The Story So Far 2

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Following on from The Story So Far 1

Previous surveys were carried out in India in 2009 and 2010, with the Gujarat Ecological Society, with several expeditions finding no birds.  However, Sociable Lapwings were recorded at two locations near Ahmedabad, and in 2011 a flock of 90 individuals were tracked in the same area.  In 2012, a flock of 90 birds was observed.

Collaboration between the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, WWF Pakistan, and the RSPB in 2010 and 2011 found that the species occurs on the wetlands in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwat, with birds usually found in small flocks. Further surveys in Pakistan took place in 2011 and 2012, and early in 2016.  The latest expedition found one flock of over 200 birds – an unexpected discovery.  There is anecdotal evidence of much larger flocks in the past and high hunting pressure, but key areas are yet to be identified. An Mohammed bin Zayed Conservation Foundation funded project run by the Saiban Foundation in February 2017 complemented BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme/Swarovski Optik grants to investigate this further.  However, the destination of most of the birds on the eastern flyway remains unknown.

Autumn of 2016 also held a few more surprises.  While Maysa and Tesfaye took the eastern route, all but one of the remaining tagged birds went west, with some flying straight across the Caspian Sea (rather than around the north), behaviour only seen before on the return spring migration.  The birds appear to have a more flexible migration strategy than previously thought, and reports of hardly any birds around the important area of Manych in southern Russia backed this up.  Perhaps the good weather in Kazakhstan and poor conditions in Russia had an effect?  The anomalies did not end there.  A bird called Vyan headed south from his breeding grounds, as if to take the eastern flyway, before changing his mind and heading west. While another male, Kiryl, remained on the breeding grounds until very late in the season, when he took an epic journey across the Caspian Sea to Russia, covering 1,300km in just a couple of days.

All autumn 2015 routes from breeding grounds (Kazakhstan) south © RSPB
All autumn 2015 routes from breeding grounds (Kazakhstan) south © RSPB

On the western flyway, teams have surveyed birds in several countries.  In Turkey in 2009, Doğa Derneği found a maximum of 2,793 birds at Ceylanpınar, and in 2010, 5,586 in Sanlirufa Province, 852 on the Muş-Bulanık plains, and 172 at Erzurum.  Repeat surveys have been carried out at Ceylanpınar as the land-use has rapidly changed over the years since.

In Syria, teams from the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife, The Desert Commission of the Syrian Government, and RSPB found 26 birds in 2009, 391 in 2010, and 23 in 2011. However, surveys in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, lead by experienced Nature Iraq teams, were unable to find any birds despite a satellite tagged bird transmission from the Tharthar Lake area in central Iraq.  In recent years, the conflict in these areas of the Middle East have made work on Sociable Lapwings impossible.

In northern Africa, four surveys were undertaken over the winter of 2008/2009 by the Sudanese Wildlife Society, which found 147 individuals, the largest flock being 38.  Further work was hampered by drought and logistical problems, but tagged birds are known to return yearly.

The Manych wetlands area of southern Russia has been surveyed annually since 2007, including a comprehensive survey of the Kumo-Manych Depression in 2009 following the use of the area by tagged Sociable Lapwings.  Counts of over 4,000 birds have shown that this area is a key migration and stop-over site, but numbers have been declining with no obvious cause.

Although more recently the focus has shifted to passage and wintering areas to address the critical issue of adult mortality, surveys of the post-breeding flocks were also undertaken in the core study area in Kazakhstan from 2008 to 2010, as well as in historically used areas in 2010, although few birds were seen.  Away from the core study area, a total of 2,722 Sociable Lapwings were found at 43 sites in 2009, with a flock of more than 500 birds being the largest recorded in Kazakhstan since 1939.


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