An interesting update (many thanks!) from Phil Roberts and Jeremy Babbington on Sociable Lapwings in Saudi Arabia…
Following our sightings of Sociable Lapwing on February 5, 2016 (see previous blog post) Jem Babbington and I decided to visit Haradh this winter to try to determine if this was a new wintering location for the species.
We left Dhahran at 3:30am on January 13, 2017 to drive the 300km south to Haradh, arriving at first light. In addition to desert habitat, Haradh has large areas of modified habitat created by pivot irrigation fields growing primarily fodder crops. Due to the fact they are a reliable source of food and cover this habitat attracts large numbers of wintering birds, in addition to resident birds such as Crested Lark, Common Kestrel and Namaqua Dove.
During the morning we explored a set of pivot fields to the west of Haradh, in the direction of Al Kharj, and were rewarded with good numbers of wintering raptors including approximately 20 Pallid Harrier and 10 Marsh Harrier in addition to 50+ Yellow Wagtails and 20 Spur-winged Lapwing.
We then drove to the location, a short distance to the southeast of Haradh, where we had seen the Sociable Lapwings in 2016. Having previously seen them in recently ploughed fields we looked for suitable habitat and found a number of fields in the process of being ploughed. Once again we found large flocks of wintering Northern Lapwing, estimating the total at 350, and as on our previous visit Jem quickly identified a few Sociable Lapwings flying towards the rear of the flock. A careful search of the ploughed pivot fields revealed a total of seven Sociable Lapwings, which we are confident are wintering in the area. In addition we also saw in excess of 20 each of Desert Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear and a fifth Long-legged Buzzard for the day.
In order to confirm our belief the Sociable Lapwings are in fact wintering in Haradh, Jem and I returned to Haradh on February 3, 2017. We went back to the same location and on this occasion we were able to find five birds, once again associated with the large numbers of wintering Northern Lapwing. The birds were very wary and very difficult to get close too either on foot or in a vehicle, which made photographing them very difficult.
Wintering Sociable LapwingsBased on our sightings in 2016 and 2017 we believe it is reasonable to assume that this is a new wintering location for this critically endangered species and we look forward to returning to Haradh next winter in search of hopefully increasing numbers of wintering Sociable Lapwings.