Monday, December 27, 2004

My CBC was somewhat abreviated because several projects were sprung on some in the last few days. I only hit two spots, our laundry pond and the dump. I'm traveling again this week and I'll post after I get back. I'm hoping to do some birding while I'm away.

Here's my list:

Little Grebe - 2
Cattle Egret - 4
Grey Heron - 1
Mallard - 7
Shoveler - 4
Ferruginous Duck - 1
Marsh Harrier - 1
Moorhen - 3
Coot - 11
Black-headed Gull - 1500
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 2
Yellow-legged Gull - 3
Armenian Gull - 8
Rock Dove - 200
Collared Dove - 18
Crested Lark - 7
White Wagtail - 12
White-cheeked Bulbul - 3
Graceful Prinia - 6
Common Babbler - 1
Jackdaw - 12
Rook - 65
Hooded Crow - 9
House Sparrow - 35

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I haven't been for a good long walk for a few weeks. Tomorrow morning I'll have an opportunity. I'll consider it a Christmas Bird Count. Because of this deployment I've missed the last two counts with the local Audubon society that I have participated in since I was 14. The first CBC I went on I remember seeing a flock of Pine Grosbeaks in the snow. We also take our annual trip to the dump. At least I can replicate the dump trip here. At home I usually get to count the birds at a huge American Crow roost. Here I have my Rooks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

This evening on another run to drop someone off at the helipad I saw a little Ruppell's Fox by the side of the road. As we passed it turned and ran off into the bushes flashing its very fine tail.

Our force protection guys are constantly cursing all the holes that the foxes and jackals dig under our perimeter fence. There's too much good stuff inside the wire, nothing is going to stop them coming in.

Even thought the temperature has got as low as 30 at night, the insects are still active during the day. In the last week I've seen dragonflies, mostly small reddish and gray Libellulids like the genus Sympetrum back at home, several species of ant, and a handful of Pierid butterflies that look like they are probably Cabbage Whites.

We have a little planter with flowers in it that we now take in at night. I was looking at the leaves of the marigolds and I found little leaf mines snaking through some of the leaves. By the looks of it I think its an Agromyzid Fly larva. Several insects including some microlepidoptera and some Chrysomelid beetles have this unusual habit of making a trail through the middle layers of a leaf as their larvae feed and grow. Some birds are fond of picking the larvae out of their mines before they can pupate.

I haven't been out much birding this last week. I have noticed an increase in white wagtails. These funny little birds seem to be everywhere on post in little groups of 3 or 4 birds. I've seen a Kestrel a few times flying around our building and a black redstart now seems to be a permanent resident hopping around our patio, flying up on one of the tents and making its circuit around our scap lumber pile.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

This morning I met our Battalion surgeon for a little early morning birding. I grabbed one of the humvees and we headed out to the laundry pond. There was more activity than the last time I was there. On the fenceline 3 red-wattled plovers ran on the ground in front of us. Down in the pond there were mallards, northern shovelers, coots and a few gallinules. A Marsh harrier flew up out of the reeds and cruised around the perimeter of the pond. This long winged raptor was a new bird for me. As we walked back to the truck we saw a great egret flying over. In the low Syrian Mesquite bushes we found a stonechat and a few white wagtails running around.

The next stop was the sewage pond on the other side of post. One black-winged stilt was feeding in the shallow water along with a green sandpiper. A pair of spur-winged plovers were hanging out on the bank.

We continue on to another of the storm water basins that are now covered with reeds. Several avocets flew around the pond and landed in the shallow water to feed. The only other time I saw these striking black and white birds was in the southern marshes on my first day in Iraq convoying up from Kuwait. We also saw a magpie flying around and a common redshank and
some more black-winged stilts near the waters edge.

Our final stop was the large flock of gulls near our dump. Like last time it was mostly black-headed gulls along with a single lesser black-backed and a couple Armenian gulls.

After dropping off our surgeon I spotted a nice male chaffinch on a fence while driving back to my building.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

This morning I walked out our back door and saw a few small birds hopping around in the top of a large Eucalyptus tree that grows next to our building. I climbed up on the roof to get a better look and found that it was a group of Eurasian Siskins feeding on the seeds in the Eucalyptus gum nuts. They are pretty little birds that look like our pine siskins with bright yellow wing bars, black caps and yellow streaked breasts.

I spent about 10 minutes watching the little group feeding, often hanging upside down. Even thought the Eucalyptus trees look like they have a bumper crop of gum nuts, these are the first birds I've seen feeding on them. Perhaps other birds can't get the seeds out of the small holes in the cone.

The only other birds of note I saw around my building today were a Magpie flying over and a Black Redstart hopping around the patio.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A short drive around in the middle of the day. The laundry pond had a few coots and a couple of moorhens. There was a strong wind which seemed to keep a lot of the birds down.

In a field near the perimeter I saw a flock of about 50 small birds flying around, then landing, in a grassy area. If I was back home I wouldn't hesitate to call it a flock of American pipits. Here, there are many more choices and they were a little too far away to say anything other than they were probably some type of brown pipit with white outer tail feathers. It would have been nice to have a scope. Hopefully they'll stick around and next time they'll be on my side of the fence.

Near the dump I finally stopped and took a look at the flock of gulls which now number around a hundred birds. Like last winter, the majority were black-headed gulls, now all in their white winter plumage. Mixed in were a few lesser black-backed gulls and at least two Armenian gulls. I saw some large gulls flying around which were probably yellow-legged gulls, sometimes considered a subspecies of Herring Gull. I'll have to spend a little more time up at the dump.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I was able to get out about half an hour before sunset. Near the clinic a pair of common babblers were running around near a pile of brush and a black redstart was hopping around near the base of a bush next to the building.

Driving around the perimeter I saw the now nightly sight of 10,000+ rooks, with a few jackdaws mixed in, moving from the fields to their roosts near the river. There were also hundreds of Wood Pigeons coming in to roost in a row of large Eucalyptus trees.

At the laundry pond a pair of Pied Kingfishers were getting in some last minute fishing, hovering over the water and diving down for the catch. The pond also had a few coots and moorhens swimming around. All the ducks were on the far side of the pond and were too far away to identify. I did see one ferruginous duck fly by.

At the sewage pond a dozen black winged stilts were feeding as well as a pair of spur-winged plovers.

I saw half a dozen stonechats scattered singly or in pairs along a mile stretch of the fenceline. I've seen this species in England, but not in Iraq before.

The temperature is much cooler than a month ago. Last night the low was 36 degrees F and the high today was 58. Clouds will be moving in with rain later in the week so it won't get so cool at night. I think some of the insects are taking advantage of the rain and new plant growth to emerge. Last night I found a beautiful white Arctiid moth with black and red checks on its forewings. It was very distinctive and a little searching among Arctiid pictures on the internet proved it to be Utetheisa pulchella - The Crimson-speckled Moth . Interestingly enough this moth has been introduced into the West Indies, probably from Africa. Even though it gets cool at night the bugs don't mind as long as we don't have a killing frost. Mosul up north has already had frost.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I went out for a short walk at sunset yesterday. I had noticed large flocks of small birds flying into the trees across the road. It turned out to be a large roost of house sparrows all trying to jam themselves into two small trees making a racket. I'd estimate that there were about 500 birds. Last spring I saw huge flocks of house sparrows coming to roost in the reeds around one of the ponds. I spent ten minutes scanning the flock to see if something else like a Spanish Sparrow was mixed in. I only found house sparrows.

This afternoon a large brown falcon flew over our building, I didn't have my binoculars so I couldn't ID it. It might have been a Saker Falcon.

While I was walking around our building I noticed little mud tubes on the outside of a dead Eucalyptus tree. They were the covered runways of tiny white termites. The tunnels protect their bodies from the sun and from the view of predators.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

I made a quick trip down to the International (Green) Zone yesterday. On my flight down there were flocks of thousands of rooks moving around in the fields. The farmland is getting greener with the recent rains.

Our helicopter was dodging birds all the way to Baghdad. Flying over the Date Palm groves big flocks of wood pigeons and collared doves flew up from the trees into our path.

In the flooded fields there were some cattle egrets and small shorebirds.

