Among all of the birds tagged as part of the Amazing Journey project, two stand out as having provided us with an incredible amount of information, both through watching their movements during migration, and helping us find flocks in the field.
Erzhan (“Brave Soul”) was tagged in the summer of 2007 in Central Kazakhstan, and his tag remained attached and transmitting for three years, six migrations to and from his wintering grounds in Sudan. Erzhan was caught as an adult on a nest near the town of Korgalzhyn, itself an interesting occurrence as incubation is mainly carried out by the female. At the time, he was the smallest bird of any species ever to have been fitted with a satellite
tag, which seems extraordinary in these days of micro-tags.
In August, Erzhan set off westwards and by early September had reached the Caspian Sea. He arrived in southern Turkey in late October, leading researchers from Doga Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey) to find a flock of 3,200 Sociable Lapwings – the biggest seen in decades. At the time, this single flock contained more birds than were thought to be in the entire global population. He then moved on to Sudan, and while not seen by human eyes that winter, became the first record of a Sociable Lapwing in Sudan for many decades, the first in east Africa for nearly twenty years.
During the winter he moved only short distances, and left Sudan in February 2008, arriving on the breeding grounds in late March. Much to the surprise of the research team waiting for him, he settled for the summer more than 600km west of where he had been caught the year before. In the winter of 2008/9, he again wintered in Sudan, this time being seen by researchers from the Sudan Wildlife Society, and in the summer of 2009, he returned once more to the area around Korgalzhyn. After another winter in Sudan in 2009/10, Erzhan returned to Kazakhstan in the summer of 2010, when he moved around between different breeding colonies in central Kazakhstan. His final transmission was in spring 2011.
Maysa (“Graceful”) is still transmitting as this page is loaded (October 2018, over 1225 days). She was caught near Abay in Kazakhstan in June 2015, and by this time the tags were only 5g in weight, instead of the almost 10g that Erzhan carried with him. She has made three migrations so far since then – back and forth to Pakistan, her wintering area of choice.
She takes the eastern route, spending time at Tallymerjan to refuel and wait for good weather, before tackling the high ranges of the Hindu Kush. Both in Uzbekistan and Pakistan researchers have used her movements to find flocks of Sociable Lapwings and track the habitats being used for roosting and foraging. If her tag remains functional and she succeeds in her spring 2019 migration back to Kazakhstan, she will surpass Erzhan.