I few days ago I traveled up north to a forward operating base near Mosul. Flying north through the lush green agricultural lands bordering the Tigris I watched hundred of egrets along with small flocks of rooks and hooded crows. A large flock of sociable plovers were flushed by our low flying helicopter. We then moved out over the desert.
The most exciting bird of the flight was a houbara bustard flying up from the dry desert scrub showing large white patches on its wings. These gamebirds are sometimes hunted using trained falcons in Arab countries. Some birds from central Asia spend the winter in Iraq, its current breeding status in Iraq is unknown according to my field guide which just has a big questionmark on the distribution map.
The base I visited was very remote with flat rocky desert as far as the eye could see in every direction. The trees growing on base were the only ones for miles. I thought they would make a good migrant trap. Walking around I saw a few small flocks of magpies carrying on loudly as they flew from tree to tree. In a bush near one of the buildings I found a redstart and a male European robin. The robin was very cooperative and jumped around on the steps of the building showing off its bright orange breast. In another group of bushes I found a chiffchaff hopping around.
On my way back to my home base we flew in and around Mosul. The Tigris river loops through the city. There were huge numbers of birds on the river, large flocks of gulls, ducks and egrets flying around and others swimming in the river. Unfortunately we were moving to fast to get a good look. The broad shallows and all the vegetation along the river and in the rocky hills surrounding Mosul look like it would be a very good place to spend some time birding.
Back at home base yesterday I met an Air Force nurse whose brother is an entomologist who studies Braconid wasps. She told me that her brother had corresponded with a roach expert at Harvard because his wasps are parasitoids of roaches. It happens that I visited the same guy to help identify my roaches that I collected in Indonesia. I was disappointed that one fine large reddish brown roach I caught in a village in Kalimantan (S. Borneo) was none other than an American Roach! I could have caught the same species in any city in the US. He did help me identify some interesting tropical roaches so it wasn't a total bust. As it happens I regularly dispatch American Roaches in our building here in Iraq. I would guess that they were here before us.