Driving around the base today, I found that hundreds of gulls had returned to our burn pit/dump. I didn't have a chance to see what species they were but I'll have plenty of chances since they'll be here all winter. Last winter I regularly saw 500+ Black-headed gulls and the ocassional lesser black backed. The white wagtails are also all over the place poking around in the dirt.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Thanks for all the positive comments everyone has been leaving. I appreciate your interest. It motivates me to get out and write more.

The last few days have been slow on observations because I injured my knee in a soccer tournament. I'll be back out probably in a week or so.

In the mean time, I've enjoyed watching the antics of the rooks. They are much more playful than the crows and jackdaws and much more acrobatic. One sat in our big Eucalyptus tree and made a racket while we were trying to hold a formation.

Though we had some wood pigeons here all summer, large flocks have returned to our base. When I flew up north I saw thousands of wood pigeons and collared doves.

We've had a lot of rain for the last week. I'm wondering if all the water will stimulate some new plants to come up. When I was in Kuwait last winter the rains created a green haze of grasses on the dunes, which the camels like to snack on.

I drove around our perimeter road one rainy night and saw lots of little rodents of some type running around. I also saw a golden jackal and a little owl flying across the road. The jackals and foxes are constantly tunneling under our fence to the bane of the security patrol, that doesn't appreciate any holes.

Though its been colder, down to the upper 40's at night, the bats are still active. I doubt if they ever truly hibernate here since I saw them flying around in February.

Friday, November 05, 2004

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.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I had a mission out in the western desert in the Marine's area. I flew out over Lake Tharthar. I was hoping to see large numbers of waterfowl, maybe even pelicans. I only managed to see a few ducks and some grey herons. The lake is huge, the largest of 3 large saline depressions turned into floodwater control reservoirs in central Iraq. Its about 60 miles long and 20 miles across. Apparently large numbers of ducks, coots and other waterbirds winter at the lake. Other birds like Common Crane, Great Cormorant and Sandgrouse also winter in the area. As late as 1989 Houbara Bustards were still breeding in the land around the lake.

Most of the land I flew over was dry rocky desert with small plateaus and wadis.

At my mission location I saw a few birds mostly near the small islands of vegetation near former Iraqi military buildings. One building was surrounded by tall tamarisk and Eucalyptus trees. Growing next to the building were several pomagranate trees and an large olive trees. The greenery attracted white-cheeked bulbuls, an orphean warbler, a willow warbler and a large flock of house sparrows. Behind the building, along a gravel road I found half a dozen crested larks running around and calling accompanied by 3 white wagtails. In a pile of brush two Magpies were resting. In the surounding area I saw a northern wheatear as well as a Black Redstart.

On the high walls of the wadi I observed a black kite cruising along. I also saw a small dark streaked falcon which may have been a Hobby.

We got some steady rain early in the morning. On my flight back I saw the wet sand where some of the small washes had flowing water hours before.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

This morning I spent an hour watching the lunar eclipse. We were fortunate in Iraq to see totality around 5:23AM when it was still dark. The moon turned a dark reddish orange which was better seen without my binoculars, which have a lens coating that block some red light. The eclipsed moon faded into the brightening morning sky while still a few degrees above the horizon.

The rooks have officially arrived in numbers. These very social crows will be spending the winter. At dawn for the past two mornings, great scraggly flocks of rooks mixed with a few jackdaws pour over our base moving from their roosts to the freshly plowed fields. Around noon I saw a huge kettle of several hundred Rooks circling upward in a thermal. For a few minutes it was a perfect cylinder of circling black birds 50 feet wide and a couple hundred feet high. A rook tornado.

I saw another butterfly that escaped my identification. I thought it would be easy because it was so distinctive, a large black and lime green spotted one. In the fleeting moment I saw it, it reminded me of Graphium agamemnon which I collected in New Guinea 14 years ago. I may still ID it, but I've been through the butterfly lists of Iraq, Iran and Turkey to no avail. Too bad I don't have a good field guide for butterflies. My method is to go through the list one by one in the appropriate families and type the Latin name into Google image search.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Waiting at the starting line for the Army Ten Miler race to begin, I looked up and saw a flock of 6 Rooks slowly flying over. These are the first ones I've seen since this spring. Soon hundreds more will follow to spend their winter in the fields around our base and picking through our dumpsters looking for food.

My visit to the Laundry pond yielded only a few birds, a single little egret, a coot, a pair of little grebes, several ferruginous ducks and a small flock of mallards.

I saw 5 or 6 species of dragonfly. There were a couple of large blue Aeshnids the size of a Green Darner, smaller red dragonflies, and a tiny gray species with a wingspan of about 2 inches.

I saw a migrating Red Admiral flying near the pond. Like the Painted Ladies that I saw this spring they are found throughout the northern hemisphere in both Eurasia and North America.

Since the weather got colder a few days ago the geckos have not been out. Last night I did find more macro moths than usual at our lights. Small crambids, a small green noctuid and a large moth that looked like a catocaline noctuid.

Monday, October 18, 2004

This morning I had to go to a meeting at one of the high security buildings. For the last two weeks I've seen a bunch of small hairstreak butterflies flying around one of the bushes outside. Because of the location I can't catch one to ID it and I can't bring in a camera to photograph it. The butterflies have tiger striped underwings and little black tails on their back wings.

A new bird I saw a couple of days ago was a male Redstart hopping around in the tamarisk trees near our building. It flew down to the ground and was running around under some old boards.

When we were out on our patio a few nights ago a barn owl flew in circles over us screeching. The noise flushed a couple of wood pigeons out of our Eucalyptus tree.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I finally went out again after a weeks hiatus. On the other side of post at the sewage pond I saw the usual black-winged stilts plus a pair of spotted redshanks and an active green sandpiper bobbing its tail as it fed along the shoreline.

The laundry pond was very slow, probably because it was the middle of the day. I saw a coot and a few moorhens swimming among the reeds and a group of 4 little grebes loitering in the middle of the pond. The engineers will be pumping some of the water out to make room for the runoff when the rains begin. The laundry pond is one of three stormwater basins on post. The problem is our laundry also pumps 120,000 gallons a day into the pond. If things remain as they are, the pond will overflow and flood part of the road. It may be good for the birds because they will be creating another shallow lake in an open field area, which the birds might like.

I've been seeing some small light orange butterflies that seem to be migrating through. They look like they are pierids, relatives of the cabbage white. I also have been seeing some Plain Tiger butterflies (Danaus chrysippus) flying through.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

In the last week I've only got out a few times. This morning I rode one of the guy's bikes down to the laundry pond. Usually it takes me about half and hour each way if I walk so it was a big improvement.

Today was overcast in the morning. It even sprinkled for a minute or so. The temperature was very comfortable in the 80's.

The pond was very quiet today only 4 ducks. 2 Garganey and 2 Mallards. A single white-winged black tern was flying over the water feeding. A pair of coots, some moorhens, a little grebe and a single Little Egret rounded out the waterbirds.

I did see four fuzzy black moorhen chicks running around amongst the reeds. That was the high point.

I saw a few other birds perched on the fence surrounding the pond. About a dozen blue-cheeked bee-eaters, a common babbler and the ubiquitous white-cheeked bulbuls.

A few days ago I stopped at my new spot, the water treatment pond. I observed a pair of ringed plovers, a new species for me, a common redshank, two dozen black-winged stilts and a yellow wagtail.

The treatment pond should be good throughout the fall and winter because many shorebirds winter in Iraq. I remember coming north from Kuwait in February and seeing large numbers feeding in the little ponds by the side of the highway.

Now that it is getting cooler some of the plants are starting to flower. One large bush I passed the other day was covered with tiny green flowers. Hundreds of tiny moths were fluttering around the bush and feeding on the flowers.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The migrants continue to come through. My Iraq list will soon be over 100 species.

On Thursday I had to drive a few soldiers to the helipad to get them on a flight. I took 45 minutes extra to check a few spots for birds.

On the far side of the base there is a small pond next to a modular water-treatment plant. The pond is about 1/2 an acre and was dug this spring. Now some reeds have grown up around it and I've started noticing some shorebirds, mostly stilts.

When I checked it out there was a nice selection of shorebirds including a life bird for me. There were a dozen black-winged stilts, two spur-winged plovers, a common sandpiper and my new life bird, a great snipe. All were very cooperative and I drove my humvee right up to the bank and watched the birds from 20 feet away.

