Sunday, May 22, 2005

I wasn't expecting Danish birders in Iraq, yet I've found the bird pictures of two of them (Henrick Mikkelsen and Flemming Ulrich), taken in 2003 and 2004 in Basrah and Qurnah in Southern Iraq. Qurnah is the headquarters of the Danish military forces in Iraq. I'm assuming both guys are Danish Soldiers. I found 30 pictures of 17 species of Iraqi birds on a Danish Birding Site called

Some of the species include Macqueen's (Houbara) Bustard, Indian Roller, Laughing Dove and Common Kingfisher.

Henrick also has some pictures from Kuwait and the UAE of regional species such as Crab Plover, Western Reef Heron, and Sacred Ibis.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I found a fantastic picture of a soldier with an Arabian Sand Boa from Camp Bucca in the southern desert area of Iraq near the Kuwaiti Border. The colors on the snake are incredible.

Apparently there are two species of sand boa (genus Eryx) found in Iraq. The Arabian Sand Boa (Eryx jayakari) and the Spotted Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus).

The eyes of the Arabian Sand Boa are positioned on the top of their head so they can stick them out from underneath the sand without exposing their head. The body is stout and flattened to help it burrow in the sand. They are nocturnal animals and I imagine they hunt lizards and small rodents. has an interesting series of Arabian Sand Boa pictures (text is in Arabic) including one killing a lizard.

On the birding front I was checking out the Ornithological Society of the Middle East website. Sadly, there were no reports for Iraq in the seasonal notes. Iran especially seems to have an active birding community and I was very envious reading a trip report from a birding tour of Iran.

With many recent sightings by westerners working in Iraq and Iraqi biologists themselves, this should be the last time that Iraq is a blank space on the map in Middle Eastern Ornithology. I encourage everyone to submit their sighting to the editor of "Around the Region" at OSME ( and lets start things out right. In a few years we should have the first of many Iraqi trip reports from a birding tour. When I was in Iraq and traveling around I always thought Iraq had great potential for both ecotourism and tourism to its archeological and historical sites.

I did start my North American Nature Blog. Hopefully I'll have a little time to devote to it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I received a great picture from Mark, an Army contractor up in Mosul. The picture shows a water snake (probably Natrix tesselata) eating a fish in a small pond on his base. Also in the picture is a frog (I'd guess it is a Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda) ) .

Another Marine serving in Iraq posted a picture of a small ratsnake (he thinks it is Coluber jugularis).

More interesting pictures of Iraqi herps can be found on the Armed Forces Pest Management Board Site .

One of the most interesting to me is the legless Zarudnyi's worm lizard (Diplometopon zarudnyi). These are fantastic purple and black looking beasts that burrow in the sand. This is one of a suborder of legless lizards called Amphisbaenia (one weird Mexican group (Genus Bipes) actually has two front legs).

I found an interesting account from an Air Force Sergeant near Um Qasr in southern Iraq.

The photos were taken May 28, 2004 around 11 pm in the vicinity of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. Staff Sargent Fiddler described the behavior as follows:

"Last night I found two worm lizards while I was doing my rounds. I believe they were mating as you can see by the pictures. However I am not sure. ... When the larger of the two was done doing whatever it was it was doing, it released the smaller one. However they were facing each other 'head-to-toe' in the photos. Instead of them grasping each other by what I thought was there genitalia, the larger ones jaw was grasping the bottom portion of the smaller one. And on a few photos, you can see where the last few centimeters of the smaller lizard appeared to be sunken in a bit along the spine, almost like the larger one was sucking fluids from it." - here's a link to the series of pictures - you need to click on the ADDITIONAL IMAGES button to see the wrestling worm lizard pictures.

This particular species lives in several countries in the middle east including Iraq and burrows in the ground in areas including dunes and date palm groves.

Here's some other Iraqi critters found on the AFPMB site. (The links were too deep and weren't working so I copied them over. Larger images are available at the above site.

Spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastix microlepis) caught and released by MSgt Mike Hartsfield at an undisclosed location in support of Iraqi Freedom.

Spiny Tailed Lizard, photo taken in KuwaitPhotographer: Capt Mark Pomerinke

Pseudocerastes persicus persicus (Persian Sand Viper), This snake was caught in Freedom Air Force Base Kirkuk,Iraq. Identification was made by Dr. Chad McHugh entomologist (Brooks AFB). Picture taken by Lt. Col. Dwayne Knott.

Eirenus modestus (Dwarf Snake). This snake was caught in Freedom Air Force base Kirkuk,Iraq. Identification was made by Dr. Chad McHugh entomologist (Brooks AFB). Picture taken by Dr. (CAPT) Michael Hasler.

Vipera lebetina( blunt nose viper). This snake was caught in Freedom Air Force base Kirkuk,Iraq. Identification was made by Dr. Chad McHugh entomologist (Brooks AFB). Picture taken by Dr. (CAPT) Michael Hasler.

The snake is 3.5 feet long, weighs 3 lbs was found in Freedom AFB Kirkuk, Iraq by AF Security Forces. The snake was identified by Dr. Zuhair Amr as Macrovipera lebetina obtusa. The photographer was Dr. Michael Hasler.

Same snake (Macrovipera lebetina obtusa) as above.

Another image of same snake (Macrovipera lebetina obtusa).

Finally I came across a webpage of a British guy who has recorded some of his nature observations around Camp Victory. The most notable observation is a Goliath Heron he saw near the palace complex. These are gigantic birds (bigger than Great Blue or Grey Herons). I know that they used to be found in the southern marshes but perhaps this was a non-breeder or a post-breeding dispersal. You have to read through his letters home to find his observations, but I found the whole series of posts enjoyable. I especially liked the description of his finding a big fat (Green) Toad calling like a magpie (link to an audio of the male toad's advertisement call).