The latest information from the satellite tags on our Sociable Lapwings puts Maysa and Tesfaye back in Kazakhstan at the breeding grounds, with Nikoo on the Aral Sea “coast”, in Uzbekistan (although she may be nowhere near water, as much of the Aral Sea has dried up). As we have not heard from Shirin since the 25th of March, it’s possible that now we only have three birds to track. Nikoo left Sudan on the 17th February and our latest signal is from the 6th of April, so she has travelled at least 4,490 km in 50 days, using a route we have not seen before in spring. Tesfaye covered over 2,500 km between the 3rd of March and 25th (22 days), and Maysa’s Amazing Journey took 23 days to cover 2,400 km. It looks like they are averaging about 100 km each day for the duration of their spring migrations back north.
While Maysa and Tesfaye were in Pakistan, Ahmad Kahn, our in-country contact, and his team set out to find the tagged birds and to survey areas where Sociable Lapwings have been recorded. Dadu in Sindh Province and Jafarabad in Balochistan were the focus, but other potential habitats in Sindh and Punjab Provinces were surveyed. Local communities in the visited area were consulted about occurrence of the birds to get some idea of historic changes.
Based on the geographic locations from Maysa and Tesfaye, field effort was concentrated on the border area between Sindh and Balochistan, near the Hamal lake along the Kirthar canal and its canal network. This location is crisscrossed by canals creating seepage areas that provide habitat to a number of wading birds. However, as observed and reported by the local community, Sociable Lapwing rarely use these seepage ponds. The area is saline and has no freshwater source. It remains under water for about ten months and rice is grown. When the ground dries, mustard and wheat are sown particularly in the fields on raised ground. The local community makes ponds that are filled from nearby canals. These small ponds are the source for drinking water of human as well as livestock population.
During the survey, a flock of 28 sociable lapwings was observed near Ahmedabad village in Jafarabad district. According to locals, the lapwing is a regular visitor to the area during winter, arriving in November and migrating back in March. However, they reported a sharp decline in numbers. Birds were said to prefer harvested rice paddies, ploughed fields and irrigated wheat fields. Sociable Lapwings like freshly ploughed land, where they can find insects, so taking advantage of this behaviour, the fieldworkers searched in ploughed fields and found the 28 birds. Other species recorded included cattle egret, pond heron, white-tailed lapwing, solitary snipe, avocet, black-winged stilt, greenshank, little-ringed plover, painted snipe, red-wattled lapwing, ringed dove, and jungle crow.
The primary cause for the decline in wintering population of sociable lapwing appears to be hunting – the human population has grown and expanded, and firearms are common. In the past hunting was not a common practice, but the trend has changed, and Sociable Lapwing meat is considered delicious. The local community does not know the importance of the species and so has never taken steps to protect it. There is no organization working on conservation of birds in this remote and undeveloped area.
A further six birds were found in irrigated wheat fields around Bahwalpur town, and local people say they use other areas when water if available. Three more birds were found a few kilometres from Dadu towards Jaffarabad district. No birds were found in various sites in Punjab.
With larger concentrations of birds wintering in Pakistan than previously estimated, and the new information that potentially a third of the global population use this eastern flyway, it becomes a priority to find ways to tackle the hunting of Sociable Lapwing in key areas.[Title photograph, Ahmad Kahn]