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.