Boris & Irina reunite in Azerbaijan

Written by The Amazing Journey Team

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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.
Boris's track is in purple and Irina's in torquoise.
Boris’s track is in purple and Irina’s in torquoise.
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.
The shores of Lake Hadzhibagul in Azerbaijan. Image Courtesy of The Amazing Journey Team
The shores of Lake Hadzhibagul in Azerbaijan. Image Courtesy of The Amazing Journey Team
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 Lapwings found wintering in The Negev

Posted by BirdLife International The Amazing Journey Project

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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.
Jonathan Meyrav - SPNI. © David Callahan
Jonathan Meyrav – SPNI. © David Callahan
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.
One of the wintering lapwings. © Jonathan Meyrav
One of the wintering lapwings. © Jonathan Meyrav
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.

Irina reaches Saudi Arabia

Posted by BirdLife International The Amazing Journey Project
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Irina is now in North West Saudi Arabia near Tabuk and appears to be in an area of irrigated, agricultural pivot fields. © Image courtesy of BirdLife International
One fascinating aspect of Sociable Lapwing migration is that these birds make their journeys in a series of hops rather than in one jump.
The last review of our satellite-tagged birds’ movements was made on October 28th and at that point we found Boris had remained staging near the Turkey/Syria border for at least 19 days and Ainur has remained in the same location for a month in South East Turkmenistan. While conditions remain favourable, migrating birds use these stopovers to feed, rest and restore their energy before travelling on.
Irina has however pushed on south and she is now in North West Saudi Arabia near Tabuk and appears to be in an area of irrigated, agricultural pivot fields.
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Irina’s location in pivot fields at Tabuk.
Irina’s arrival in Tabuk is significant as it confirms this location as a current regular stopover/wintering site. Last year, on November 15th 2012,  Rob Tovey found a flock of ten birds close by and Abaj, one of our previously satellite-tagged birds, was also found nearby in January 2011.
Previous historical records of Sociable Lapwing flocks in Saudi Arabia include 25 in 1934 and 45 in 1988. Irina’s arrival in Saudi is only the seventh record since 1950.
Rob Tovey also recorded a larger wintering flock of 35 Sociable Lapwings some 100km further south in South-western Saudi Arabia near Jizan in February this year.
It will be interesting to now see where Irina heads next. Will she stay and winter in Saudia Arabia or perhaps push on again and head across the Red Sea into Africa?
Here is a map showing the progress of our three tagged birds so far this autumn.
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Tagged Sociable Lapwing progress as at 28th October 2013.
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.
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Satellite-tagged Sociable Lapwings are on the move again

Written by BirdLife International Amazing Journey Project
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.
RSPB's Professor Rhys Green and Dr Rob Sheldon fitting a satellite tag in June 2013. Image courtesy of RSPB
RSPB’s Professor Rhys Green and Dr Rob Sheldon fitting a satellite tag in June 2013. Image courtesy of BirdLife International

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.
A post-breeding flock of Sociable Lapwings gathering before migration. Image courtesy of BirdLife International
A post-breeding flock of Sociable Lapwings gathering before migration. Image courtesy of BirdLife International
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 (blue), Irina (green) and Ainur's (Red) initial migration routes - September 17-23 2013. Click to enlarge.
Boris (blue), Irina (green) and Ainur’s (Red) initial migration routes – September 17-23 2013. Click to enlarge.
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.

