On Thursday I head off to Azerbaijan in search of the Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing. The species is a long distant migrant, breeding in the central steppes of Kazakhstan and migrating along two general routes. One route takes the birds into Pakistan and India, and given the recent discoveries in Tallymerjan is probably more important than previously thought. Another route takes the birds west across Kazakhstan, south along the Caspian Sea and into the Middle East and Sudan. The latest satellite data suggests that they are still in Kazakhstan, but based on previous years, there departure is imminent, and hopefully our team will meet them along the way. We have about 9 days in which to find them, and we’ll be focussing on the Caspian Sea coast north of Baku as well as parts of the Gobustan steppes. It’s my first visit to Azerbaijan, although I’ve searched for Sociable Lapwing in the nearby Manych wetlands in south-west Russia (as well as Kazakhstan, Syria, India and Saudi Arabia). So fingers crossed.

Like all migrant birds, Sociable Lapwings face a perilous journey and you can read about some of the previous work via the Amazing Journey website. The key threat to the species is illegal hunting along the flyway, so far documented in Syria and Iraq, but is possibly important in other countries too. The International Species Action Plan for Sociable Lapwing identifies the need for more research on the migration routes and key stop-over sites to aid future conservation management. Whilst undertaking our surveys we’ll also be documenting obvious threats to the species, as well as helping develop the survey and identification skills of local researchers.

I’ll be joined in Azerbaijan by Ruslan Urazaliyev of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan and Kai Gauger. We hope to post regular updates via this blog, and I’ll also be Tweeting from @_robsheldon using the #sociablelapwing or #osmeregion

This expedition is funded by RSPB, BirdLife International and Swarovski Optik.