Ever since I started birding in the late 1980’s, small numbers of these elegant waders wintered at various sites throughout the country. Back in those days Israel was much less heavily populated and a few small groups of ‘Sociable Plovers’ – as they were then known – could usually be found wintering in agricultural areas – some even on the outskirts of Tel Aviv as well as at more regular, remoter sites in Israel’s Eastern Valleys and the Western Negev region.
For the past 30 years Sociable Lapwings have continued to winter in Israel each year but in ever-decreasing numbers. In good years we usually found several flocks of 10-20 birds, though winter counts for the whole country rarely exceeded 55-60 individuals. I also recall a few occurrences in the late 80’s when exceptional flocks of around 100 Sociable Lapwings were reported, in most cases in the West Negev.
During the 1990’s and early 2000’s the numbers of Sociable Plovers wintering in Israel gradually dropped. We assumed this had to do with the obvious reasons of habitat destruction and development mainly in Central Israel, and with the loss of several major wintering sites in the Hula and Bet Shean Valleys. In retrospective though, these were also the years that the Sociable Lapwing population was probably affected so dramatically on the breeding grounds and elsewhere.
In the early 2000’s Sociable Lapwings had nearly disappeared from Israel and only very small numbers (down to 5 birds in some years) were reported, mainly from the Negev. In recent years however, there has been a slow but steady increase in Sociable Lapwing numbers again, both on passage and on the wintering grounds. In 2009-2011 just five Sociable Lapwings were reported on migration with around 12 remaining to winter. Last year 14 Sociable Lapwings wintered in The Negev, and single birds also wintered in the Bet Shean Valley and possibly the Hula Valley as well.
In 2013 there have been quite a few spring and fall records of Sociable Lapwings (involving around 15 individuals) and now, for the first time in 20 years, 31 Sociable Lapwings are wintering in the Negev again – in two different flocks. At least four more birds are also wintering elsewhere in Israel, including one remarkable bird at a site just 20 KM north of Tel Aviv.
This is encouraging and may imply that the population wintering in Israel has taken a turn for the good, with these elegant birds still hanging on after having been close to the brink of extinction.
The beautiful header photo of two Sociable Lapwings wintering in Israel was taken recently by Yoav Perlman.
Elsewhere, our three satellite-tagged birds are giving strong signals which indicate they have all moved very little in the last month.
Irina is currently still near Tabuk in Saudi Arabia, Boris is still near New Halfa in eastern Sudan and Ainur is still near Lake Hamel in southern Pakistan.