Wintering Sociable Lapwings Haradh, Saudi Arabia

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By Phil Roberts

January 25, 2019 and another 3:00am start for Jem Babbington and I to enable us to arrive in Haradh, 300kms south of our homes in Dhahran, by sunrise.  Haradh is the headquarters of the NADEC Dairy Company’s operations and to support these they have created large areas of pivot irrigation fields, growing cattle fodder, which are a magnet for wintering birds.  For the past three years we had found wintering Sociable Lapwings using these pivot fields, therefore our primary objective was to once again try and locate a wintering population of this critically endangered species.

On this occasion we decided to change our routine and went straight to the area where we have previously seen Sociable Lapwings.  When we arrived our hearts sank a little as the access gate was closed and locked.  We decide to explore other nearby areas and come back to this location later.  As always we saw an interesting array of different species including a solitary juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle, Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, good numbers of Common Kestrel, up to 3000 Spanish Sparrow (an exceptional number) and a flock of around 50 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in flight.

We then returned to the area favoured by Sociable Lapwings and were relieved to find the gate now open.  As in previous years we looked for recently ploughed fields, the Sociable Lapwing’s preferred habitat.   Our initial sightings were of Northern and Spur-winged Lapwing but we soon saw a group of ten Sociable Lapwings in flight.  We followed these and found them feeding in a recently ploughed field.  Once again close approach was extremely difficult as the birds are very shy and either walk away to maintain distance, or fly.   We later found a second smaller group of four birds making a total of fourteen birds for the day. As in previous years it was thrilling to find these critically endangered birds wintering on our doorstep, and we hope this will contribute to the ultimate recovery of this critically endangered species.