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.