10 March 2009

Bird Conservation Initiatives in Iraq

Initiatives by Nature Iraq are conserving wild birds throughout the country, according to Mudhafar A. Salim, head of the Bird Division. He noted these current projects in particular.

* "Undertaken winter and summer surveys since 2005 for important migratory and resident species. These surveys were focused on the Lower Mesopotamian Marshlands, and then the area of the project was expanded to cover the whole Iraq now.
"During our last survey, we covered the main Important Bird Areas of the Middle of Iraq for the first time ever. It was just after the security conditions got better over these areas, that made it possible to do our surveys on birds and fish.
* "Conservation of the vulnerable Marbled Duck – awareness programme aimed at hunters in the southern Iraq region.
* "Surveying and detailed ecological studies of the endangered Basra Reed Warbler. The breeding main grounds of this endangered bird are the wetlands of southern Iraq only.
* "Undertaken winter and summer surveys since 2007 for important migratory and resident species in Kurdistan.
* "Seeking protection of vulnerable Lesser White-fronted Goose which winter in flocks of over 400 birds.
* "Producing national action plans for soaring migratory birds such as Egyptian Vulture and other threatened birds at the wetlands of Iraq.
* "Searching for the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing, which may winter in western Iraq.

Habitat conservation is underway at Auda Marsh restoration project. A highlight is the Eden Again Project, at the "confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers divides and separates into a drainage basin made up of a multitude of small waterways before emptying into the Persian Gulf," according to project details on the group's English version website.

This is an Important Birding Area project, with an expected core area of 59,000 acres, but a conservation area of 350,000 acres at the Mesopotamian marshlands. The partnership includes Nature Iraq, the project’s partners also include the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land, and Sea, and Iraq’s Ministries of Environment, Water Resources and Municipalities and Public Works.

Among the 150 species that occur are "good populations" of Grey Hypocolius, endemic Basra Reed-warbler and Iraq Babbler. Eight globally threatened and vulnerable species recorded include the White-headed Duck, Marbled Teal, Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, and near-threatened Ferruginous Duck. Rare breeders seen have been the African Darter Anhinga and Sacred Ibis. About a third of all the species are classified with "conservation concern."

Dramatic changes at Iraq’s southern marshes were reported in February by the British Broadcasting Company, noting the marsh lands are shrinking due to "drought, intensive dam construction and irrigation schemes upstream on the Tigris, Euphrates, and other river systems."

Information on the country’s birds has been helped by pictures and sightings posted online. Salim promotes bird efforts on the Operation Iraqi Birds, including this message from October 2008:

"We used to suffer from the bad security conditions over some sites that we used to survey (or plan to survey). They are either inaccessible or being minefields. In fact, we have many stories that we faced during our fieldworks and really hindered our surveys! Nevertheless, I think we (Nature Iraq) have done, and still doing, good job (as they says) continuing our mission. As security conditions get better. We can include more sites to be surveyed."

Good Things are Coming

In the final bird session at the Middle Eastern Biodiversity Conference in Aqaba, Jordan, held October 22-23, 2008, participations identified several recommendations on birds, during a session labeled: "Good things are coming."

They were summarized by Salim:

  • "Increasing the regional involvement, and using the active media
  • "Creating a secretariat, forum, website, periodical publications, regional database.
  • "Taking the 'sensitive' issues into consideration when future planning (Israel).
  • "Sharing expertise among other specialized areas of action (other than birds).
  • "Encouraging the academic studies and funding the research proposals and the academic studies.
  • "Building capacity by training on monitoring, birdwatching and conservation actions.
  • "Inviting decision-makers and scientists to attend the regional biodiversity conferences.
  • "Creating human and financial base/resources, and supporting the regional voluntary work."
[Nature Iraq bird team during fieldwork]

Nature Iraq bird team during field survey. Courtesy of Mudhafar A. Salim.

Salim and others soon started preparing for further field surveys on winter birds. The most recent started in January, "visiting our sites at different areas in Iraq," he said, "starting, as usual, from the extreme south in Fao-Basra to cover Amara, Nassiriya, Middle Euphrates, and (for the first time) Dyala (Himreen Lake), Salahiddeen (Samarra Dam), Anbar (Tharthar, Hadeetha, and Habbaniya Lakes). We got good observations during our long trip that continued for more than one month and half, and we are now entering these into our database" of bird records.

"Generally, the large number of migratory waterfowl (including threatened species) that we observed during our Jan-Feb, 2009 surveys, comparing with our former surveys, was the most important observation we got from our last surveys."

Bird sightings from Iraq are also features of the MidEast birds forum. Early in March 2009, a soldier from Ohio reported spring activities at Al Asad airbase, with news of a snipe, identified through discussion as a Jack Snipe, a seasonal migrant noted by Randy Rogers.

Salim noted the importance of the details: "Congratulations for your Sociable Plover. I, as member of the Iraqi Bird Recording Committee IBRC, would like to add this recording as one of our current 'formal' bird observations. Thank you for your keen birding, and keep up your good job!" (Tue, 3 Mar 2009 00:39:52 -0800 (PST)

"I would like to thank Nature Iraq family for their hard work," Salim said, "also Richard Porter (Middle East bird expert) was of great help anytime we need him. He was with us step-by-step since our early beginning in 2005.

"We look forward to continuing to conserve the bird diversity of Iraq. The most urgent issue that Nature Iraq Bird Section has an emphasis on is to engage more birders to be included in our increasing surveys and conservation efforts. This demands more training and building-capacity programs to form reliable base to face the sources that threaten our nature and wildlife; also, we are working on how to direct the communities to use the natural resources sustainably by educational, conservation-oriented projects that target local communities."

Blogs and photo libraries feature many of the 387 birds species identified.

Iraq Photo Gallery, by Matt Pike
Birds of Iraq Photo Gallery, by Laura Erickson

Nature Iraq is a non-governmental organization registered in Iraq, accredited to the United Nations Environment Programme and is the first and only affiliate to Birdlife International.

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