25 February 2009

A Soldier’s View of Birding in Iraq

After reading a post by Randel Rogers on Mideast Birdnet, I posted him an email and received the following response, presented as it was received. It provides a very interesting view of this soldier's great effort for learning more about the birds of Iraq, and their conservation.

Randy Rogers birding at the base in the western desert of Iraq. Images courtesy of Randy Rogers.

"The most surprising thing about birding in Iraq has been the diversity. I had no idea that Iraq had about as many birds on its checklist as Ohio does, and certainly didn’t think I that being stationed in the western desert would allow me to see so many of them! I have seen over 110 species in Iraq, 104 of them here at Al Asad Airbase.

"Many of them have been common regional species, but some of the special birds here include the Iraqi sub-species of grey hypocolius, little grebe, and the Mesopotamian hooded crow.

"One of Iraq’s endemics can be found here, the Iraqi babbler, and a couple of vulnerable or threatened species in the ferruginous duck and marbled teal. Fall migration was fantastic – mostly for passerines. Where rain storms can result in migration fallouts at home, here sandstorms can do the same. We put out an improvised bird bath, and there were times when 5 species of shrikes could be seen around it! It would also attract 4-6 wrynecks at any given time, and a number of other birds such as barred warblers or spotted flycatchers.

"Some of the birds have been real eye-catchers, such as European roller, blue-cheeked bee-eater, golden oriole, and bluethroat. Little crakes, water rails, European and Egyptian nightjars, marsh harriers, grey wagtails - the list goes on and on!

Improvised bird bath.

"But birds are only part of the story here.

"I have also been able to see two jungle cats, striped hyenas, three species of fox, Indian crested porcupines, honey badgers, and golden jackals. I have pictures of many species of dragonflies, flower flies, hawk-moths, and butterflies.

"My collection of wildflower photos may take the rest of my life to key out!

"Most satisfying is that I have been able to establish a partnership between Nature Iraq and the Ohio Ornithological Society and the Columbus Audubon Society. We have been able to support their efforts to survey and protect the natural areas of Iraq with nearly $3,000 worth of equipment so far, and my observations here have been included in Nature Iraq’s annual report – giving them data on a part of the country that they cannot yet reach and that has not been described by any naturalist for at least 30 years, if ever.

"My only regret is that I have not been able to travel to see the mountains in the north or especially the southern marshes (Basra reed warbler!).

"Iraq has such promise for ecotourism – the history of Babylon and Ur, a fabulous diversity of flora and fauna, and a lot of friendly people. Hopefully the day will soon come when Iraq’s natural beauty can be enjoyed by both the Iraqi people, who often could not visit these areas under Saddam, and tourists as well."

Here are some additional details given on February 23, 2009, in his posting on the birdnet…

Common Redstart.

Mon, 23 Feb 2009 10:55:36

"Over the last 48 hours, I have seen some additional signs of spring here.

"Numbers of small brown warblers seem to be up - some appeared to be willow warblers, and one may have been a yellow-browed.

"Another black-winged stilt showed up yesterday, as did two additional ruffs, bring the total present to four. It appears to be three females and one male.

"A can't miss sign of spring was a grey wagtail found today, and also prominent were the male shoveler ducks, bobbing their heads and issuing their strange mating sounds.

"A pair of little crakes were acting frisky in the wetlands, and many resident birds are acting territorial or have been seen carrying nesting material or paired up."

I have seen a photo of a little owl here in 2005, but have not found this species, so I invested in an owl whistle and have been trying it out near suitable habitat all over the base, but so far I still have no evidence of this species currently residing here.

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