Thursday, July 07, 2005

The first migrating shorebirds start moving through Iraq this month making their way back from Siberia, Northern Russia and Northern Europe. Some will winter in the Iraqi wetlands, while others continue on to Africa.

Marsh Sandpiper - Qurnah, Iraq. Henrik Mikkelsen has graciously given me permission to use some of his photos of Iraqi birds.

The Lesser White-fronted Goose, that spent the winter visiting the marshes of central and southern Iraq has now returned to northern Russia less than 2 km from where it was fitted with a satellite transponder last year. Here's a satellite photo of the large marsh area where it was initially found about 85 km east of Baghdad called Haur Al Shubaicha. If you zoom out on the google map you can see that the wetland is fairly isolated in a dry area. This should translate into at least an important stopover point for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, probably also good for wintering birds.

I've been reading several reports that have been generated out of the Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative. This collaboration between Waterloo University in Canada and various organizations and ministries operating in Iraq is working to restore the Mesopotamian marshes and to increase the Iraqi capacity to monitor the health of the marshes. Biodiversity surveys of key sites are a major objective. Here's a presentation about the aims of the program. Other reports worth reading are the proceedings of the workshop held in Jordan last year:

For four days June 19-22 of 2004, a team of Canadian, Iraqi and international
participants met together to discuss the future needs of marshlands management in
Iraq. In particular the group focused on the restoration of the southern marshlands of
Iraq, the area historically called Lower Mesopotamia and today referred to as the Al-
Ahwar region.
The participants in this meeting met at the invitation of the University of Waterloo, a
Canadian University leading a project sponsored by the Canadian International
Development Agency. Many interests are actively developing proposals for work in
cooperation with the Government of Iraq on the restoration of ecological and cultural
values of wetlands in Iraq, particularly the southern Mesopotamian marshlands of the
nation. Field programs or preliminary evaluations on wetland restoration, reflooding,
water monitoring and fisheries resources for example have already been implemented.
These are being done with the assistance of scientists from the many nations and in
cooperation with groups such as the Iraq Foundation and Iraq government ministries.

The program has sponsored two workshops in conjunction with Birdlife International for Iraqi biologists who will be carrying out the survey work. One was conducted in Jordan, the other in Syria.

Many of the participants will be attending a special session of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Montreal next month. I'm thinking about going if I can swing it. It would be fantastic to meet some of the people involved, especially the Iraqi biologists who will be there.

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