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