At the laundry pond in addition to the usual species I saw another new species, a group of three ferruginous ducks. The males are all reddish brown with a white belly and white on their wings when they fly. I also saw some sand martins (Bank Swallows) for the first time in Iraq.

Driving around the perimeter I checked the flooded areas near the fence for more shorebirds. I turned up some red-wattled plovers and my third new bird of the day a white-tailed plover.

Some passerines were perched on the fence. I saw a flock of common babblers, a migrant spotted flycatcher and my final new bird of the day an isabelline wheatear.

September 23rd Birdlist 1230-1330

Little Grebe - 4
Great-crested Grebe - 1
Little Egret - 4
Mallard - 3
Northern Shoveler - 2
Marbled Teal - 4
Ferruginous Duck - 3
Moorhen - 2
Black-winged Stilt - 12
Spur-winged Plover - 3
Red-wattled Plover - 4
White-tailed Plover - 1
Great Snipe - 1
Common Sandpiper - 1
White-winged Black Tern - 10
Rock Dove - 15
Wood Pigeon - 4
Collared Dove - 6
Pied Kingfisher - 1
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 4
Crested Lark - 2
Bank Swallow - 10
White-cheeked Bulbul - 3
Isabelline Wheatear - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Common Babbler - 5
Hooded Crow - 3
House Sparrow - 30

Monday, September 20, 2004

Today we had a nice wind out of the north. Around 10AM I saw the first of 4 species of migrating raptors, unfortunately I could only positively identify one of them, a Eurasian Kestrel. I saw an Eagle, most likely a Spotted Eagle, a buteo of some sort, and an accipiter, either a Eurasian Sparrowhawk or a Levant Sparrowhawk.

I sat on our roof for about an hour hoping to see some more raptors. Just as I was about to leave I looked up and saw a flock of 45 White Storks riding a thermal, never once flapping their wings as they spiraled up higher and higher.

I went down to the pond as the sun was going down. Two Ruppell's Foxes were walking near the reeds. They were sand colored with larger ears than a red fox and a white tip to their tail. This was the first good look I had of this species. I'd seen a few fleeting glimpses before when they crossed the road in the headlights of my truck. They continued walking until they disappeared behind the back edge of the pond, sniffing around looking for something to eat.

The migrant waterfowl have really started showing up in numbers, I've seen up to 100 on the pond. Mallards, Garganey, Shoveler, and Marbled Teal. Other birds I saw near the pond were coot, moorhen, purple swamphen and a few Gray Wagtails walking around near the water.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I've been pretty busy in the last few days. I did manage to stop by the pond a few times. There seem to be less terns this week but the little egret numbers continue to increase. I counted 37 one day. I saw a small flock of Garganey, the first so far. All were either females or drakes in eclipse plumage. There also have been a few coot, some more mallards and marbled teal.

The large lakes in central Iraq have traditionally been the wintering grounds of large numbers of waterfowl. I read somewhere that 30,000 coot were sold one winter for food in the markets of Fallujah, which is nestled between two large lakes.

Recently I've had some fantastic views of Hoopoe, certainly one of the most unique birds I've seen in the area. When they fly they almost look like a broad-winged woodpecker with their striking black and white wings. Their body is a buff color and they have a crest that they can move up an down. One day a Hoopoe landed about 50 feet from me next to the edge of the pond and I spent 10 minutes watching it hop around in the mud. catching insects and every so often stopping, cocking its head to one side and erecting its crest in its full glory. Some of the local people believe that the hoopoe or Hudhud has magical powers, its bones are used in potions and magical charms.

Yesterday, while some of our soldiers were in one of the perimeter guard towers they saw a mongoose. It was a small brown one I'm not sure which species.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The migrants have begun coming through in earnest. I'll try to get out as often as I can during the fall migration. You never know what might show up. This morning before I had to be at work I took a couple mile walk down to the usual laundry pond. I saw three different species of shrikes!

I found where the Little Owl has been roosting. When I approached, it flew into a tiny slot in one of the large cement fuel bunkers that we have on base. When I looked in the hole it was apparent by all the feathers that the owl spends a lot of time there. The Little owls are often out during the day and often perch in the same place day after day. I've seen this one a couple times in the exact same place, sitting on a light pole.

The water in the pond is lower than it has been in a while. The vegetation is overgrown and makes it difficult to see the shoreline. Still quite a few terns feeding in the pond. Almost twenty Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows along with a single Squacco Heron. For the first time I saw Mallards in the pond as well as a small group of Marbled Teal.

There were more bee-eaters than usual. Flying straight up in the air then diving down to their perches.

In the trees near the pond I saw a pair of Wood Warblers and a group of Common Babblers were running around amongst the Syrian Mesquite. They reminded me of some of the Desert Thrashers in the Western US.

So far since I've been in the Middle East I've seen 80 species of birds. Of that number 43 have been new ones for me. Most of the others I had seen in Europe before.

Yesterday I photographed a large Lycosid spider that one of the guys caught. I saw the same species in Kuwait. The body is about 1 inch long and sandy brown with dark chocolate markings. The one in Kuwait was very aggressive rearing up and waving its front legs. The one I had yesterday didn't show the same behavior, it just wanted to escape.

9/3/2004 0700-0930

Little Grebe - 3
Squacco Heron - 1
Little Egret - 18
Mallard - 7
Marbled Teal - 4
Moorhen - 5
Black-winged Stilt - 1
Red-wattled Plover - 1
White-winged Black Tern - 10
Whiskered Tern - 2
Rock Dove - 8
Wood Pigeon - 35
Collared Dove - 6
Laughing Dove - 1
Little Owl - 1
Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater - 15
Crested Lark - 3
White-cheeked Bulbul - 7
Graceful Prinia - 2
Acrocephalus sp - 1
Wood Warbler - 2
Common Babbler - 5
Isabelline Shrike - 1
Southern Gray Shrike - 1
Woodchat Shrike - 1
Hooded Crow - 2
House Sparrow - 30


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Birding the Real Babylon

My four day trip to some other bases was very productive for birding and other nature observations.

On the helicopter ride to Baghdad I saw dozens of cattle egrets flying over the fields and canals. There were also groups of Spur-winged and Red-wattled Plovers in the fields. We were flying below 100 feet most of the time so the sightseeing was fantastic.

I stayed the first day at a palace complex near Baghdad with a few large lakes. I stayed in a trailer, not in the palace.

Waking up on Friday morning I walked a three mile loop around the large lake. Unlike the salt ponds of my base these lakes were fresh and had fish in them. In the early morning fish were jumping out in the middle of the lake. In a small canal leading into the lake I watched a black and white Pied Kingfisher hover over the water, dive down and catch a small fish, then fly back to its perch over the water and flip the fish in its bill and down its throat. A couple white-cheeked bulbuls chased each other in the trees lining the lake.

My first new bird of my trip was a Pygmy Cormorant. I saw a few throughout the day flying back and forth over the lake.

On the far side of the lake there was an area of scrub with a canal running through it. I saw a moorhen walking near the water and a few Graceful Prinia hopping around in the bushes. A pair of Hooded Crows flew over me and landed on the perimeter fence making a croaking call.

A few large gulls flew over. They were probably Lesser Black-backed but I don't know for sure.

The same day we made the trek down to a base near the ruins of ancient Babylon. The trip down was frustrating from a birding perspective. I saw many shorebirds in the shallow ponds lining the highway, but none that I could ID. There were peeps, probably some types of stints, larger redshank sized birds and some Tringa species. The place I stayed was right next to the Euphrates river, which is significantly smaller than the Tigris. The camp was dotted with hundreds of date palms, each with huge bunches of ripening orange fruit. There were also Olive and Pomagranate Trees and thick reeds next to the river. In the garden I found Lantana flowering. We ate dinner on the river. The Polish soldiers threw pieces of bread into the river and big schools of fish, probably some type of cyprinid, made the water look like it was boiling as they all rushed to grab a piece.

As I ate, I watched Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying back and forth across the river, which was only about 50 meters wide. A few white-winged black terns picked food off the surface of the water as they flew up river.

