Friday, February 16, 2007

Lesser White-fronted Goose at Samarra Dam

On Feb 4, the Russian group tracking the remaining two Lesser White Fronted Geese that are transmitting signals from their tags showed the bird that has spent much of the winter in Syria moving to the large wetland at Samarra in Iraq. The Samarra Dam Area on the Tigris River is a designated important bird area (IBA). The Samarra Barrage is composed of two dams, a flood control dam (also called the Tharthar dam locally) and a Hydroelectric generation dam. Samarra has great cultural significance and unfortunately was where the golden dome of the Al-Askari Mosque was severely damaged last year, precipitating a wave of violence. Samarra also has the famous Great Mosque with a unique spiral minaret. In a future more peaceful Iraq, Samarra would make a good place for a field station/ecotourism site.

Seeing that this goose had made its way to a area that has been a focus of violence was very symbolic for me. In the midst of violence something magical, a bird that has travelled over 3000 miles from Siberia and the fact we can see where its been.

The Tigris was dammed at Samarra in the early 1950's to control the flooding of Baghdad. A large wetland was created behind the dam. A canal diverts floodwaters to Lake Tharthar, a large artificial lake that was once a depression between Samarra on the Tigris River and Hit on the Euphrates.

According to Birdlife International 146 species have been recorded in the vicinity of the Samarra Dam including the globally endangered Sociable Lapwing and many species of waders and waterfowl. Breeding at the site is the near endemic Grey Hypocolius, the bird illustrated on the cover of the new Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq.

Waterfowl hunting was once common in the marshes near Samarra so hopefully the tagged LWFG will continue on his journey. If not, we may see a signal coming from a house in Samarra as was the case with one of the other tagged geese when it was taken by a hunter in Russia.