Friday, January 29, 2010

For a month or more we have had butterflies visiting the small flowers
around the building. Sometimes I go outside in the middle of the day
and I'll see 20 or more butterflies flitting around and feeding on the
little orange and yellow flowers. I've only seen Cabbage Whites and
Painted Ladies. This past week I have started finding spiny painted
lady caterpillars in little silk shelters on the Mallow plants growing
in an open area near us. Since there are holes in the leaves
surrounding the shelter, I'm assuming that the caterpillars come out
at night to feed.

The Painted Lady is one of the most widespread butterflies in the
world. It is found on every continent except Antarctica and South
America. In 2004 I saw hundreds of these butterflies when our
Eucalyptus trees started flowering. Last week, our large Eucalyptus
had the first of its little puffball flowers open, so I may be seeing
a lot more butterflies soon.

Some other insects are visiting the flowers also including large
hoverflies that look like the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax).

On the bird front I watched a group of White-cheeked Bulbuls feeding
on the ground with a few house sparrows. I've heard from others that
the Bulbuls will eat such things as cookies that people put out for
the birds.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yesterday we went back out to the Laundry Pond. The sun rising behind us provided great lighting on the ducks and coots that were floating in loose groups out in the pond. The weather was fairly cool at about 45 degrees F. As we walked through the Phragmites, the coots were making crazy noises out on the pond. The White-headed Ducks moved out to the middle of the pond in a small group of 7 birds. They ride very low in the water, almost like they are in the process of sinking. We had some great views as they stretched and flapped their wings. The males white heads stood out among all the dark plumaged coots. About a dozen Mallards were swimming around and later flew back and forth from one side of the pond to the other. The Ferruginous Ducks seemed to be venturing more into the open water than usual. Mostly they stick to the shoreline and the reeds. The contrasting light and dark pattern of the Male Shovelers made them easy to pick out on the far side.

There is a section of the pond where the reeds have been cut back and a noisy water pump has been installed. The opening is a good vantage point to count the birds in the middle of the pond and to get a closer look at the reedy edges. There were more Common Teal than last week, probably 20 or more. In a muddy area near the reeds we found 4 Black-winged Stilts resting. Later they flew over the pond trailing their long, elegant red legs behind them.

There are large patches of greenery in areas around the pond that were bare a few months ago. The winter rains prompt furious growth of small herbaceous plants in the ditches and open fields around the base. Many are familiar roadside weeds such as dandelion and mustards. There are also quite a few small orange and yellow daisy-like composites and areas of grass. We stopped and found some ladybugs in a patch of low growing compositae. I also saw quite a few small striped hoverflies on the flowers. Other plants, such as the thistles, seem to be just getting going with small prickly rosettes appearing here and there. We can expect a few month more with occasional rain, so I expect at least some greenery to remain into April. After the heat gets going all these plants will be baked into oblivion, until the rains come again in late Autumn. It amazes me how hardy the seeds are, surviving ground temperatures that have to exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit for month and months.

Since it was getting late we picked up the pace to get back to the truck. In the corner of the pond we found a White-throated Kingfisher hunched up, resting in the Phragmites. It's brilliant blue back and large, bright red bill contrasted with the dull brown reeds.

We found a small group of European Goldfinch in the same bushes as last week.

Out on the airfield, we saw hundreds of Wood Pigeons and Rooks. Large flocks of hundreds more Wood Pigeons were flying around the perimeter fence. A flock of about a hundred small brown birds wheeled around and landed near us. After a good bit of deliberation we decided that they were most likely Short-toed Larks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This past Sunday we got back out to the laundry pond again. As usual, the pond was loaded with waterbirds. I counted 525 Eurasian Coots swimming around in the middle of the pond and feeding in the reeds. The group of White-headed Ducks that have been present since October were still at the pond with 7 birds, both males and females. We watched a female from very close range coming out of the reeds on the east side of the pond. A good number of Shovelers were present in the pond when we arrived, then started flying around in small flocks when the F-16s roared off the runway behind us on afterburner.

A few other ducks species including Common Pochard, Gadwall, Common Teal and Ferruginous Ducks were present in smaller numbers along with a handful of Little Grebes.

We completely circled the pond for the first time. Usually, we park on one side and remain there. On our way back we saw some activity in a patch of vegetation near the entrance road. It turned out to be a flock of several dozen European Goldfinch. We got some great closeup looks at these beautiful birds as they appeared to be feeding on thistle seeds. As we were moving back to the truck we found a group of Spanish Sparrows with their bold chestnut, black and white plumage.

The highlight of our visit to the pond was watching two Jackals running back and forth on the edge of the pond, chasing and being chased by a Red-wattled Plover. The bird dive bombed them, while they charged around. After about five minutes, they noticed us and stopped to stare, then trotted off into the open area toward the west side of the base.

Around Sunset I returned to the area and I saw the pair of Jackals again yelping and chasing eachother around.

After the sun went down, I heard large numbers of Green Toads calling in the irrigation ditches near the west side of the base. It reminded me of the spring choruses of various frogs and toads in Connecticut. I guess Spring comes to Iraq in Mid-January.