After dinner I drove up to the top of an artificial hill where Saddam had built a large palace overlooking the ruins of Babylon. The sun was setting and I started noticing large bats pouring out of the upper floors. I made my way to the top floors and went into a large marble floored room. Out of a crack in the wall many of these large bats were scrurrying out, then taking flight inside the room. Eventually they would find a window and fly outside. Other bats were coming from a crack in the facade directly to the outside. I thought the bats looked like tomb bats. They may have been Naked-bellied Tomb Bats.

Because of the proximity to the river, the lights attracted more insects than at my base camp. I found tiny white caddisflies a few millimeters long and small white Mayflies the same color. Its been a long time since I found an insect that was an entirely new order for me. Among the lights at Babylon I found one. I small brown insect that I first thought might be some type of Plecoptera or Neuroptera quickly revealed itself to be a webspinner (Embioptera). Though some members of this order are found in the warmer parts of the US, I've never seen one. I brought it inside and made quite a fuss about it. The people left in the clinic thought I was crazy.

The next morning I birded in the ruins of Babylon proper. My first new bird at Babylon was an Iraq Babbler which sat obligingly on a fence for a few minutes before diving into the reeds. In the same area I saw a few young white-cheeked bulbuls that where just fledging. A pond near an amphitheater from Alexander the Great's time had a black-crowned night heron, a few little egrets, pied kingfishers and black-winged stilts.

Near the ruins I saw my first Laughing Dove walking around near the base of a date tree. I really enjoyed the combination of the lush surroundings, the birds and the history of Babylon, not to mention that the base is much safer than mine, almost never getting attacked.

I returned to the Baghdad area and took another walk to the scrubby area near the lake. I was treated to a great view of an immature Isabelline Shrike hunting insects along a dirt berm. I also saw two male Black Francolin, large chicken sized gamebirds, chasing each other around in the scrub. When I got too close to them they flew a short distance on their broad, short wings and scrurried away into the brush. The birds were spectacular with a black belly with large with spots on the side and a deep chestnut collar and a white cheekpatch.

Near one of the lakes I saw 8 pied kingfishers perched on the top of a date palm, it may have been the parent birds with their recently fledged young. In the same lake I saw a turtle, which I didn't see for long enough to identify and lots of large carp.

On the helicopter ride back to my base I passed over some fields I think may have been growing rice. I saw more cattle egrets and a not very satisfying view of a purple heron.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Soon I'll be going to a couple of new locations for me so I hope to see some new birds and other wildlife. One has a couple lakes and the other is on the Euphrates River so they should be productive.

My time outside in the last week has been limited but I've seen a few interesting things around. There are still large numbers of terns in the laundry pond, but I was speeding past in my truck so I couldn't spend anytime looking for other birds. On my drive around I also saw a dozen black-winged stilts and a magpie.

Back at our building the gecko eggs must have hatched recently. We have quite a few tiny little lizards hanging around the lights hunting for small insects.

At the lights I'm still seeing antlions and owlflies along with an assortment of small carabid beetles, tiny homoptera, crickets, grasshoppers and occasionally a large dragonfly spends the night.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I'm back in Iraq. I got out for a little while on Saturday and visited the usual places. One of the ponds had over 100 white-winged black terns all either happily feeding over the water or roosting on some little islands in the middle. No migrant shorebirds were seen but I did see the resident black-winged stilts as well as half a dozen Little Egrets. At one of the other ponds I saw a Turtle Dove, the first one I've seen in Iraq. It should be a common breeder in Central Iraq but I have a feeling there are a few common birds that I'm missing because of my limited mobility.

The Syrian Mesquite plants that were just green feathery sprouts in March are now one to two foot bushes with fat orange pods all over the top of them. In the spring I saw some old blackened pods and thought they were insect galls. I found out this is an invasive species on the federal government's watch list.

At one of the ponds I startled a Golden Jackal that was drinking at pipe draining into the sulfur smelling water. I was only about 20 feet away when it saw me. It ran about 50 feet and stopped, turning to get a good look at me. It was the first Jackal I have seen in the middle of the day.

8/14/2004 1500-1700

Little Grebe - 2
Cattle Egret - 5
Little Egret - 6
Moorhen - 3
Black-winged Stilt - 4
Spur-winged Plover - 1
White-winged Black Tern - Approx 100
Rock Dove - 200
Wood Pigeon - 5
Collared Dove - 4
Turtle Dove - 1
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 3
Crested Lark - 1
Barn Swallow - 4
White-cheeked Bulbul - 1
Magpie - 1
Hooded Crow - 1
House Sparrow - 10

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Just to let everyone know, I've taken a 6200 mile change in venue for a few weeks. I'm back in the northeast US for R+R.

My observations in the last week have been all North American in nature, I'll be back in Iraq soon enough.

Yesterday, I sat on my back deck listening to an Eastern Wood Pewee and a Red-eyed Vireo singing in the woods behind my house. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird has been frequenting the flowers. The feeder is playing host to White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinch, House Sparrows, Tufted Titmice and a Carolina Wren. I've seen a few Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts flying above the house.

My kids and I took a drive yesterday and stopped by a large field and watched a Coyote padding around.

We also took a hike in the woods a few days ago and found flowering Indian Pipes. We also collected a big variety of mushrooms and brought them home to make spore prints. The goldenrod have started to flower, a sure sign that summer is half over.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Another short visit to the laundry pond. A pickup truck was circling the pond, which flushed some birds out of the reeds and into the open water.

There was a group of about 20 little grebes congregated on one end of the pond. I haven't seen so many of these birds congregated before. Other birds that seemed to be flushed out by the truck were a few moorhens, a single purple swamphen, and a pair of marbled teals.

Also out in the open water I saw 16 white-winged black terns feeding. From what I've observed the terns are here mostly in the morning and evening. During the heat of the day I think they fly back to the Tigris river which is about 2 miles away.

On the far side of the pond two gulls were swimming in the water. Its been several months since I've seen any gulls. I think they were black-headed in their fall/winter plumage but they were too far away to be sure.
Near the edge of the pond I saw a beautiful butterfly that turned out to be a blue pansy (Junonia orithya).  Several subspecies are found from the Middle-East through South Asia to Australia.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

This morning I had a relaxing walk down to the pond. We had cloud cover, which was unusual. It kept the temperature below 90 until I got back around 8:45 AM. Often it is already 100+ by then.

On the way down I stopped to examine a type of plant I haven't yet identified. They started coming up in late April and are still going strong. They grow into fairly large bushes, up to 5 feet tall and have semisucculent leaves. They produce small fruit that look like tiny watermelons that split open into four sections when ripe revealing red flesh with little black seeds. One I saw today was covered with small red hemiptera (true bugs) that looked like box elder bugs. Almost all the fruit seem to have a small caterpillar living inside.

fruit bush
iraq flower
iraqi fruit
Hemiptera feeding on fruit
fruit bug

As I approached the pond a little owl flew up on a light pole about 50 feet from me. I approached closer and it moved to a cement bunker. I watched it for about 5 minutes before I moved on. It seemed very interested in a flock of house sparrows nearby.

The pond was active. A couple of Black-crowned night herons were flying around. Terns were feeding. There was also a pair of squacco herons in the reeds. A kingfisher and bee-eaters were perched in the trees next to the pond.

On the edge I saw a few stilts and a common sandpiper.

Bird List 0630-0845 7/10/2004
Little Grebe - 4
Black-crowned Night Heron - 2
Squacco Heron - 2
Cattle Egret - 4
Moorhen - 6
Coot - 1
Black-winged Stilt - 2
Red-wattled Plover - 2
Common Sandpiper - 1
Little Tern - 2
Whiskered Tern - 1
White-winged Black Tern - 6
Rock Dove - 2
Wood Pigeon - 8
Collared Dove - 4
Little Owl - 1
White-breasted Kingfisher - 1
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 5
Crested Lark - 4
Barn Swallow - 2
White-cheeked Bulbul - 2
Hooded Crow - 3
House Sparrow - 30

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

My mobility has been reduced because we aren't allowed to drive alone anymore. Too many people were getting into accidents on post, most of them from backing up a truck without an assistant. My argument that I only go forward when driving alone didn't fly.

As a result I decided to walk to the pond after a meeting. It was 115 degrees and I had all my gear on, which adds 5 degrees. I was completely exhausted after about a 4 mile walk. It would be easy to get heatstroke here. I brought plenty of water with me.