Rare sighting of marked spoon-billed sandpiper on migration

Written by BirdLife International
This Spoon-billed Sandpiper was marked in north-east Russia and has now been seen in China. © Michelle and Peter Wong
This Spoon-billed Sandpiper was marked in north-east Russia and has now been seen in China. © Michelle and Peter Wong
A rare sighting of a marked Spoon-billed Sandpiper on migration was reported last weekend from Rudong mudflats north of Shanghai.
The Critically Endangered bird was identified by a lime green plastic flag on its leg marked ‘01’ that was attached by scientists from Birds Russia on its breeding grounds this summer.
Conservationists know that this bird ‘Lime 01’ fathered six fledglings this summer – three that were hand-reared by conservationists and three that he raised himself – which is 10 times the average for the species.
In all, this summer sixteen hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper fledglings and eight adults were marked with the lime green plastic leg flags. Birdwatchers are being asked to report all sightings of spoon-billed sandpipers.
Rudong mudflats are the most significant known staging post in China for Spoon-billed Sandpipers where 106 individuals were counted last year in October. Demand for land is high in the region, which is only 150km from Shanghai, and land has already been reclaimed from the marshes at Dongling to the southern end.
Pavel Tomkovich of Birds Russia, who caught and marked the bird with Nikolai Yakushev, said:
When I marked “Lime 01” I wondered if anybody would ever see it on its travels, almost a quarter of the way round the world, as looking for Spoon-billed Sandpipers can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Looking for marked birds is even more difficult as we were only able to mark eight adult birds with these unique flags. Thanks to the reports of local birdwatchers, we’re learning their stopover points.”
Lime 01’ was seen leaving the breeding grounds on 4 August and was seen 5,000km away at Rudong on 31 August. Spoon-billed sandpipers can cover as much as 1,000km per day, leaving around three weeks during which it may have been staging elsewhere.
Zhang Lin of the “Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China” Team said:
The first Spoon-billed Sandpiper arrived at Rudong about two weeks ago since when I have been regularly scanning the increasing numbers of waders at the high tide roost at Rudong. When I glimpsed a bird on 31 August that looked like it had a lime green leg flag I knew something exciting was in front of me. On closer inspection it turned out to be ‘Lime 01’. I was over the moon as this is the first time that one of the birds marked in 2013 has been seen in China.
It is amazing to see how these little but Critically Endangered birds are connecting our key sites along the flyway between Russia and China. They are very important as they allow us to track whether efforts to save the species are working.
BirdLife’s project to save Rudong and Minjiang Estuary, two key resting and feeding sites used by Spoon-billed Sandpipers in China, ‘Saving Spoony’s Chinese Wetlands’ is supported by a $100,000 grant from The Walt Disney Company, through Disney’s Friends for Change.
Guidance on reporting spoon-billed sandpiper sightings is available from the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force http://www.eaaflyway.net/spoon-billed-sandpiper.php.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper wintering site becomes Bangladesh’s 20th IBA

Written by Martin Fowlie/BirdLife Community
Bangladesh is a crucial wintering are for Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Chaiwat Chinuparawat; www.theworldsrarest.com)
Bangladesh is a crucial wintering area for Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Chaiwat Chinuparawat; http://www.theworldsrarest.com)
Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, where 10% of the known population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus spends the winter, has been recognised as Bangladesh’s 20th Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.
A series of recent surveys confirms that Bangladesh is still an extremely important wintering ground for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and we identified Sonadia Island as the main wintering site in Bangladesh”, said Sayam U. Chowdhury, Principal Investigator of the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project, a group of young conservationists who monitor the wader population, and work with local communities to raise awareness and reduce threats.
Sonadia Island also supports the globally Endangered Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer, and other threatened and Near Threatened birds such as Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.
BirdLife Partners and others, involved in the “Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper” project, have been working at Sonadia since 2009, when hunting of waders on the mudflats was identified as a major threat to the fast-diminishing Spoon-billed Sandpiper population. Local hunters have now been trained and equipped for alternative, more secure and sustainable livelihoods. A very successful campaign has led to a better understanding of the importance of shorebird conservation in general, and a sense of pride and custodianship towards the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in particular.
The work has gone extremely well, and we are trying to really deliver conservation through the local communities,” said Sayam Chowdhury.  “Through the provision of alternative livelihoods we have seen hunting reduced to almost zero.  Hunters are now working as fisherman, tailors and watermelon producers.  An awareness-raising event we held in December 2012 involved close to a thousand people, local government and non-governmental organisation representatives.
Inamul Haque is Assistant Conservator of Forest (coastal) for Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region, and has been involved in the restoration of mangrove cover on Sonadia. “We have been supporting the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project by avoiding mangrove planting in areas that are important for shorebirds”, he explained. “We have also been protecting the key sites from illegal hunting. I am delighted that Sonadia is receiving the international recognition it deserves by being declared an Important Bird Area.”