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