The pond had four white-winged terns feeding. One was starting to get its fall plumage. Its face was starting to turn white. I had excellent looks at a
whiskered tern and a blue-cheeked bee-eater.

The young black-winged stilts have now fledged and are adult size with darker plumage.

I saw one little egret feeding on the far side of the pond. The first one I've seen here. I saw some in the southern marshes in February. Soon I should start seeing the first of the southbound migrant shorebirds.

The resident wood pigeons are still nesting in the big eucalyptus trees.

On the bug front I'm starting to hear some different things that I haven't yet found the source. One I am hearing at night is probably a katydid of some sort, one during day may be a cicada or it may be some sort of cricket.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

There are a few birds I thought I would have seen by now, but haven't. Chief among them is the White Stork. It could be that my location just doesn't have good habitat.

I was talking to one of our local guys and quizzing him on the Arabic names of various birds and animals. He said the White Stork is called Lak Lak. They nest on the tops of several mosques in a nearby town. As in the west the stork is associated with bringing babies.

Some of the guys started singing me a local song about the stork, a mother and a baby.

A few nights ago I found some huge antlions at our light, they were about 4 inches long. I've also seen another smaller species the same size as the ones I see back at home. There aren't very large numbers of macro moths certainly nowhere near the diversity we see in New England, a few noctuids, some small pyralids, and a handful of geometrids. It could just be my location, a very disturbed man-made wasteland of gravel and sand with small islands of vegetation. I bet the vegetated areas down near the river are better.

Today in my spin around post I saw a Kestrel.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I got out for four hours on Saturday from 1730-2130.
I started near the north pond where a couple black-winged stilts came flying out of the reeds. There were a few dead sea sparrows flying around in the small tamarisk trees near the edge of the reeds. The temperature was over 110 when I started out. As I was watching some wood pigeons a pair of F-16's came tearing down the runway with their afterburners going. The noise was incredible as they quickly disappeared into the sky. The birds were unfazed.

Along the perimeter I saw an unusual number of crested larks and a few red-wattled plovers in a recently flooded field.

Eventually I made it down to my main birding spot, the laundry pond. I spent the next hour or so watching the activity there. As sunset approached the birds got more active. Half a dozen black-winged stilts chased eachother all over the pond calling like terns the whole time.

I walked up to a part of the fence that comes close to the water. Two fuzzy black moorhen chicks ran into the reeds when they saw me. A little grebe with its dark chestnut head poked around in the pond weeds.

Up on the shore a pair of magpies walked slowly around catching insects. I thought the magpies had all migrated out of the area since I hadn't seen them since early May.

Out in the pond I had fantastic views of a whiskered tern wheeling around and picking food of some sort out of the water.

I finally picked out a pair of red-rumped swallows after scrutinizing hundreds of barn swallows since this spring.

During the time I was there cattle egrets started coming in to roost in the reeds in groups of 2 or three.

Near sunset I went back to the north part of base. I saw a pair of marbled teal fly in just as it was getting dark.

After dark I drove the perimeter road and saw more jackals and foxes. I also saw a sandy colored cat with long legs and a short tail that I think was a jungle cat.

Little Grebe - 3
Cattle Egret - 30
Marbled Teal - 2
Moorhen - 4
Black-winged Stilt - 15
Spur-winged Plover - 2
Red-wattled Plover - 8
Whiskered Tern - 2
Rock Dove - 40
Wood Pigeon - 25
Collared Dove - 15
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 1
Crested Lark - 15
Red-rumped Swallow - 2
Barn Swallow - 30
Magpie - 2
Hooded Crow - 2
House Sparrow - 25
Dead Sea Sparrow - 5

Saturday, June 19, 2004

I've been out birding several times since I last wrote. I usually take the long way home after my Monday morning meeting on the other side of post.

Last week at the Laundry pond I saw three species of tern. Two (White-winged Tern and Whiskered Tern) I had seen before. The third was a little tern (Sterus albifrons), which also nest in the marshes and river valley of Iraq. This was the first new bird I've seen in about a month. Actually this same species lives in the US close to where I live.

On my way down to the clinic today I noticed that one of the date palms next to the road has a great load of fruit. The fruit need the extreme summer heat to ripen. This usually happens in July and August. The Iraqis call the Date Palm - Nakal. It holds a special place in their national identity. The palm fronds are a common symbol on money, on government seals, etc. Date groves are everywhere in the river valleys, the trees grow quite tall (up to 30 meters). The scientific name is Phoenix dactylifera, like the mythical bird rising out of the ashes, millions of these trees rise out of the scorching Iraqi countryside. There is a saying that a date palm must have its feet in running water and its head in the fire of the sky.

Twenty years ago Iraq dominated the world market. There were once 30 million trees in the country. Each female tree can produce 150 pounds of fruit a season. The combined effects of the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam's draining of the southern marshes reduced the number of trees by half.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The summer heat has come. The high temperature is between 105 and 122 during the day. The white-cheeked bulbuls don't seem to be bothered in the least by the heat. They sing, chase each other around and hop from branch to branch in the tamarisk trees.

Last weekend I had a mission in another location. I was hoping to see some new birds on my trip across the Tigris and out into the desert. Nothing new, but I did see about 10 birds each of both European and Indian Rollers. They seemed to like roosting on the powerlines next to the road. We also had a quite a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters swooping over the fields.

The wood pigeons are still to be found everywhere. They have a funny bounding flight that they sometimes do. Its almost like they're doing it for fun. They power up at a 45 degree angle then swoop down with wings bent downward. They repeat this so the flight path is in the shape of a sine wave (or cosine depending where you start).

While I was out in the desert I watched a crested lark hovering about 100 feet off the ground singing its heart out. The amazing thing is that it kept it up for almost 10 minutes, slowly drifting in its hover. Finally it came flying down and rested on the ground near me.

The camp that I visited was distinctive in that it was so quiet compared to where I usually live. No din of a generator around every corner and no light pollution from the street lights. I sat outside for a long time watching the stars. I saw 3 shooting stars.

Back here at the home base last night some of us were out on the back patio when a pair of barn owls flew into a large dead Eucalyptus next to our building. Someone brought out a bug zapper because there were a few mosquitoes. 220 volts certainly packs a punch but I don't think it got any mosquitoes. Mostly small flying ants and little tan flying termites were the victims. The UV light did attract a spectacular owlfly, the first I've ever seen. It had green patches lining its abdomen, giant eyes, and antennae with little clubs on the end.

I've got to get out and drive the roads at night more. A few nights ago, around 3 AM I had to get a few of our soldiers who came in from Baghdad on a helicopter. After I dropped them off, I took a ride. I saw 2 jackals skulking up the road and an unidentified fox crossed in front of me. I also saw a long-eared hedgehog scurrying around by the side of the road. It looked like a prickly little white hovercraft. Its feet moving so fast it looked like it was floating above the ground.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Here's my list for an hour and a half outing on May 29th between 1800 and 1930.

Cattle Egret-4
Moorhen - 3
Purple Swamphen - 1
Black-winged Stilt - 10
Spur-winged Plover - 1
Rock Dove - 10
Wood Pigeon - 25
Collared Dove - 15
Crested Lark -1
Barn Swallow - 20
White-cheeked Bulbul - 4
Hooded Crow - 2
Dead Sea Sparrow - 4
House Sparrow - 8

I spent most of my time at one of the small marshes. The marsh is in a depression. I think all the ponds on post were dug as drainage ponds. As I stood on the edge of the depression looking down on the marsh a group of stilts came flying around me. Their calls sounded like terns. One of the stilts appeared to be sitting on eggs in an open area of the marsh. Even though I was over 250 meters from the sitting bird the other stilts were really agitated and swooped low over my head and continued to call. I went down into the marsh and got a close look at a Dead Sea Sparrow. Once I was down in the marsh the Stilts calmed down. Maybe they didn't like me silhouetted against the sky.

I may soon get off post so hopefully I'll see a few new things.

Friday, May 28, 2004

I've had a few opportunities to drive around the base in the last week.

The ponds remain the focal points of activity. The laundry pond is always good for a few things. Last time I was there a purple swamp hen flew from one side of the pond to another, its bright red legs dangling loosely underneath it. There was also a little grebe poking around in the reeds. A few White-winged terns are sticking around, but I haven't seen any evidence of nesting. The standby moorhen can usually be found patroling the bank and I often see the smyrna kingfisher.

