Last weekend was the Global Bird Weekend and it was an enormous success. More than 7240 different species of bird were recorded by almost 32,000 participants submitting just short of 77,000 checklists. In excess of £20,000 was raised for BirdLife International’s Campaign to Stop Illegal Bird Trade.
Team Sociable Lapwing had a great weekend too. There were 8 Sociable Lapwing range states represented: from the breeding grounds of Kazakhstan and along the southern migratory route into Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India. The western route was covered in south-west Russia, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Additional checklists were submitted by myself from RSPB’s Rainham Marshes reserve where a Sociable Lapwing was recorded in 2008, from Nabegh Ghazal Asswad who is currently based in Liverpool but has previously surveyed many areas of Syria looking for Sociable Lapwings, and by Ahmad Khan, currently based in the US but has undertaken work on Sociable Lapwings in Pakistan. Both Ahmad and Nabegh were a massive help mobilising teams in their respective countries.
In Kazakhstan, Ruslan Urazaliyev and Timur Iskakov checked a number of areas where Sociable Lapwings are recorded during the spring and summer months. It would have been unusual for Sociable Lapwings to have been still in the area at this time of the year as most depart in September, and there are only a handful of October records – only 2 in the last 20 years, both in the first few days of the month. Good numbers of the Globally Threatened White-headed Duck were seen (n=21) and there was a good sighting of 4 Long-tailed Ducks. Waterfowl were the main group seen but there were also a few raptors such as Long-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier, and the steppe specialty, Black Lark. In Kazakhstan a total of 41 species were recorded from 7 complete checklists.
As part of the annual Sociable Lapwing Monitoring programme at Talimerzhan, Uzbekistan, managed by Tulkin Rakhimov from Karshi State University and supported by UzSPB staff, surveys were undertaken for the Global Bird Weekend. Oleg Kashkarov (UzSPB) sent this update: “The second half of October is usually not the best time for watching birds in Uzbekistan as migrants have already left while wintering birds have not yet arrived. However, we timed another field trip to Talimarzhan for the Global Bird Weekend to see whether any Sociable Lapwings still stay there. As a result, 141 Sociable Lapwings in total were observed. Over 100 birds were feeding in the coastal zone of the reservoir that is very dry and hardly overgrazed. Birds stay in the only remaining very short Alhagi bushes looking for mosquitos. Some 25 birds were found on foothills (adyrs) looking for small insects together with Larks. On adyrs there is absolutely no vegetation left apart from stems of cereal. One of the reasons of this severe overgrazing this year was the pandemic. Because of the quarantine, livestock owners had no chance to bring cattle to mountains for summer this year. Over 6,000 sheep were grazing at the reservoir every day.” The team submitted 3 complete checklist recording 23 species.
Clockwise from top left: local schoolchildren joining in the Global Bird Weekend at Talimerzhan; Sociable Lapwings along the edge of small lake; Tulkin Rakhimov, Karshi State University &UzSPB; & Roman Kashkarov, UzSPB CEO
A huge thanks to Ahmad Khan for mobilizing a good number of birders in Pakistan – 8 complete checklists with 34 species recorded. Azan Karam introduced some of his college class mates to birding in the Swat Valley area and recorded some excellent birds, including Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts. Ahmad Khan who I’ve previously worked with on Sociable Lapwing surveys, is currently based in Maryland USA but managed to get out and do some local birding, clocking up 30 species from 2 checklists.
Despite the strict lockdown conditions in India, Jagruti Rathod of the Gujarat Ecological Society managed a home-bound checklist of 11 species. Plans for visits to the Sociable Lapwing hotspots of the Banni grasslands had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions. Hopefully restrictions will ease in the coming weeks as Jagruti has plans for undertaking bustard surveys this coming winter and will keeping an eye out for Sociable Lapwing flocks.
On the western flyway, Viktor Fedosov was out in the Manych area (south-west Russia) checking this key Sociable Lapwing staging area. Numbers of migrating Sociable Lapwing have plummeted in this area in recent years, but even so mid-October is usually too late as birds will have already moved through. Viktor recorded 57 species from 5 checklists over the weekend. A nice count of 300 White-headed Duck at the same location as 70,000 Common Pochard and 50,000 Mallard must have been an impressive sight!
Mahmoud Shaiesh Abdullah has participated in many Sociable Lapwings in Syria, including the ground-breaking ones in the mid-2000s. He’s currently living in Turkey, and with his sons contributed a checklist of 17 species from Karasu, Sakarya province. The Syrian team organized by Nabegh and SSCW (Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife) added a further 66 species from 5 checklists – an incredible achievement considering the restrictions on movement in the country. It wasn’t possible to survey the Sociable Lapwing hotspots although there would have been a good chance of seeing a few late migrating birds. Although both Northern and Spur-winged Lapwings were recorded. It’s a pity we weren’t surveying for White-headed Duck (!) as they were again recorded, this time seven at Al Jabool Lake.
Top left: Mahmoud Shaiesh Abdullah and sons, Karasu, Turkey; Bottom left: from left to right, George Daoud, Yaseen Mejawer, Ahmad Qawi and Maher Dayoub survey team covering Al Jabool, Syria (background image).
The team of Phil Roberts and Jem Babbington struck gold at Ash Sharqiyah, Haradh, Saudi Arabia with a hat-trick of Vanellids – four Northern, 22 Spur-winged, and 11 Sociable Lapwings. This is one of the earliest sightings of Sociable Lapwing in Saudi with only 2 other October recent records, both from Al Madinah in the 1980s. This is the same area that Jem and Phil recently discovered as a new regular wintering site for Sociable Lapwings. They sent this summary: “During the day we saw 33 species including an adult Steppe Eagle and 2 Pallid Harrier. Needless to say the highlight of the day was finding 11 Sociable Lapwing in two groups in separate locations. The first group of five was in a fodder field half of which had been cut and burned leaving stubble which the birds were feeding on. The second group of six were on ploughed fields which had been readied for potatoes to be planted on them.”
A team did go out birding in Sudan but have yet to upload their data. A total of 217 species were recorded by Team Sociable Lapwing from 34 complete checklists, covering 11 countries – 9 of which are key range states for the Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing. A huge thank you to all those who participated at relatively short notice. Thanks to Ahmad Khan and Nabegh Ghazal Asswad for co-ordinating the teams in Pakistan and Syria, and to Maxim Koshkin for supporting the surveys in SW Russia. Collaboration and team work will be integral to saving migratory bird species such as the Sociable Lapwing, and events such as the Global Bird Weekend really help to nurture the required collaborative efforts.
*UPDATE….. The team from the Sudanese Wildlife Society, consisting of 21 of their members, made two visits over the course of the Global Bird Weekend. A visit to the White Nile in Khartoum recorded 22 species, including White-headed Lapwing and also to the Jebel Aulia Dam (34 species) where Black-headed Lapwing added to the Vanellid tally. Massive thanks to Mubark Ali Ibrahim, Tahini Ali Hassan and Ibrahim Hashim for co-ordinating efforts in Sudan.
This gives a final total of 240 species from 36 checklists.
Photo credits: images provided by Mahmoud Shaiesh Abdullah, Viktor Fedosov, Tahini Ali Hassan, Azan Karam, Oleg Kashkarov, Ahmad Qawi, Phil Roberts and Ruslan Urazaliyev.