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.

Goshen, a shorebird tracked by scientists, becomes second study bird to be lost on Guadeloupe

Written by Dr. Bryan D. Watts/Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University

Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology have determined that a second whimbrel they had been tracking as part of a long-term migration study has been lost in a shooting swamp on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Goshen was lost in a heavily hunted swamp just north of the town of Port-Louis almost immediately upon arrival on the island. Although the transmitter has not been recovered the last satellite signals place the bird in the center of the shooting swamp. It now appears that both Machi and Goshen were shot in the morning of 12 September shortly after arriving.

Goshen and Machi were not migrating together but both stopped on the island after encountering different storm systems. Goshen flew through the east side of Hurricane Irene, landed on Montserrat, spent a week on Antigua and then flew to Guadeloupe. Machi flew through Tropical Storm Maria, landed on Montserrat and then flew directly to Guadeloupe. The two whimbrels were the first birds during the four-year tracking study to stop on Guadeloupe and both were lost within hours suggesting that the hunting pressure on this island is extremely high. This island has several isolated mangrove swamps that serve to concentrate the shorebirds for shooting. An estimated 3,000 hunters participate in the shorebird hunt annually. Currently, shooting parties on the island are not regulated and no information is available on the number of shorebirds taken. Without such information it is not possible to assess the potential relationship between hunting and ongoing population declines.

Whimbrels migrating along the western Atlantic coast have declined by 50% since the mid-1990s. The collaborative tracking study has successfully tracked 17 whimbrels via satellite since the spring of 2008.  The focus of this study has been to collect information that is vital to the long-term conservation of this population. Only 4 birds were being tracked during the 2011 fall migration season and half of those were lost in a single morning on Guadeloupe. The relationship between hunting pressures within the Lesser Antilles and population declines for the whimbrel and other shorebird species is unknown.

Most of the hunting activity conducted in the Lesser Antilles appears to be recreational. A video produced by a hunter on Guadeloupe within the same swamp where Goshen was lost illustrates the habitat, the shorebirds, and the shooting activity.

The tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

 

Machi a shorebird tracked by scientists survives tropical storm only to be killed by hunters on Guadeloupe

Written by Fletcher M. Smith/Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University

Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology learned today that a whimbrel that they had been tracking via satellite for 2 years as part of a migration study had been shot by a hunting party this morning on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (French West Indies). The bird named “Machi” had just flown through Tropical Storm Maria and made landfall on Montserrat before flying to Guadeloupe. Machi had been tracked for over 27,000 miles (44,000 km) back and forth between breeding grounds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada to wintering grounds on the coast of Brazil. The bird was tracked on 7 nonstop flights of more than 2,000 miles. During the spring of 2010, Machi flew more than 3,400 miles directly from Brazil to South Carolina. Machi serves as an example of birds that interact with many landscapes and cultures throughout the year and a reminder of how international cooperation is required for their continued existence.

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Machi being fitted with satellite transmitter in August, 2009. © Bart Paxton

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Machi after release. © Bart Paxton

Guadeloupe, Martinique and Barbados continue to operate “shooting swamps” some of which are artificial wetlands created to attract migrant shorebirds for sport shooting during fall migration. It is estimated that tens of thousands of shorebirds continue to be taken annually by hunting clubs on just these three islands. This practice is a throwback to more than a century ago when gunners hunted shorebirds throughout the Americas. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed, in part, to protect dwindling numbers of birds that migrate across country borders. Operated as a French overseas department, both Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of the European Union and are not party to the Treaty. Barbados, once a British colony is now an independent state and also not party to the Treaty. The last Eskimo Curlew known to science was shot on Barbados in 1963. Shorebird hunting within these areas continues to be unregulated to the present time. Conservation organizations continue to work toward some compromise that will reduce pressures on declining species.  

Machi-on-mudflat

Machi is at Box Tree Creek where the bird it was captured on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in August 2009. © Barry Truitt

Worldwide, many shorebird populations are experiencing dramatic declines. Most of the migratory shorebird species breeding in eastern North America and the Arctic pass over the Caribbean region during the late summer and early fall on their way to wintering grounds. When they encounter severe storms the birds use the islands as refuges before moving on to their final destinations. Hunting clubs take advantage of these events and shoot large numbers of downed birds following the passage of these storms. During the 2009 and 2010 fall migrations, Machi did not stop on any of the islands but flew directly from Virginia to Paramaribo, Suriname before moving on to winter near Sao Luis, Brazil. It appears that the encounter with Tropical Storm Maria caused the bird to stop on Guadeloupe. 

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Tracking map of Machi (2009-2011).

Machi contributed a great deal to what we know about whimbrel migration along the western Atlantic. Satellite tracks of this bird over 4 full migrations (http://www.ccb-wm.org/programs/migration/Whimbrel/whimbrel.htm) linked breeding and wintering areas, defined migration routes, identified important migration staging areas, and demonstrated how these birds interact with major tropical systems. This tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.