I'm back from a fantastic week in Wyoming and Montana. I saw one life bird, Trumpeter Swan and many, such as Clark's Nutcracker, that I've only seen once or twice before. We didn't see any Grizzlies at Yellowstone, apparently this has been a good year for pine nuts and they are busy up in the mountains fattening up on nuts and Army Cutworm caterpillars (Spodoptera sp.).
On the birding front in Iraq I found a piece written by Major Ed Lowsma to a local Audubon Society in Florida describing some of his birding experiences.
I've been making my way through the wonderful Emirates Natural History Group website. This very active club from the UAE takes frequent trips around the Emirates and Oman. Special interest groups cover all manner of creatures to archeology and local history. It would be fantastic to have a similar group devoted to the natural history of Iraq.
As in the US, the shorebird migration is underway again in Iraq. Sandpipers and plovers of many species will pass through or decide to stay in the ponds and wetlands that dot central and southern Iraq. Because jumping out of a heavily armed convoy to check out the shorebirds at the roadside ponds was not an option, I was frustrated, especially with the smaller sandpipers I saw running around in the mudflats, but couldn't get an ID on them. I was lucky that my base and a few that I visited had ponds where I could spend a bit more time. In the winter there are literally dozens of ponds by the side of the highway, most with at least a few birds all the way from just over the Kuwaiti border to Baghdad. A birder could probably spend a week slowly making his or her way up from Kuwait, stopping by the road, scanning the ponds. A spotting scope is definitely needed. I would even recommend one for the larger on base ponds. It would have been great for both shorebirds and waterfowl.
Even with my limited mobility I managed to see a good selection of shorebirds. For any readers in Iraq this is a good starting list of what to look for.
Sociable Plover **
** Just a note on Sociable Plover - I saw a flock of about 20 birds I identified as this species in an agricultural area bordering the desert north of Balad in October of last year. Since this is a globally threatened species whose numbers have dropped dramatically it would be a significant sighting. I was traveling in a Blackhawk helicopter at high speed at the time so I didn't have time to study them. I think the chances are good that it was this species as I felt they were different from the numerous spur-winged and red-wattled plovers I saw on the same flight, however, given their rarity and my less than favorable view all I can say is I may have seen this species. Definitely something for others to look for.
Finally, I found a few pictures and maps of telemetry tagged vultures that passed through Iraq on their migration. The Georgian Center for the Conservation of Wildlife has tagged vultures as part of an ongoing study. One was a Griffon Vulture (picture of bird, map of migration route) that was captured in the Republic of Georgia and migrated to Saudi Arabia and back to Georgia passing first down the Zagros mountains of Iran then cutting across the southern desert of Iraq on its way south. On its northward journey it cut across Iraq south of Baghdad and followed the mountains north into Iraqi Kurdistan. The second tagged vulture was a Cinereous Vulture (picture of bird, map of migration route) that follows a very similar pathway south, cutting across the Iran/Iraq border in the same general area. Perhaps a good location to watch raptors.