Written by Brad Winn/Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Success! Another geolocator in hand. Our second tagged bird proved more elusive than the first. Though initially interested in the playback from the phone, he would not come close to the bow net. The constant wind whipping over the tundra also made a stationary mist net impractical. We settled in to observe the behavior patterns and routine of the bird banded with the colors Orange-White-Orange, our geotagged sandpiper.
Semipalmated Sandpipers are generally not very wary of humans on the nesting grounds, and Orange-White-Orange was no exception. Very quickly he allowed us to approach to within a few meters when foraging around his favorite ponds. Our winning solution to capturing him was a slow and patient stalk while holding a mist net between us. Our strategy was complicated by the lumpy tussocks and mounds that cover the wet tundra. The first time we dropped the net on Orange-White-Orange, he was able to sneak out the side between two tussocks. Fortunately, he did not seem to realize that we were responsible for his near-capture, and he allowed us to approach closely again. This time we chose a relatively open area near the edge of a pond and waited for him to forage his way into the catch zone. Working in close coordination, we flipped the net over the little sandpiper and seconds later had him in hand!
Posted by Miranda Shorebird Centre
Wrybill is a very naive bird. It evolved in New Zealand when there were no introduced mammalian predators and consequently it has no appropriate behaviour to respond to the threats of predation. It is not the least bit shy when it comes to human beings either. When it comes to cannon netting this is a good feature! At Pukorokoro Miranda a significant proportion of the New Zealand, and also the world population overwinters. Other northern harbours, particularly the Manukau have overwintering populations. The birds arrive at Pukorokoro Miranda when the South Island breeding season is complete, around Christmas time. There are always non-breeding birds present at Pukorokoro Miranda any time you visit.
On 21 June over 500 Wrybill were caught using cannon net by a team of volunteers and researchers.
It is in the South Island breeding sites that the species is at greatest threat. Braided river systems carry water from the mountains and, at low flow braids of flowing water are separated by large areas of rocks and gravel derived from the Southern Alps. These areas are where the bird breeds and it is ideally camouflaged to avoid visual detection. Ideally peak flow events prevent vegetation becoming established. Mammalian predators hiding in this vegetation are the major threat to nesting birds, second to this 4WD vehicles using the wide expanses for recreation.
Controlled water flows resulting from hydro schemes and reduced flow due to water extraction result in conditions that cause vegetation build up. Some rivers do still remain where the scouring effects of seasonal flood events keep the braided rivers in peak condition. However, this is a species that now depends upon human management for its long term survival.
Written by The Amazing Journey Team
After spending the winter far apart in Eastern Sudan and Western Saudi Arabia respectively, Boris and Irina (two of our satellite-tagged Sociable Lapwings) have apparently reunited in Azerbaijan during their long journeys home to Kazakhstan.
In our last update on March 15th, we had followed Boris (on his rapid migration north from Sudan) to a location in Syria close to the Iraq border which he arrived at on Monday, March 10th. We now know he stayed there until the morning of Friday, March 14th but then travelled on, and by the afternoon of Sunday, March 16th, he’d arrived in Eastern Azerbaijan, near the west coast of the Caspian Sea.
We had also followed Irina, who stayed longer on her wintering grounds (in Saudia Arabia) than Boris but she set off from there on March 6th and by March 10th, she had arrived in Iraq near the Syrian border. We now know she stayed there until Friday, March 14th but then pressed on and by the afternoon of Sunday, March 16th, she too had arrived in the same area of Azerbaijan that Boris was in.
While it will require further survey and monitoring in the future, it looks highly likely that we have now discovered an important Spring migration staging site for Sociable Lapwings in Azerbaijan.
Historical records in our database have indicated that this area of Azerbaijan might be a last Spring stopover site for Sociable Lapwings before they cross the Caspian and head on to the Emba valley in Kazakhstan. Our knowledge of regular Spring staging sites is very restricted but now this location in Azerbaijan and another site in Syria where c. 2,000 birds were located in 2007 appear to be regular staging sites. As indications are that both Boris and Irina passed close to or through this area of Syria this year, it is indeed possible that they might have stopped at the Syrian location for a few hours before moving on non-stop to Azerbaijan too.
It is likely that there are not many large stopover sites for Sociable Lapwings on their Spring migration back to Kazakhstan. The journey home is rapid and the entire route through Central Asian semi-deserts in Spring is much wetter throughout, offering extensive suitable resting and feeding habitat that is unavailable in the Autumn.
As of Monday, March 24th, Boris and Irina are both still staging in Azerbaijan on the East Caspian coast.
The great image at the head of this post by Philipp Meister is of a flock of Sociable Lapwings encountered at Gobustan, Azerbaijan on 6th April 2006.
