Its breeding grounds as soon as stretched from Ukraine within the west to as far east as Xinjiang in China, and north into southern Siberia. But with the lack of a lot of the pure steppe in Ukraine within the nineteenth century via conversion to cereal manufacturing, and profound modifications to agricultural administration in the course of the Soviet interval, the breeding vary of the Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius contracted to an more and more small space of Kazakhstan. In 2004, BirdLife uplisted the species to Critically Endangered following extreme inhabitants declines, with some studies suggesting that just some hundred breeding pairs could survive.
But why was the Sociable Lapwing teetering on the point of extinction? Under the auspices of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), a world species motion plan was developed by collaborating consultants on the species and its habitats to assist decide the explanations. In the identical yr, a pilot research instructed that low breeding success attributable to trampling of nests by livestock may very well be a major issue. All this culminated within the institution of a complete analysis mission based mostly across the small city of Korgalzhyn, some 130 km south-west of Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital.
In May 2005, scientists from the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife Partner), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife within the UK) and analysis college students from Germany and Kazakhstan got down to find as many Sociable Lapwing colonies as potential. As inhabitants measurement was thought of critically low and breeding success poor, the crew aimed to gather very important knowledge on the species and likewise have a look at potential emergency conservation measures.
The first few weeks had been spent finding Sociable Lapwings and trialling the concept of utilizing nest protectors to scale back livestock trampling. Real nests had been far too treasured to check this on, so experimental nests utilizing quails’ eggs had been established. The mission crew bought what appeared to be the entire season’s provide of quail eggs from the capital, and when these ran out, resorted to portray hen eggs! However, by mid-May the analysis was beginning to reveal that breeding success wasn’t as dangerous as first thought, and lots of the Sociable Lapwing nests that the crew had discovered had been hatching.
The subsequent analysis section concerned catching and becoming chicks with distinctive mixtures of color rings in order that they may very well be noticed to estimate their survival charges. The groups spent hours within the area monitoring chicks as they tried to cover within the steppe vegetation, but it surely grew to become clear that the quantity surviving via to fledging was additionally fairly excessive.
Around the tip of June, Sociable Lapwings begin to kind post-breeding flocks and lots of of those included a excessive proportion of colour-ringed birds. The identical comparatively excessive ranges of breeding success had been replicated in subsequent years, however the outcomes started to point out that grownup survival was low. With nothing indicating a supply of excessive mortality on the breeding grounds, it grew to become clear that to search out the reason for the inhabitants decline, the researchers wanted to look elsewhere.
Winter in Kazakhstan could be harsh, and Sociable Lapwings migrate south to flee snow-covered steppes and sub-zero temperatures. Historical sightings from north-east Africa, the Middle East and India instructed that the species has a couple of migratory inhabitants, however little was recognized concerning the completely different routes they took.
As worldwide consciousness of the plight of the species grew, many organisations and people helped to search for migrating flocks. A Dutch crew working with Syrian ornithologists with help from the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW, BirdLife Partner) undertook surveys throughout Syria in February and March 2007. This crew made a number of key discoveries, not solely recording as much as 2,000 people – suggesting some world inhabitants estimates on the time had been too pessimistic – but in addition that Sociable Lapwings could also be focused illegally by hunters. This was confirmed the next spring by an RSPB crew surveying within the nation, in addition to by photos showing on social media with Sociable Lapwings being displayed throughout hunters’ automobile bonnets.
Three birds had been fitted with satellite tv for pc tags on the breeding grounds in May 2007, and these led to quite a few breakthroughs within the understanding of key websites and migratory routes. In October 2007, ornithologists at Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey) made the superb discovery of some 3,200 Sociable Lapwings within the Ceylanpinar space on the Syrian border, once more demonstrating that the inhabitants was not as little as first feared.
Subsequent surveys confirmed that this space on each side of the Turkey-Syria border is a key stopover web site for the species in each spring and autumn. Two of the satellite-tagged birds continued their journeys south and had been ultimately tracked to Sudan, the place they spent the winter months; one returned to the identical space for 2 further winters. These had been the primary information of Sociable Lapwings in Sudan for greater than 80 years.
Surveys by the Sudanese Wildlife Society situated a number of small wintering flocks, together with one of many satellite-tagged people. The largest group was 38 birds in January 2009. It is assumed that when Sociable Lapwings attain their wintering grounds they disperse into smaller flocks, making them much less conspicuous.
“Sociable Lapwings require closely-cropped sward to allow them to have a great view of predators; it’s like nesting on a billiard desk. Finding them within the unspeakably huge Central Steppes of Asia is a problem. When companions in Sudan discovered our tagged birds we had been over the moon. This work, of over a decade, is a improbable instance of worldwide collaboration inside and past the BirdLife Partnership,” says Paul Donald, Senior Researcher, BirdLife International (and beforehand RSPB).
More birds had been tagged in Kazakhstan in 2010, and once more birds had been tracked via the Middle East and into Africa. An additional important discovery was made when satellite-tagged birds spent the winter in northern Saudi Arabia. Additional surveys within the Tabuk space of northern Saudi and Haradh within the Eastern Province have confirmed that small numbers at the moment are wintering within the nation.
