We were fortunate in 2009 to travel to The Gambia, Tanzania, Colombia, the Caribbean, Arizona, Texas and California, all of them visits for the sole purpose of watching birds. And, of course, we spent many weeks in Portugal with occasional cross-border excursions into Spain. Heaven knows how many species we saw during the year but it was quite a lot!
Although the year list includes many highlights, one bird that gave us particular pleasure was the Sociable Lapwing that we found in the Alentejo just before Christmas. So much so that, three weeks on, we thought it would be nice if we could go and find it again, spend some more time watching it and take a few more photographs.
Sociable Lapwing is a species that is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction. It breeds in northern and central Kazakhstan and south-central Russia, normally migrating to spend the winter in Israel, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and north-west India, occasionally in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Oman. No wonder then that the bird we found near Benviuda is only the ninth that has been recorded in Portugal - quite simply it is a long way from where it should be.
From its plumage it is a bird in its first winter and therefore with no previous experience of migration. The explanation for it appearing in the Alentejo seems to be that instead of migrating with other Sociable Lapwings it has joined up with flocks of Northern Lapwings and travelled west with them. Many of the thousands of Northern Lapwings currently wintering in the Alentejo, and the many Golden Plovers that are with them, have probably moved further this winter than they usually do because of the extreme weather that has been affecting much of Europe. These are some of our favourite birds and seeing them in such large numbers meant that a trip to the Alentejo was always going to be worthwhile whether or not we re-located the Sociable Lapwing.
In the event, we had another great day. We saw Great Bustards, Little Bustards, Common Cranes, two Spanish Imperial Eagles and much more...and we found the Sociable Lapwing in almost exactly the same spot that we first saw it. How long will it stay, we wonder? Long enough for us to pay it another social call during the next few weeks, we hope!
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