In February this year our Sociable Lapwing Study team received news of another important Sociable Lapwing migration discovery, from the same area of Azerbaijan, that was made in Autumn 2013.
On 20th October 2013 Pedro Romero Vidal recorded a flock of 45 Sociable Lapwings at Lake Hadzhibagul and on November 7th he found another flock of 15 there. Pedro regularly counts waterbirds at the lake to record their numbers and diurnal activity patters for his MSc thesis at Greswald University, Germany. On both occasions the birds he encountered were feeding on muddy ground with small pools.
Of great interest to us was that among the 45 birds he encountered on October 20th, no less than four were colour-ringed. One carried a blue and a white ring, but in general, viewing conditions were not sufficient to read the full combinations. However, as the majority of birds carrying rings now must come from the Korgalzhyn region of Kazakhstan, and as four ringed birds were seen together, it seems likely that these birds were ringed in Central Kazakhstan near Lake Tengiz.
This is another piece of the jigsaw in our quest to reveal the Sociable Lapwings’ migration routes. It suggests that some birds, and perhaps only in some years, do not take a detour around the North shore of the Caspian, but cross it directly from the West Kazakhstan or North Turkmenistan coast.
Until now this has only been proven for the bird’s Spring migration route.
Sociable Lapwing has become an increasingly scarce winter visitor to Israel, so news of at least 35 wintering there in 2013 brings us great cheer this Christmas.
Jonathan Meyrav of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife International’s national Partner in Israel) brings us this news and provides a recent historical perspective…
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.
Written by Planet Earth Online
The remarkable timekeeping of birds could finally explain how some bird species are able to respond to climate change by migrating earlier and earlier each year.
According to a new study, individual Black-tailed Godwits migrate at more or less the same time every year. But the migration of the population as a whole seems to be happening progressively earlier.
Dr Jenny Gill of the University of East Anglia, who led the research, explains:
The only explanation that’s left, is that new birds are hatching and migrating earlier. As the older birds die off, the population fills up with early migrators.
Climate change is likely to be driving this change because Black-tailed Godwits nest earlier in warmer years. Birds that hatch earlier are likely to have more time to gain the body condition needed for migration, and to find good places to nest in the winter.
The team have monitored a population of Black-tailed Godwits for over 20 years. The citizen science project relied on the help of more than 2,000 bird-watching volunteers across Europe.
In winter, the wading birds can be found in estuaries all the way down the west coast of Europe, as they flee the harsh Arctic conditions of their Icelandic home.
It’s long been known that birds tend to return to the same place each time they migrate: that’s why many of the characters in your garden will be familiar to you.
But the new study, published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to show they also return at the same time, within just a few days. Dr. Gill says:
They can tell the time. I have no idea how, but they can.
We thought that individual birds might migrate earlier or later in response to the weather. But it seems that, whatever the weather, they migrate at almost exactly the same time every year; it’s quite remarkable.
If you think about it from the bird’s point of view, it makes sense. You know that the place you’ve been to before will be available, and you know that it will be available at that time.
Other studies have shown that birds which migrate over longer distances have found it difficult to adapt their migration cycles to a changing climate. Many of those species are also suffering rapid decline. The study could explain why those birds are struggling to respond. Dr. Gill also added:
Many long-distance migrants arrive so late on to the breeding grounds that they only have a short time in which to mate and nest. They simply don’t have time to respond to warming conditions by nesting earlier.
Reference: Jenny Gill, Jose Alves, William Sutherland, Graham Appleton, Peter Potts and Tomas Gunnarsson, ‘Why is timing of bird migration advancing when individuals are not,’ Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2013
Written by Fletcher Smith/The Center for Conservation Biology
In mid-July, Fletcher Smith returned from a 6-week stint in the Canadian Arctic where he was assisting in operating a shorebird base camp on the Mackenzie River Delta in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service. The camp is part of both the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network (ASDN) and the Arctic Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring (Arctic PRISM) The overarching objectives of these programs are to measure demographic parameters of breeding shorebirds, such as adult survivorship and productivity, to estimate population size and trends in Arctic shorebirds. This information is extremely hard to gather for shorebirds and the network of sites gathering this information spans the entire Arctic. The focal species in the Mackenzie River Delta include Red-necked Phalarope, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Whimbrel. During the 2013 season, the Mackenzie Delta crew was able to find and monitor over 100 shorebird nests, capture and band nearly 100 shorebirds, deploy all 6 satellite transmitters on Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits, and deploy 15 geolocators on Semi-palmated Sandpipers, adding up to a successful season by any measure.
