Thursday, February 24, 2005

I've been a bit slow starting my new North American blog. I'll have a link off this site when I do.
I'm still on leave and haven't returned to the American Red Cross yet. This week my kids have vacation so we've been out and about a bit.

Yesterday I went to Simsbury and visited my parents. My father, 5 kids and I took a walk around Nod Brook Wildlife Management Area, my old birding haunt.

Most of the ponds were iced up but in the open patches we saw a lone Mute Swan, a few mallards and some Canada Geese. We saw some American Robins perched in the trees and I saw three Red-winged Blackbirds, though none on their territories yet. At the Farmington River we found several trees that were gnawed on by the beavers. One large tree was well on its way to being girdled.

We saw quite a few signs of spring on our walk. The catkins are coming out on the birches and the alders, one large pussywillow was covered with downy gray buds, and on our way home we examined a Chinese Witch-Hazel that was in full flower. A few days before, the kids and I found the first Skunk Cabbages coming out of our local swamp.

On the Iraqi wildlife front, I again direct you to the adventures of LTC Bob at Camp Victory. He has sent Bigwig at Silflay Hraka a picture of a large Cyprinid (Minnow and Carp Family) that a soldier caught in one of the lakes around Camp Victory. Aspius Vorax is a good sized fish as this picture illustrates. Some of our soldiers had the opportunity to fish where they were stationed. I saw several pictures of large Aspius from our subordinate Companies. I observed fishing soldiers at Camp Liberty, Camp Victory, Camp Slayer and Tallil Airbase. At Tallil the pond is fed from a canal linked by some miles to the Euphrates. The soldiers said they caught several species of fish including carp amd a large catfish.

I also found this picture of a White Wagtail that landed on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at the start of the war.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Birdlife International is commencing a 6 month study of the birds of the wetlands in Southern Iraq. Their website has a story about training Iraqi biologists for the survey. The story says a Lesser White Fronted Goose was satellite-tagged in Siberia and showed up this fall in an area east of Baghdad.

So it looks like Iraqi birds will be getting a lot more attention in 2005.
The marshes of S. Iraq were the size of Lake Ontario and were reduced by about 90% by Saddam Hussein's drainage program. These marshes held such great birds as Goliath Heron and the African Darter. A report that came out today says that about half the marsh area has been reflooded and some of the plants and birds are coming back. Other parts have severe salt damage and may not recover.
I came across a few posts by Bigwig on the blog Silflay Hraka. He has been in touch with a birding lieutenant Colonel based at Victory Base near Baghdad Airport. Bigwig wrote 3 posts so far on the birds that LTC Bob has been seeing. He has a post on the Mesopotamian Crow, the White-Cheeked Bulbul and the White-tailed Plover. LTC Bob seems to have a much better camera than I so perhaps some more good pictures are forthcoming. When I was at Victory Base I saw among other birds Black Francolin, Graceful Prinia, Common Babblers, Pied Kingfishers, Pygmy Cormorant and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.

If any soldiers or others have Iraqi wildlife observations or pictures that they would like to share, please email me at and I'll post them here.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Today was my last day of active duty. We left Fort Drum on Thursday and came back to Connecticut. We spent two days at a Camp Rell in Niantic for demobilization briefings.

In my last post I said that I thought I had seen my last lifer in Kuwait. I was wrong. I had one more the day we left Kuwait.

On our departure day I walked to a remote corner of the camp where the desert vegetation wasn't disturbed. On my way there I turned over a board and found a termite colony with a few big soldiers in with the rank and file. All over the dunes I had noticed tiny little mounds that looked like anthills with no hole. They turned out to be places where the termites were pushing the sand out of their tunnels. Looking at the desert landscape, the last thing I though of was termites but there's plenty of cellulose around for them and they turned out to be abundant.

In the scrub areas I once again saw both Desert and Isabelline wheatears. I also had a glimpse of a small sandy colored bird. It took half and hour of searching and I finally found a group of 3 Desert Warblers running around the base of a spiny little bush and once in a while hopping up on the top of the bush to get a better view. These birds were hyperactive.

On our trip back home we made a stop in Shannon, Ireland where I saw a few rooks hanging around the terminal.

In Fort Drum I took a few walks and saw both White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and a Downy Woodpecker. During the week I was there I had quite a few sightings of Wild Turkeys. One night the temperature was in the 30's and I saw a reddish brown moth flying around. I think it might have been a Eupsilia species perhaps E. vinulenta one of the common winter flying moths I sometimes see at this time of year.

During my two days at the Connecticut shore I saw a few more familiar birds; Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Mute Swan and my first Turkey Vulture of the year.

My plans for this blog are to continue posting about Iraqi plants and wildlife. Post some of my photos and hopefully get some first hand observations from people on the ground. I know I'm not the only birder who was over there. I'll probably also start another blog for my North American observations next week.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

This will be my last entry from the Middle East. We are about to leave and make our way back home via snowy Fort Drum, New York. My next entry may be about Wild Turkeys and White-tailed Deer, both plentiful in Fort Drum.

The last few days have been fairly good for wildlife watching.

A couple days ago I saw what might be my last lifer of this deployment, a Brown-necked Raven I saw soaring around over Camp Doha when I went in to go to the PX and Starbucks. I found an overgrown running track with interesting succulent plants and dwarf tamarisk bushes. I turned over a few boards and found some were fat brown cutworms of some sort, these noctuid moth caterpillars were brown with lateral stripes. I also found quite a few woodlice and some tenebrionid beetles. I have a few pictures of the beetles which I'll post when I have a better connection. In the library I found a book on Kuwaiti wildlife and identified two of the Tenebrionid genera I saw.

Today I spent about an hour watching Libyan Jirds, a type of large gerbil that live in the dunes. Their body is about 6 inches long and their tail looks like another 6 or 7 inches more. For a couple days I've been looking in the large holes in the dunes hoping to see one. One of our sergeants took a picture of a hole, when he brought it up on the computer there was the face of a Jird staring out at him. I made an abortive attempt to excavate a burrow today and catch one. After 45 minutes of digging a burrow 10 feet long I quit after my hole was 4 feet deep and in danger of collapsing on me. I decided that I'd go out about an hour before sunset and just sit in the dunes and wait for the gerbils to come out to feed. Within 5 minute they were hopping around, eating seeds, running into one hole and coming out another 20 feet away. Their tails are incredibly long, reddish at the base and tipped with a black tuft. When they run they stick the tail straight up in the air. Very cool little beasts.

While I was watching the Jirds a Desert Wheatear was flitting around and singing in the bushes near me.

As I walked over to the Jird dunes I saw a pure white dove circle over the camp. I'll take it as a good omen.