A couple days ago I saw a spotted flycatcher hawking for bugs in one of the tamarisk trees behind our building. It's the first new bird I've seen in a few weeks.

A few notable birds I've seen flying over are a lesser kestrel and some unidentified swifts (probably Common Swifts).

Tomorrow I'm going to take some pictures of the plants that have sprung up recently. A few species just pop out of the baked ground and become large plants in a matter of a week or two. There's really a good variety around here. Many are thorny or semi-succulent. It's a good idea to have some water conservation strategy if you plant to bake in the Iraqi sun.

I spent some time catching insects under the street lights. I found a small brown tiger beetle, some large earwigs, small brown grasshoppers, and large numbers of small black tenebrionid beetles.

I showed some of our local workers the insects and other arthropods I've collected. They were impressed by the camel spider and promised to bring me some critters tomorrow. I told them not to bring me any snakes since they would probably chop it up first.

Friday, May 21, 2004

A few more observations from the last week.

Yesterday someone produced another thread snake for me. I guess they must be pretty common around here. I talked to one of our Sergeants this morning who found one under a sandbag this week.

We also found a baby bat in the porto-let. Who knows how it got in there. It sure scared the person who found it.

I should have a few scorpions soon. I got a call from another camp. They told me that they have a large black one for me.

Friday, May 14, 2004

This week most of my nature observations are vicarious in nature.

Several of our personnel had to go to the far south for a site visit. One of our captains had to fly back by helicopter, our preferred mode of travel. Much safer than driving these days.

To avoid being a target from ground fire they fly less than 100 feet off the ground. You are closer, but you are a target for only a split second as you zip overhead.

On the way the helicopter hit a bird. The bird travelled through one of the windows near the pilot's feet and into the helicopter.

When they landed the pilot told everyone that he had a little problem with the Iraqi airforce during the flight.

Everyone took pictures. The bird was a male pin-tailed sandgrouse. I'd like to see one alive, maybe later this year.

Also at the same camp in the south there is basically a huge stinking cesspool in the middle of camp. Apparently it is not devoid of life as our Battalion Commander found several 3 to 4 inch giant waterbugs in the sink. They must have been attracted to the light.

Busted Eye 1

Dead bird

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Today we had a sandstorm. The trees were whipping around and clouds of sand were rolling through. I found a broken wood pigeon egg at the base of a Tamarisk tree, the wind having thrown it out. The pigeon was still sitting on the nest so there were probably more.

Out back I watched two house sparrows and two white-cheeked bulbuls fruitlessly chasing a large white moth.

I need to get out again soon.

Monday, May 10, 2004

I met with two of our doctors on Sunday morning at 0630 to take a short walk around. We saw both Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves building nests.

Walking down to the laundry pond we saw some White-cheeked bulbuls as well as a couple of hooded crows.

At the pond there were a few white-winged terns, a black-crowned night heron, a purple swamphen, and some blue-cheeked bee-eaters.

Walking back to the clinic we saw some antlion pits. I dug one up and it looked like it was almost ready to pupate.

Next to the clinic two Rufous Bush-robins scampered around in a mulberry bush.

Today one of our guys brought a camel spider back from one of our outlying bases for me. Actually there were originally 3 camel spiders, however they don't play well together and there was only one left. I have been hearing more reports of camel spiders in the past week. Mostly small ones. I think they are becoming more active in the heat.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

A few days ago I got to go down to the Tigris River to help take water samples. The birding was good and I managed to see a few new birds.

The dirt road down to the river passed by some clay banks. There were holes which I assume were made by all the Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters that were flying around. On the telephone wires I saw several Indian Rollers and a Smyrna Kingfisher. I also saw a Hoopoe flying near the road. They are incredibly cool birds.

The river is lined with reeds and is about 1/4 of a mile wide. The water was very muddy looking. On the river I saw about 25 white-winged terns flying low over the water. Also I saw a night heron slowly flying upriver.

A small, spry bird emerged out of the reeds next to me and hopped around on a log. It was plain colored with a rufous tail that it held upright like a wren. This new bird for me turned out to be a Rufous Bush-robin. The other new bird I saw was a European Roller flying low over me.

We returned to the base and took a boat out into the middle of a drainage pond. The pond had dissolved solids of over 1000 parts per million. Everything we put in the water had a white residue on it.

As I dipped the scoop in the water I came up with sea monkeys, err Brine Shrimp. The marines who were operating the zodiac thought I was pretty weird when I exclaimed "yesss, sea monkeys". The little red brine shrimp may be the only animals in the pond. There were also some mats of blue-green algae.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Saturday I took a late afternoon trip around the base. I started at 1800 and went until dark around 2000.

I took the loop road around the perimeter down to the Laundry pond. A couple of the Philippino KBR guys came over and asked what I was looking at. I let them look at the purple swamp hen through my binoculars. They seemed amused at me wanting to look at the birds.

Also at the pond were a few blue-cheeked bee-eaters and 2 red-backed shrikes.

I continued around the perimeter seeing more bee-eaters, a common babbler, and a Smyrna Kingfisher.

At the second pond I found a magpie hopping around near the water, some red-wattled plovers in the field, and a few Dead Sea Sparrows carrying nesting material.

As I came back on the road I passed one of the many large cement bunkers here on base. On the top of the bunker twenty feet from me was a Little Owl. It flew away when I got out of my truck, but I came back at dusk and it was sitting in the same place.

My final stop was a marsh near the north part of post. This was the same area that I had seen a Jackal the day before. I planned to park next to the marsh and wait for sunset hoping to get a better look at the Jackal.

I saw quite a few birds waiting for the jackal. Bee-eaters flew back and forth making churring sounds, a couple common swifts flew over the reeds, a group of cattle egrets flew over, and some black-winged stilts flew around in the marsh.

Just before sunset, the jackal poked its head out from behind the berm and trotted out into the open. It came within 50 feet of me and stopped, sensing something wrong. I was able to study it for a few minutes before it ran off into the marsh.

Here's my birdlist for the evening:
Cattle Egret - 8
Purple Swamphen - 1
Black-winged Stilt - 10
Spur-winged Plover - 1
Red-wattled Plover - 2
Rock Dove - 5
Wood Pigeon - 30
Collared Dove - 10
Little Owl - 1
Common Swift - 2
Smyrna Kingfisher - 1
Blue-cheeked Kingfisher - 10
Barn Swallow - 20
White-cheeked Bulbul - 4
Common Babbler - 1
Red-backed Shrike - 2
Magpie - 5
Hooded Crow - 1
House Sparrow - 10
Dead Sea Sparrow - 3

Friday, April 30, 2004

Tomorrow I'll be able to go out for a few hours of birding.

I've had a few good observations in the last couple days.

Yesterday, the preventive med guys showed me a tiny snake that someone had killed and brought to them. It was pink and only about 6 inches long. I ID'd it as a thread snake (Typhlops vermicularis). These snakes are usually found underground and look for all the world like an earthworm. Under the dissecting scope I could see tiny little flat scales on its body. Apparently at one of our outlying units the've been finding several of these little guys. I'd like to find one alive.

Unfortunately all the snakes I've seen have been dead. The medics down the street killed a large ratsnake (Coluber sp.). It was gray with dark markings on its back and head.

Since we got here, some of the soldiers have been telling me about some fox-like animals that they often see at dusk near one of the ponds. Because I usually have to work in the evening I haven't had a chance to go and look for them at the right time.

Yesterday I drove up to the pond and immediately found a small Common Jackal (Canis aureus) running around. It was a little smaller than a Red Fox with a significantly smaller tail. The coat was dark brown. It spent a few minutes trotting around close to me then disappeared into the reeds.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Yesterday I took a long walk around base. The weather was hot and I didn't leave until after lunch time. For the first half hour I saw the usual suspects around. Collared Doves, a couple remaining wood pigeons, numerous house sparrows, and the odd hooded crow. Around one of the water towers, there was a flock of rock doves.

Along one of the sidestreets near the airstrip I found a pair of old world warblers hopping around in some large trees. One of them was an Icterine warbler the other was some other non-descript type of Hippolais species, possibly an olivaceous warbler.