The collaborative satellite tracking project has been a tremendous success in providing useful information to conservation. Prior to the tracking of the Mackenzie River Delta Whimbrels, very little was known about the broader life cycle of these birds. A Whimbrel named “Hope” was the only previous connection from the Atlantic coast stopover areas to the Mackenzie Delta. “Hope” was tagged in Virginia and migrated to the Mackenzie Delta for four breeding seasons, using Virginia as a staging ground both in spring and fall migrations. During the 2012 breeding season, four Whimbrels were tagged in the Mackenzie Delta and all four migrated to eastern staging grounds before wintering in Brazil. The three Whimbrels tagged in 2013 took the same basic route, flying from the Mackenzie Delta to Atlantic Canada. They staged within in Atlantic Canada for approximately 2-3 weeks before undertaking the non-stop 4,000 plus mile flight to northern South America where they will spend the winter. The majority of Whimbrels winter in or near the Gulf of Maranhao in Brazil.
No Hudsonian Godwits have ever been satellite tagged, so the movements of these birds will be particularly interesting to scientists involved in the study. One of the Hudsonian Godwits has migrated from James Bay/Hudson Bay staging grounds to the Orinoco River in Venezuela. This was a 3,900 mile non-stop journey. The Whimbrels and Godwits can be tracked at Wildlifetracking.org.
Brassy Whimbrels fly more than 2,500 miles out to sea and through the heart of the Atlantic Ocean completing a nonstop flight of 6 days
On 6 June, Bryan Watts from CCB and Barry Truitt from The Nature Conservancy along with pilot Carter Crabbe completed their 6th week of aerial shorebird surveys for the spring of 2013. Documented along the barrier beaches were peak numbers of Dunlin (12,900), Red Knots (6,200), Ruddy Turnstones (820) and several other species. Together the crew has flown more than 75 aerial surveys of the study area and documented the location and identification of more than 1.5 million shorebirds since 1994. Consistency in approach, coverage, and surveyors has allowed for the evaluation of long-term trends in the number of shorebirds staging within the area, the timing of passage for the various species, the distribution of birds within the study area, and the use of foraging substrates. Over the years, several species have declined dramatically, concentrations have moved throughout the landscape, and substrates used for foraging have fluctuated widely.
The survey was established in April of 1994 during a time when shorebirds were emerging as a bird community of global conservation concern. Information was needed to document population trends and to identify important staging sites to focus conservation efforts. The survey was designed to cover the active beach zone of all Virginia Barrier islands, one of the most pristine chain of barriers remaining in the Western Hemisphere. A set of 10 transects was also established across the vast mudflats within the lagoon system. Weekly aerial surveys have been flown during the period of primary spring migration from the last week of April through the first week of June. The Cessna 172 is flown below 50 feet along the surf zone to flush birds for identification and estimation.
Watts and Truitt initiated the survey to learn more about how shorebird species were using the mid-Atlantic Coast during spring migration and to understand how this unique landscape fits within the broader Atlantic Flyway. Information from the survey has been used widely within the conservation community and has led to many follow-up ground projects focused on moving shorebird conservation forward.
Partners over the 20-year effort have included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Eastern Shore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and The Center for Conservation Biology.
With a lack of trackable Sociable Lapwings to report on over the last year, we are delighted to now reactivate the Amazing Journey website to bring you news about the migrations of three new birds that scientists from RSPB and ACBK fitted with satellite tags earlier this year.
The lapwings – a male and two females – are breeding adults that were caught at the nest and satellite-tagged at separate colonies near to Lake Tengiz, in central Kazakhstan, this summer. Each successfully fledged young before leaving their small nesting colonies to gather together with birds from other nearby colonies in readiness for their autumn migration. This gregarious behaviour is why the species is called ‘Sociable’ Lapwing.
Since mid August we’ve been anticipating the newly-tagged birds’ migration would soon begin. As days passed with no movements and then days turned into weeks, our monitoring team started to become increasingly concerned. While signals received from the tagged lapwings seemed very good, no changes in the birds’ locations were detected.
Most years Sociable Lapwings depart from their breeding areas in mid to late August. Was something up? Were the new satellite tags working properly? Could our birds really still be in the Kazakh Steppe, OK, and just waiting to depart?
We were all immensely relieved when the action finally began, confirming that all was well with the lapwings and that their tags were working properly. Remarkably all three of our tagged birds departed on the same day – Tuesday 17th of September.
Ruslan Urazaliev, who leads the Sociable Lapwing study for ACBK in Kazakhstan, comments “Throughout late August and most of September the wind has been mainly from the south and conditions here have remained warm. This probably delayed the birds migration. Although we searched all the areas where the satellite signals suggested our birds were gathering, we couldn’t find any Sociable Lapwings during the last few weeks. However, we did find large numbers of Ruff still present in the Steppe and they usually depart long before this. The wind patterns appear to have changed in recent days which may have allowed the Sociable Lapwings to finally begin their migration.”
