04 December 2013

Sociable Lapwings near Sabya – Bird records by Phil Roberts

Whilst birding in the Jizan area on 19 November 2013, Phil Roberts discovered seven Sociable Lapwings Vanellus gregarious in a pivot irrigation field near Sabya. Six birds were also seen in the same field on a return trip to the site on 22 November 2103. The photograph below was taken by Phil on 19 November 2013 and he has kindly allowed me to use it on my website. Please note the copyright of this photograph belongs to Phil and should not be used without his permission. The species status in Saudi Arabia is a rare passage migrant and winter visitor, which has historically been recorded north of Jeddah near the coast. Other records come from north of Yanbu, one near Riyadh, one near Haradh and one near the National Wildlife Research Center at Taif. Previous historical records include flocks 25 in 1934 and 45 in 1988 and there have only been eight records since 1950. These include one satellite-tagged bird from central Kazakhstan that wintered in Saudi Arabia for several weeks in 2011, just north of Tabuk by the main road and another satellite-tagged bird in the same area in November 2013, where they probably used irrigated fields for feeding. On 17 November 2012, a group of 10 birds were recorded north of Tabuk in the same area as the satellite tagged birds had been recorded and 35 birds were in irrigation fields north of Jizan 14 January 2013 close to the area where Phil saw his birds. This suggests there may be two distinct wintering, or at least staging, areas in Saudi Arabia, one north of Tabuk and the other north of Jizan. These recent records suggest the status of Sociable Lapwing should be changed from a rare, to a scarce, passage migrant and winter visitor.

 Sociable Lapwing is listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International (2012) and IUCN (2012) because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction, for reasons that are poorly understood, and this decline is projected to continue and/or increase in the future. The current IUCN classification means that the population is expected to decline in the next decade or so by 80%, although this figure is based on theory and habitat destruction rather than direct observation of birds. Recent fieldwork in Kazakhstan, and counts in Turkey and the Middle East have shown the population to be substantially larger than previously believed. As a result these new discoveries, and as more data becomes available, the species could be down listed to Endangered? They breed mainly in the grassland steppes of northern and central Kazakhstan and south-central Russia dispersing through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Egypt to key wintering sites in Israel, Africa (Eritrea & Sudan) and north-west India.