Western birds reach Turkey, with eastern birds at the Uzbek/Turkmen border

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This has been a very exciting few days for news from Uzbekistan.  Last Friday, Anna Ten and her team first reported that they had seen a total of 1,524 Sociable Lapwings in 4 flocks, the biggest number recorded in recent times away from the western flyway hotspot in Turkey/Syria.  Then later on that day, the numbers increased to about 2,210 as another 700 or so birds came in from the desert where Tesfaye had been seen.  This is now the third largest flock that we have recorded, and definitely the largest congregation on the Eastern flyway – if things carry on like this, we may be revising our assumption that the western flyway is the bigger of the two, and there are probably large unknown wintering areas in Pakistan and India.  It appears that with Sociable Lapwings, there is always something more to learn.

Flocks of hundreds of birds are being seen daily, and it seems that they roost around Talimarjan Lake during the day, and fly out into the desert to feed at night, quite possibly over the border into Turkmenistan.  Several birds with rings have been seen, one which was ringed in 2009 by Maxim Koshkin in Korgalzhyn, and so is now seven years old.

Large flock in Uzbekistan, near Lake Talimarjan
Large flock in Uzbekistan, near Lake Talimarjan (photo Anna Ten)

Further west, Shirin and Nikoo have converged on the Muş-Bulanık plains in eastern Turkey, which is a known stopover site.  Interestingly, they each took a completely different route to get there – Shirin via southern Russia, and Nikoo through Azerbaijan, where Sanjar is currently.  Canan and Ajaz are both following a similar route to Shirin, but are a few days behind.  Viktor Fedosov has been out on the steppe recording the flocks passing through, and has seen up to 46 together, often on the open worked fields near Manych.  He was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Canan, with her two white bands.

Tagged bird movements to September 28th 2015
Tagged bird movements to September 28th 2015

So far this year, birds are following three distinct paths, although currently we are not quite sure what Vyan is doing…

Meanwhile, we were wondering what Kiryl was up to as it seemed odd that he had not left the breeding site.  Johannes Kamp, our collaborator and friend based in Münster University, contacted a German volunteer Volker Blueml who is surveying white-headed duck on nearby Zhumai Lake.  Volker kindly went to the area that Kiryl was using, and while he did not find any Sociable Lapwings, there is a lot of suitable habitat, including stubble, ploughed and burnt steppe, and 50 or so Northern Lapwings.  Even though no Sociable Lapwings have been seen around the settlements since the beginning of September, Kyril’s transmitter fixes are high quality and moving.  Another  mystery unresolved.

Habitat in the area where Kiryl has been transmitting
Habitat in the area where Kiryl has been transmitting (photo Volker Blueml)
Volker's camp on the steppe
Volker’s camp on the steppe (photo Volker Blueml)

Thanks to everyone involved in this incredible effort to understand the complete story of the Sociable Lapwing…and given that the Turkmenistan field team are almost in place, there should be some exciting news to come.

Header photo Anna Ten.