While I was thumbing through my field guide, a lady came up to me and introduced herself as a fellow birder. She's working here on base as a DoD civilian I think. We chatted a bit about what we've seen here and I gave her my name and building number. She said a white-cheeked bulbul sings outside her window every morning.

At the pond behind the laundry, the water was higher than I'd seen before. 2 purple gallinules, a few moorhens and a coot were walking around out of the water eating plants. A couple spur-winged plovers were flying around and a squacco heron flew over me.

I had two new birds. Out in the pond five white-winged terns were cruising around the reeds. Some landed on the emergent vegetation in the middle of the pond. These birds breed in his area, so the terns might be here to stay. The other new bird was a spectacular white-breasted or Smyrna Kingfisher. It was very obliging, perching on the reeds in front of me. It had a big red stork-like bill, a reddish brown head and blue wings, back and tail.

I think I walked around 4 or 5 miles. I had all my gear on and I was completely soaked with sweat when I got back.

Another thing I've been observing is the migrating painted lady butterflies. Both yesterday and today there have been huge numbers of these butterflies all over the base. I saw one tree today that had several hundred butterflies feeding on eucalyptus flowers. From what I read, the painted lady is the most widespread butterfly species in the world, we have them in the US and they are also found in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Here's a website about their migration. Sometimes heavy rains trigger these migrations.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I've been neglecting this side of the house.

Yesterday as I was walking to dinner, I saw 6 red-wattled plovers flying back and forth over our compound chasing each other. They were making a hell of a racket, sounding somewhat like terns calling.

The migrants seem to be mostly gone. I've been spending more time looking at insects this last week.

A few days ago there was a good bit of ant activity. There's one species around our building that has long legs and sticks its abdomen up in the air. I found a group cleaning out their nest. There were large piles of insect parts being piled up outside the nest, beetle shells, a bee head, dead ants. Must have been spring cleaning.

I also found thousands of small black ants harvesting seeds from some type of mustard plant. Ants covered the plants and gnawed the tiny seeds out of the string-like pods. I followed a parade of ants back to their hole, each one carrying one tiny seed.

The lights outside our building have had some noctuid moths, though not many species yet. Last night there were thousands of tiny leafhoppers, a couple adult antlions, some ground beetles and a pair of damselflies.

The rain of the last two days should bring out some new stuff soon.

One of the guys saw an animal near our tents that sounded like a hedgehog. I'll keep a lookout.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

This week was filled up with mostly work. Nature wise one of the other soldiers saw a barn owl flying around at dusk. Unfortunately I missed it.

Yesterday the same soldier, who sometimes brings me insects to identify told me he had a freaky looking insect that was unlike anything he had seen before.

When he produced it the bug turned out to be a large mole cricket. A very cool looking critter with big digging claws. One of my favorite insects. I've only seen 3 in my life, even though they are as common as dirt in some parts of the US.

When I was in Indonesia in a small sleepy town called Kumai on the southern coast of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). I spent a muggy night hanging out with some other young guys staying in the hotel. I had jumped up a few times from our conversation to nab some large beetles and cicadas that had been drawn to the light of the veranda. The guys got the idea that the crazy American liked bugs.

The next day I was to take a boat ride up the river to the Orangutan refuge at Tanjung Puting. In the morning when I was leaving, one of the guys from the night before came to my room with a matchbox. He told me that he had an animal that was poisonous and very dangerous. I had him draw a picture, but I had no idea what he had. I was afraid to open the box because of his description. I threw the whole match box into my jar of cyanide and waited a few minutes. When I opened the box there lay a large mole cricket. Its now gracing my bug collection back home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Easter Sunday I was up at 0530 to meet one of our doctors for a little early morning birding. We've had a lot of rocket and mortar attacks in the last few days. One day we had 8 or 9 hit inside the wire. As a result we need to go everywhere in body armor and helmet.

So Saturday was a day for birding in "full battle rattle", weapon included of course.

At the Laundry pond. We had a squacco heron clambering around in a patch of reeds in the middle of the pond. It was a lifer for me. Also at the pond was a big purple Gallinule (Purple Swamphen). A great egret flew over while I was checking out the Barn Swallows to see if there was anything different. There wasn't.

Later on after I dropped our Doc off I went to the pond by the Junk Yard. I found a new approach which I drove up to in my humvee. The pond is probably 2 or 3 acres of open water surrounded by a large amount of tall reeds.

There was lots of commotion in the reeds and 5 or 6 Dead Sea Sparrows darting in and out. They are in the same family as the house sparrow, but quite a bit noisier. They are pretty little birds with a chestnut wingpatch and a face markedwith black, white, and yellow.

While I was watching the sparrows a large brown warbler hopped up on on of the reeds. It was my second lifer of the day, a Great Reed Warbler. On the far shore two spur-winged plovers flew back and forth.

Most of the rooks have left and the numbers of black-headed gulls at the dump have dropped dramatically.

The temperature has been in the 90's for the past few days. I've notices that the crickets have started calling at night. Our preventive medicine guys have been trapping mosquitos and also getting good numbers of both green and brown lacewings. I've caught some large ground beetles and seen quite a few moths at our outside lights at night. I'll have to run some light traps myself soon and see what I can catch.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Not much in the way of birding in the last few days. Only house sparrows looking for places to nest in the buildings, barn swallows on nests in a nearby bunker and the white-cheeked bulbuls courting.

Botany wise we have some activity. Someone has tried to plant Gerbera daisies and nasturtiums in flowerpots near one of the buildings. The direct sun seems to be killing them off. In front of our building we have several melon seedings coming up that I'm pretty sure are watermelons. Several of us are watering them and they are growing nicely.

The eucalyptus trees (E.microtheca) are starting to flower with tiny white puffball flowers. These are the same species of Eucalyptus I've seen in Arizona and S.California. This species has been planted all over the world in warm and hot climates. It is very drought resistant. The leaves are very fragrant with eucalyptus oil when you crush them. In addition to the Eucalyptus, oleander bushes are planted all along the roads. For the most part the leaves are covered with a layer of gray dust, as are most things on post. Also someone seems to have done a terrible pruning job leaving some bushes looking like a scraggly shadow of their former selves. In the last two weeks or so the Oleander has been flowering,mostly white and pink.

There are lots of smaller plants flowering in areas that have a little water. Thistles, small compositae, and even chicory. I'll try to post pictures when I figure out how to.

I promise to get out and see some birds in the near future.

Some of my birding buddies from back home have emailed me and let me know that spring migration is underway. My parents had an American woodcock calling and displaying on their back lawn. For me the woodcocks calling is a sure sign spring has come.

Friday, April 02, 2004

I've been finding a good bit of wildlife in and around our building. The mice and roaches are getting under control with trapping.

About a week and a half ago I found that we have some bats that live in the recesses around our drainpipes coming off our roof. I'm not sure what species they are but they look like north american little brown bats except they are a sandy blonde color. Up to 15 bats jam into the pipe recesses and roost all day and much of the night. They seem to be most active at dusk, swooping around our lights.

I've been watching some small sandy colored pillbugs scurrying around the foundation of our building at night along with the odd beetle or ants.

Today I caught a nice brown and black colored skink that ran under the airconditioner unit. When I picked up the lizard, it promptly dropped its tail in an attempt to get away from me.

I also captured a green toad today after 4 weeks of fruitless search. I could hear them calling in a ditch but I never could find them.

Out for now

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Back to the birds. I wrote a long post few days ago about my recent wildlife sightings only to lose the satellite connection and have the computer reboot.

Its been a while. My schedule will be changing soon which will give me more time in the evening to write (my most productive time).

Today I had an absolutely fantastic day (see Iraq calling) , finally getting outside the wire into the surrounding farmland on a civil affairs mission delivering school supplies to children. Not many new birds. I was trying not to drive the humvee into an irrigation canal. I did see a few egrets in the fields (maybe cattle egrets) and a group of blue-cheeked bee-eaters hawking for insects and perching on powerlines. I wish I got a chance to study the bee-eaters but I'll probably get a chance when I go out again.

Last saturday I went on a short walk with one of our doctors around the living areas. We have some large eucalyptus trees where we saw a small group of white-cheeked bulbuls. One of the birds was displaying lowing its head, drooping its wings and fanning its tail. We also saw collared doves, wood pigeons, barn swallows and a red-wattled plover.

