Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The desert monitor is a lizard I wanted to see. Getting over 4 feet long they are the largest of Iraq's lizards. They make quite an entrance when they happen to fall into your foxhole in the middle of the night as happened to several soldiers in both the Gulf War and the current war.

I recently found a nice picture from Tallil Airbase in the southern part of the country. I never came across one myself. The only monitor I've ever seen in the wild was a water monitor in Indonesia. Some of the desert monitor's relatives are giants. The Komodo Dragon from Indonesia is the largest living relative weighing several hundred pounds. An extinct Australian species (Megalania prisca) was even bigger at almost 20 feet long.

A juvenile Desert Monitor from Tallil Airbase near Ad Nasiriyah, Iraq.
The ruins of the ancient city of Ur, one of the world's first cities and the birthplace of the prophet Abraham are next to the base. Perhaps this lizard's ancestors were getting caught by the ancient Sumerians or a young Abraham.

The Rare and Elusive Iraqi Pineapple/Watermelon Crocodile as seen at DFAC 2, LSA Anaconda - Thanksgiving 2004.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The World Wildlife Fund defines 8 distinct terrestrial ecoregions in Iraq ranging from the Eastern Mediterranean Conifer/Broadleaf forest in the north near Turkey to the Persian Gulf Desert in the South. Take a look at the Map on the National Geographic site.

Here's the 8 Regions and Links to their respective pages which contain lots of good information on the wildlife and vegetation of each area.

PA(Palearctic)0446 - Zagros Mountains Forest Steppe
PA0812 - Middle East Steppe
PA0906 - Tigris-Euphrates Alluvial Salt Marsh
PA1207 - Eastern Mediterranean Conifer/Sclerophyllous Broadleaf Forest
PA1303 - Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian Xeric Shrubland
PA1320 - Mesopotamian Shrub Desert
PA1323 - Persian Gulf Desert and Semi-Desert
PA1328 - South Iran Nubo-Sindian Desert and Semi-Desert

I found a few more bird pictures from soldiers. These pictures are of a White-winged Black Tern on the Tigris River in Baghdad. These birds are a common sight on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers during the summer. They nest in marshes and wetlands along the river as do Whiskered Terns which were also common where I was near Balad.

Also here's a story about Barn Owls living at LSA Anaconda in one of the bunkers. I saw a pair of barn owls on Anaconda a number of times and I heard of reports from other bases. They seemed to be fairly common. The subspecies in the region is Tyto alba erlangeri. On Anaconda a little owl was also using a concrete bunker for a roosting site.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The first migrating shorebirds start moving through Iraq this month making their way back from Siberia, Northern Russia and Northern Europe. Some will winter in the Iraqi wetlands, while others continue on to Africa.

Marsh Sandpiper - Qurnah, Iraq. Henrik Mikkelsen has graciously given me permission to use some of his photos of Iraqi birds.

The Lesser White-fronted Goose, that spent the winter visiting the marshes of central and southern Iraq has now returned to northern Russia less than 2 km from where it was fitted with a satellite transponder last year. Here's a satellite photo of the large marsh area where it was initially found about 85 km east of Baghdad called Haur Al Shubaicha. If you zoom out on the google map you can see that the wetland is fairly isolated in a dry area. This should translate into at least an important stopover point for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, probably also good for wintering birds.

I've been reading several reports that have been generated out of the Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative. This collaboration between Waterloo University in Canada and various organizations and ministries operating in Iraq is working to restore the Mesopotamian marshes and to increase the Iraqi capacity to monitor the health of the marshes. Biodiversity surveys of key sites are a major objective. Here's a presentation about the aims of the program. Other reports worth reading are the proceedings of the workshop held in Jordan last year:

For four days June 19-22 of 2004, a team of Canadian, Iraqi and international
participants met together to discuss the future needs of marshlands management in
Iraq. In particular the group focused on the restoration of the southern marshlands of
Iraq, the area historically called Lower Mesopotamia and today referred to as the Al-
Ahwar region.
The participants in this meeting met at the invitation of the University of Waterloo, a
Canadian University leading a project sponsored by the Canadian International
Development Agency. Many interests are actively developing proposals for work in
cooperation with the Government of Iraq on the restoration of ecological and cultural
values of wetlands in Iraq, particularly the southern Mesopotamian marshlands of the
nation. Field programs or preliminary evaluations on wetland restoration, reflooding,
water monitoring and fisheries resources for example have already been implemented.
These are being done with the assistance of scientists from the many nations and in
cooperation with groups such as the Iraq Foundation and Iraq government ministries.

The program has sponsored two workshops in conjunction with Birdlife International for Iraqi biologists who will be carrying out the survey work. One was conducted in Jordan, the other in Syria.

Many of the participants will be attending a special session of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Montreal next month. I'm thinking about going if I can swing it. It would be fantastic to meet some of the people involved, especially the Iraqi biologists who will be there.