Spring migration starts early in Syria?

Syrian conservationists and RSPB staff conducting surveys in Syria this week, were surprised to discover Sociable Lapwings present in the country and apparently already on the return leg from their wintering grounds.

On Saturday 19th February, the first sighting of Sociable Lapwings in Syria this spring was recorded 20km east of Ash Shola. Two males were observed at Hummaran (north of  Wadi Ghdeiwer) – an extensive patch of lush vegetation. Another single bird was also observed near Al Howlon on Monday 21st February.

Despite the cold weather experienced during the recent surveys these birds appear to have made an early return and indicate that the spring migration might already have started for some birds. As temperatures rise, much larger flocks are expected to be passing through Syria in March.

Staff from the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW – the BirdLife Affiliate in Syria) and the Syrian General Commission for Al Badia Management and Development (GCB) are again working closely with RSPB staff this year to locate and monitor Sociable Lapwing flocks passing through the country on the long return journey to their breeding grounds in Kazakhstan.

Dr Nabegh Ghazal Asswad (SSCW), Mahmoud Shaiesh Abdullah, Ahmed Jaber Abdullah, Ahmed Aidek and Yehia Al-Zoubi (Al Badia Commission), Dave Thurlow and Nik Aspey (RSPB) will be undertaking survey work in Syria for the next three weeks hoping to locate larger flocks, enhance conservation efforts to protect the species and ensure the birds safe passage this spring.

The collaboration of national and international conservation NGOs, national government departments and local communities working closely together to deliver conservation action for Sociable Lapwings migrating through Syria has become well established over the past three years.

The country’s importance as a migration stop over was only discovered as recently as spring 2007, when a Dutch-Syrian expedition led by Remco Hofland first found a migrating flock passing through on March 2nd of that year. At the time the flock was considered to be part of a wintering group but now it has been established Sociable Lapwings winter much further south, it is much more likely this was the vanguard of that year’s spring migration.

Collaborating scientists surveying Sociable Lapwings in Syria - Spring 2010.

In autumn 2010, 20 Sociable Lapwings were found near Palmyra by GCB researchers and the same team found 70 birds in the North Eastern part of the country. None of the birds were carrying transmitters or were colour ringed individuals from the breeding study-sites.

On the 19th October 2010, researchers from GCB found 20 Sociable Lapwings between the Al Talila reserve and the Bald Ibis Reserve in the Palmyran steppe. Mahmoud Al Sahyesh who located the birds said “One day before we spot the birds, we were looking in the north and north-eastern part of the country, and luckily we found them while surveying in and around Talila reserve. We are proud of the collaboration with conservation organizations in Syria and the region as well as internationally”. Ahmed Jaber, a researcher from GCB who located the 70 birds in the northern parts of the country said ” The Sociable Lapwings are now at one of the most important staging areas during their migration, we hope that these visitors will pass safely”.

Ahmad Aidek of GCB monitoring Sociable Lapwings in Syria - October 2010.

Ongoing conservation action for Sociable Lapwings in Syria is implemented by the Syrian General Commission for Al Badia Management and Development (GCB) in coordination with key national stakeholders, including SSCW, the ministry of environment, the ministry of agriculture and local communities around the Sociable Lapwings’ main staging areas. These regular stop overs have been located by the group’s surveys in previous years.

The conservation action now being undertaken in Syria follows recommendations made in an AEWA Report – Implementation Review Process (IRP) on-the spot assessment mission on the conservation of the Sociable Lapwing in Syria in spring 2010. UNEP/AEWA (in cooperation with BirdLife International) is supporting the implementation of activities under the national work plan to monitor and protect the Sociable Lapwing at its key stopover sites in the Syrian steppe during migration.

AEWA has contributed funding through their small-scale funding programme to improve the conservation status of the Sociable Lapwing at its key stopover sites in the Syrian steppe, thereby contributing towards the conservation goal for the Sociable Lapwing as specified in the AEWA International Single Species Action Plan for the species.

Activities being implemented under this program include;

  • monitoring and protection of the migratory Sociable Lapwing populations at their key stop over sites in the Syrian steppe.
  • observance and documentation of interactions with humans and any other potential threats (uncontrolled hunting).
  • contribution to improving awareness of the importance of conserving the Sociable Lapwing as a Critically Endangered species and an important component of the biodiversity of the Syrian steppe among local communities, where birds spend some time, while involving local hunters in the project to encourage them to become stakeholders in the conservation efforts.

The photograph at the head of this story is of one of the birds from the Palmyra flock found in October 2010 and was taken by Ahmed Qanani from GCB.

Look out for further information about sightings made in Syria this spring by following responses to this initial post. You can sign up for regular news stories here.