After I dropped the doc off at the clinic (he had to work at 8 am), I decided to take a spin around the base in my truck.

The first stop was the south lagoon where the laundry facility discharges its water. The water level has gone up by a few feet in the last couple of weeks. I saw a single coot and lots of wood pigeons perched in the dead trees surrounding the lagoon. Earlier in the week I saw a black kite circling and cruising around the perimeter of the water.

When I drove to another vantage point I saw a summer plumage whiskered tern cruising over the water. This was a lifer and a very significant one to me. The bird looks like a common tern with a dark breast. They are a marsh tern, like the black tern. In the summer of 1993 I drove to Delaware twice to look for the first North American record of this species. I was skunked both times. The trip did produce a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and some great butterflies. The last trip I missed the bird by 30 minutes. On the way out of Little Creek Refuge I was stopped by a camera crew from DateLine NBC looking for where people were looking for the bird. I told them to drive down the dike and look for the group of 200 people. The next week my wife called me at work and told me she had seen the bird on TV!! The crew had arrived just in time. The indignity!!! Well it took 11 years and 6300 miles but I finally had my tern.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Flashback Feb 23, 2004

On February 23rd at 3:00 in the Iraq. By the time it was light we were far into the country. In the southern part of the country, the landscape was like Kuwait, flat desert with a cast of green from the winter rains. There were a few camels and traditional black Bedouin tents here and there with large flocks of sheep and goats nearby.

As we moved north the desert became scrub. We got off the highway and onto a dirt road to avoid the populated areas. I was surprised to see pools of water all along side of the road.

We drove through the southern marshes which were absolutely decimated by Saddam's draining program. He did this to destroy the traditional home of the Marsh Arabs. All along the road were ditches and dug up ground. For miles and miles the land looked like a giant disorganized construction zone.

Since everything was new I was having a great time my first day in Iraq. What looked like miles from any dwellings little kids stood by the side of the road waving to us.

The birding was fantastic. In fact I haven't had so many life birds in a day since being in Indonesia in 1990. There were birds everywhere, waterbirds and shorebirds in the pools, landbirds flying by or sitting on fences.

The number of birds was in stark contrast to the dearth of birds in Kuwait.

The pools had so many shorebirds, that I could only identify the large and distinctive ones as we whizzed by. There were lots of black-winged stilts, avocets, Red-wattled plover and black-headed gulls. Lots of hooded crows and rooks.

Here's the list for the day:
1.Little Grebe
2.Little Egret
5.Black-winged stilt
6.Spur-winged Plover
7.Red-wattled Plover
8.Black-tailed Godwit
10.Common Sandpiper
11.Black-headed Gulls
12.Slender-billed Gull
13.Armenian Gull
14.Rock Dove
15.Wood Pigeon
16.Collared Dove
17.Pied Kingfisher
18.Crested Lark
19.Barn Swallow
20.White(pied) Wagtail
21.White-cheeked Bulbul
22.Great Grey Shrike
23.Isabelline Shrike
25.Hooded Crow
26.House Sparrow

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Well since I'm currently stuck on base and my superiors are very risk averse and won't let me go on any trips, I'll be posting a few of my experiences in the last month and a half I've been in Theater.

I landed in Kuwait in the middle of the night in the first week of February after spending two months training in an ungodly cold Army base in the States. We were out on a field exercise in January when the ambient temperature was minus 27 degrees fahrenheit. The windchill was down to -50 F. It was a splendid way to train for the desert. I told some of the younger troops that the purpose was to learn how to suffer. I was only half kidding.

Birding in Kuwait was limited due to my location in the middle of nowhere surrounded by thousands of coalition troops either coming or going to Iraq.

During my two week say, I'm sorry to say that I saw 5 species of birds (House sparrow, Barn Swallow, Rock Dove, Desert Wheatear, and Crested Lark)

Driving down the highway near Kuwait City there were many places that looked very good for birds but alas, I was driving in a convoy. Maybe next time.

The crested larks have turned out to be one of the most common birds both in Kuwait and Iraq. They are a bit bigger and plumper than a horned lark and they have a funny little crest on their head that always seems to be sticking straight up. They run a few feet then stop and look around then repeat this all day long. I think they probably eat a wide variety of things but I saw one doing an imitation of a house sparrow trying to eat a french fry.

On our convoy up from Kuwait we had to stop because one of the humvees had a flat. We all piled out of the vehicles and set up a defensive perimeter with our weapons pointing out. It was a bit of a surreal scene because as I'm laying on the ground with my eye on some guy racing around in a pickup truck wondering if he's going to take a potshot at us (which would have been suicidal), A pair of crested larks were not even 10 feet from me with the male displaying and dancing around.

Desert Wheatear
Crested Lark

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The visit to the dump today was interesting. Big piles of burning trash which you back your truck up to and let the local guys toss it into the inferno. The usual suspect birds were hanging out at the dump. Lots of rooks, a few hooded crows, and about 50 Black-headed Gulls. Another 100 or so were in a field across the street.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Yesterday I had a little time in the morning and took a three hour walk around the base. A few migrants are moving through the area. In the last few weeks I've seen black redstart, some unidentified Phylloscopus warbler, White Wagtail, Barn Swallows, European Goldfinches, and Chaffinches. At a lagoon on the other side of the base I saw 25 Shovelers (ducks) and a couple of Redshanks.

My walk yesterday was quite productive. Slowly I'm getting to know the better birding areas on the base. I found that by going behind one of the buildings I got a great view of a little lagoon surrounded by phragmites. About 50 wood pigeons were sitting in dead trees around the lagoon. These birds winter in the area in large numbers and I expect them to be leaving north soon. In the lagoon I saw a couple of coots, three moorhens chasing eachother around in the grass, a magpie flying over the marsh, and a spectacular purple gallinule (not the same species as the one in North America). Swallows were wheeling around over the water catching insects. Mostly they were Barn Swallows, but I think there were some other species but they were too far away to see.

I saw some behavior I had never seen before. High in the air probably 1000 feet up I saw a small group of rooks riding a thermal just like they were a kettle of broad-wing hawks. They moved up the thermal's rising air effortlessly wheeling around, then at the top they glided away at a fast clip. Many of the rooks will, like the wood pigeons, be moving north. The rooks are everywhere in the farmland surrounding my base, looking for food in the freshly plowed soil.

On my way back to my building I came across a trash pit where lots of corvids had gathered. There were about 50 Rooks along with 15 or so Hooded Crows and 5 jackdaws. A few starlings were also hanging around looking for food. Tomorrow I get to go on a trash run to the burn pit. We throw all our garbage into a trailer and then haul it off to a giant pile of burning trash. Even though its over a mile away every day we see a giant plume of smoke. Some days the wind blows the smoke in our direction and a trash smoke haze decends on our living area. Sometime little pieces of burnt paper rain down from the sky. I'm looking forward to going, even though I'll have to probably change my uniform and take a shower afterwards. The dump is a big draw to gulls and crows and I'm sure I'll see something good in the gull department. I've seen several of my first gulls in dumps and of course I had to go to the Brownsville dump to see a Mexican crow.

Today I had to drive some people over to get a helicopter ride so I took my binos and bird book. On the way to the helicopters I saw a nice lesser kestrel fly right infront of my humvee. I went around the back side of the base and near the dump again. In an open field across the street from the burn pit I counted approximately 575 black-headed gulls in various stages of moult. About half had their summer plumage. I tried but every single one of the gulls appeared to be black-headed.

While I was watching, a c-130 flying low overhead deployed flares and did an evasive maneuver. I didn't see any smoke trail of an anti-aircraft missile (looks like a tight corkscrew) so it may have been a false alarm on its automatic system.

I was watching the fences and saw a male Chaffinch and a Common Babbler. The latter bird was a lifer and it was very cooperative while I watched it from a short distance.

Birding on base doesn't usually elicit any undo attention from the MPs. I think everyone thinks I'm doing security work when I'm looking into the distance with binoculars. I'm not sure what they think when I'm looking up in a tree.


Common Babbler
I'm a soldier in Iraq. I've been mobilized for up to 18 months which includes a definite 12 months in Iraq and Kuwait. I've been birding since I was twelve which makes it 24 years now. I'm in a New England medical unit. I plan to write about my nature observations during my time here, both birds and other critters.

I've got to get back to work now.