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.