To help report on the migration of the three tagged birds individually we have followed tradition and given each local names again. Boris, who was fitted with his satellite tag on June 5th 2013, carries the tag ID 123086 and a colour ring combination; green blue, orange blue. His coordinates and path are marked in blue on our map. Irina, who was fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th 2013, carries the tag ID 123088 and the colour ring combination; green blue, orange white. You can see Irina in the main picture at the head of this post. Her coordinates and path are marked in green. Ainur who was also fitted with her satellite tag on June 4th, carries the tag ID 123087 and the colour ring combination; green blue, green white. Her coordinates and path are marked in Red.
You can see the first stage of the tagged birds’ migration below and can click to enlarge the map.
Boris nested at a colony close to the Sociable Lapwing main study site at Korgalzhyn but has now moved nearly 1,800 km west in two days and at the time of writing is near Stavropol in south-western Russia. Irina has taken a slightly more southerly course west from her breeding site, some 60 km south east of Korgalzhyn, with an initial flight of just over 1,000 km. She then paused briefly to the East of the Caspian Sea before taking a second flight to a stopover close to Boris in Russia. Whether she crossed the Caspian Sea or took a route around its northern shores is, of course, unknown. Ainur who had nested in a separate colony close to Irina, has headed about 1,400 km south to a location near to the southerly borders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Expert Sociable Lapwing tracking analyst Johannes Kamp comments
Boris has travelled to a new area between Volga and Kalmykia which is very interesting. If coordinate detail is accurate, it suggests that some birds do cross the North Caspian semi-desert. Previously there has been no evidence for this, with all our other satellite-tagged birds going around the North side of this area.
“Irina has taken a non-classical route that is mostly used in spring (along the Emba valley). She is following in the footsteps of Erzhan, our first tagged male that transmitted for four years bringing us the most comprehensive information of all our tracked birds.”
“Ainur has almost certainly headed for Lake Talimarzhan in Uzbekistan where the big Sociable Lapwing stopover site was discovered by UzSPB last year.
Where the birds head next can be predicted but discovering their exact routes and stopover sites is a vital part of protecting these Critically Endangered birds on their migrations.
The ongoing Sociable Lapwing conservation action that multiple national BirdLife Partners are taking for the species through this BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme project is funded by Swarovski Optik, RSPB and Mark Constantine. Without their support, vital research, monitoring, hunting intervention and conservation action would not be possible.
If you would like to sign up for email alerts so you can stay in touch with the progress of our three tagged birds please follow this link.
If you have seen any Sociable Lapwings recently or encounter any in the coming months we’d like to hear from you. You can submit your own sightings here.
We look forward to bringing you more news of the next stage of the Sociable Lapwings amazing journey shortly.
Written by Audubon North Carolina
Thanks to a mix of wildlife tracking technology paired with an interactive website and some social media savvy birds, individuals are being given a first-class ticket to take flight and share in the life of the American Oystercatcher.
A new research program developed by Audubon North Carolina (ANC) will further our understanding of coastal bird migration and habitat use. The American Oystercatcher Tracking Project was created as a tool to study the movements of six American Oystercatchers over the course of one year, while engaging and educating an online audience through social media engagement that allows birds to tweet online and off.
Currently, scientists know where American Oystercatchers breed and winter, but little is known about how they move between these sites, and where they may stop along the way. To better understand the mystery of their habits, ANC has equipped six birds with advanced tracking technology in the form of small satellite devices that fit on the birds like a small backpack. The devices will detail their movements allowing scientists to better study individual birds over an extended period. With the trackers, scientists will be able to study the birds’ migratory pathways, habitat choices, and much more.
Travel with the Oystercatchers All Year Long
There is plenty of activity happening this year that goes beyond a bird with a backpack. On the website, each of the birds has been given a name and personality to tell their migration story. Website visitors can follow the birds individually on a digital map and through their Twitter account – where the birds will be tweeting to keep fans updated as they travel. The site is also a rich resource of in-depth information about oystercatcher biology, habits and habitats. Conservation scientists will also contribute to a blog as well, providing a firsthand account of their work on the project.
Adopt an Oystercatcher
Once visitors have chosen their favorite Oystercatchers, there are even more ways to connect with the birds as they take flight. ANC is giving supporters the opportunity to adopt an American Oystercatcher of their own, contributing to ongoing conservation efforts for the priority species. New parents will receive a certificate of adoption and photo of their bird, and proceeds from the Adopt an Oystercatcher program will go to support on-the-ground fieldwork in North Carolina.
Lindsay Addison, Audubon North Carolina coastal biologist says:
The AMOY Tracking Project is unique in the way it incorporates the research of coastal bird migration, while also engaging the public through social media. Our team is excited to participate in such an exciting project, expanding knowledge of coastal birds for science, conservation and the public.