The overwhelming majority of Sociable Lapwing sightings within the Arabian Peninsula are on irrigated fields. The synthetic habitat that these fields present is a comparatively current phenomenon, and it may very well be that their presence has modified the migratory behaviour of Sociable Lapwings – why proceed migrating south to Africa when new food-rich sources can be found?
The Sociable Lapwing’s migratory routes (brown in spring, blue in autumn). Map © Paul Donald
A passage to India
An enormous hole in our data was understanding the significance of the japanese migratory route, the place birds head from the Kazakh breeding grounds in direction of India. From 2010-2015, seven tagged birds took this route and constantly stopped on the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border, suggesting the presence of an everyday stopover web site. A survey in October 2014 by the Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds (UzSPB, BirdLife in Uzbekistan) recorded as much as 400 Sociable Lapwings utilizing the world referred to as Talimarzhan, an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area, which on the time was the biggest rely of the species made in Uzbekistan, or certainly wherever on the southern route.
In autumn 2015 an expedition involving groups on each side of this border recorded a single day most rely of 4,225 birds, and the whole quantity estimated to be utilizing the world was between 6,000-8,000. This superb discovery once more highlighted that the worldwide inhabitants of Sociable Lapwings was a lot greater than beforehand thought, and likewise instructed that the japanese migratory route was simply as vital, if no more so, than the western flyway.
Of all of the international locations during which Sociable Lapwings are recognized to winter, India has essentially the most information, primarily within the north-west (particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan). In December 2010, 90 birds had been counted close to Ahmedabad – one of many largest wintering flocks ever recorded. Satellite monitoring additionally highlighted the significance of Pakistan as a wintering web site, and this was once more confirmed by ground-based surveys. In early 2016, a crew from the Saiban Development Organisation situated a report flock of 200 Sociable Lapwings alongside the Indus river valley, and the next winter over 500 birds had been present in Sindh, together with a single flock of 365 birds which (there’s a theme right here) was the biggest wintering flock ever recorded in Pakistan.
“The Sociable Lapwing lives as much as its identify not solely as a result of it’s gregarious, but in addition as a result of it has introduced collectively so many professionals and consultants from completely different international locations. Our worldwide crew is an instance of a long-term and sustainable partnership geared toward conserving this distinctive species,” says Ruslan Urazaliyev, Research fellow, ACBK, who has labored on the Sociable Lapwing mission since 2008.
With information of looking from a number of international locations alongside the western flyway, mixed with low annual survival estimated from long-term survival knowledge, it appears very possible that the important thing menace to the Sociable Lapwing is prohibited killing. Hunting has not been recorded alongside the japanese route however can’t be discounted as a menace.
Changes in land use can also be a major menace. A survey in Sudan in December 2018 didn’t find any Sociable Lapwings in an space the place tagged birds had beforehand been recorded. The major crop beneath cultivation was sorghum, which grows too tall for use by Sociable Lapwings, and the stubble remaining as soon as harvested is just too dense. In current years issues have been raised concerning the sustainability of in depth areas of irrigated pivot fields in components of the Middle East, and it’s possible that restrictions will probably be put in place to restrict the sort of agricultural administration sooner or later. This will virtually actually imply Sociable Lapwings should proceed south looking for appropriate wintering grounds.
On the breeding grounds in Kazakhstan we all know that Sociable Lapwings are strongly related to villages, as these are the place home livestock are concentrated. Grazing cattle and sheep create the brief swards required for his or her nests. Any modifications in how livestock are managed may have profound impacts, each optimistic and unfavorable, on the suitability of the steppes for breeding.
Satellite monitoring and area surveys have proven that migrating Sociable Lapwings are reliant on only a small variety of key websites, particularly people who take the japanese route, the place in all probability the entire flyway inhabitants spends at the very least a month every year at Talimerzhan. Protection of those websites will clearly be essential to the long-term survival of the species.
The scenario for the Sociable Lapwing is just not as dire because it was in 2004. The world inhabitants could also be within the area of 24,000 people, however whether or not there’s an ongoing decline is much less clear. The Manych Depression in south-west Russia is the one key stopover web site for which there’s long-term monitoring knowledge. In September 2010 the utmost single day rely was 1,070 birds, with a gradual annual decline to only 4 birds in 2019. On the breeding grounds of Kazakhstan, repeat surveys in 2018-2019 discovered a most of 15 nests in comparison with between 83-126 nests from the identical research space in 2005-2011. It is just not clear how these declines on the breeding grounds and the western migration route are consultant of the worldwide inhabitants, however they’re a trigger for concern. It appears that this enigmatic steppe wanderer faces pressures in all components of its huge vary, and its story is much from over.
This work was partly funded by grants from the Darwin Initiative of the UK Government. Additional funding was offered via the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Swarovski Optik; plus the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, the German Ornithological Society, the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus & Central Asia.