazaliev, who leads the Sociable Lapwing study for ACBK in Kazakhstan, comments “Throughout late August and most of September the wind has been mainly from the south and conditions here have remained warm. This probably delayed the birds migration. Although we searched all the areas where the satellite signals suggested our birds were gathering, we couldn’t find any Sociable Lapwings during the last few weeks. However, we did find large numbers of Ruff still present in the Steppe and they usually depart long before this. The wind patterns appear to have changed in recent days which may have allowed the Sociable Lapwings to finally begin their migration.”

To help report on the migration of the three tagged birds individually we have followed tradition and given each local names again. Boris, who was fitted with his satellite tag on June 5th 2013, carries the tag ID 123086 and a colour ring combination; green blue, orange blue. His coordinates and path are marked in blue on our map. Irina, who was fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th 2013, carries the tag ID 123088 and the colour ring combination; green blue, orange white. You can see Irina in the main picture at the head of this post. Her coordinates and path are marked in green. Ainur who was also fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th, carries the tag ID 123087 and the colour ring combination; green blue, green white. Her coordinates and path are marked in Red.

You can see the first stage of the tagged birds’ migration below and can click to enlarge the map.

Boris (blue), Irina (green) and Ainur's (Red) initial migration routes - September 17-23 2013. Click to enlarge.

Boris nested at a colony close to the Sociable Lapwing main study site at Korgalzhyn but has now moved nearly 1,800 km west in two days and at the time of writing is near Stavropol in south-western Russia. Irina has taken a slightly more southerly course west from her breeding site, some 60 km south east of Korgalzhyn, with an initial flight of just over 1,000 km. She then paused briefly to the East of the Caspian Sea before taking a second flight to a stopover close to Boris in Russia. Whether she crossed the Caspian Sea or took a route around its northern shores is, of course, unknown. Ainur who had nested in a separate colony close to Irina, has headed about 1,400 km south to a location near to the southerly borders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Expert Sociable Lapwing tracking analyst Johannes Kamp comments ” Boris has travelled to a new area between Volga and Kalmykia which is very interesting. If coordinate detail is accurate, it suggests that some birds do cross the North Caspian semi-desert. Previously there has been no evidence for this, with all our other satellite-tagged birds going around the North side of this area.”

“Irina has taken a non-classical route that is mostly used in spring (along the Emba valley). She is following in the footsteps of Erzhan, our first tagged male that transmitted for four years bringing us the most comprehensive information of all our tracked birds.”

“Ainur has almost certainly headed for Lake Talimarzhan in Uzbekistan where the big Sociable Lapwing stopover site was discovered by UzSPB last year.”

Where the birds head next can be predicted but discovering their exact routes and stopover sites is a vital part of protecting these Critically Endangered birds on their migrations.

The ongoing Sociable Lapwing conservation action that multiple national BirdLife Partners are taking for the species through this BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme project is funded by Swarovski Optik, RSPB and Mark Constantine. Without their support, vital research, monitoring, hunting intervention and conservation action would not be possible.

If you would like to sign up for email alerts so you can stay in touch with the progress of our three tagged birds please follow this link.

If you have seen any Sociable Lapwings recently or encounter any in the coming months we’d like to hear from you. You can submit your own sightings here.

We look forward to bringing you more news of the next stage of the Sociable Lapwings amazing journey shortly.