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February 15, 2005

Birds of Iraq: The White Tailed Plover

God help us, we're turning into a natural history blog. And it's worse than it appears, as I've got at least three, perhaps 4 more species posts patiently waiting their turn, a turn they will in all likelihood get, as I learned a long time not to try and put off one type of entry in favor of another. That pisses off the muse something fierce. Better to let them come as they may, and not worry about a supposed balance of articles that was never there to begin with.

The White Tailed Plover is another bird endemic to the Middle East, which means that squat is known about the species. Depending on whom you refer to, the Latin name of the species is either Vanellus leucurus or Chettusia Leucura, which seems to be an older usage. It's also commonly called the White-Tailed Lapwing. Fortunately, no matter what one calls it, the bird is strikingly easy to identify, thanks to the bright yellow legs and distinctive wing pattern.

Most everything else we know about the species comes from the Helms Guide to Shorebirds, the entry from which a fair number of sites have reproduced on the web, so I don't feel bad at all about doing the same thing here.

It breeds semi-colonially on inland marshes in Iraq, Iran and southern Russia. Four eggs are laid in a ground nest. The Iraqi and Iranian breeders are mainly resident, but Russian birds migrate south in winter to south Asia, the Middle East and north east Africa. It is a very rare vagrant in western Europe.

This elegant medium-sized lapwing is long-legged and fairly long-billed. It is the only lapwing likely to be seen in other than very shallow water, where it picks insects and other small prey mainly from the surface.

Adults are slim erect birds with a brown back and foreneck, paler face and grey breast. Its long yellow legs, pure white tail and distinctive brown, white and black wings make this species unmistakable. Young birds have a scaly back, and may show some brown in the tail.

The breeding season call is a peewit, similar to that of the Northern Lapwing.

One of the biggest questions about the White-Tailed Plover is the exact range of the species. As this fellow points out, where they have been seen so far says more about the distribution of birders in the Middle East than it does about the birds. Actually seeing a photo of one from Iraq is heartening, as the species was thought to be threatened by the widespread draining of the southern Iraqi marshes during Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Marsh Arabs.

"Saddam Hussein was a master 'brown field generator,'" said Richardson, referring to a term for environmental decimation. "He churned that country upside down. It looks like you let a child loose in a sand box with hand grenades."

Of the three remnant marsh areas, he found the Central Marsh to be in the worst shape. "It's just a complete dust bowl," he said. Locals had broken a Hussein-built drainage dike in one area in an effort to return some water, but "nothing was growing there yet," except for a few remaining desert plants, he added. In another recently re-flooded area, too much salt had been drawn out of the long-dry soils to support freshwater vegetation, and this area was now turning into a salt-flat

Fortunately, efforts to restore the marshes have begun since his fall from power, efforts that are already paying off.

As Abu-Zarag contains many important ornithological factors, it harbors a some which exceeds the expectation, since it is recently flooded! In addition this fieldwork occurred within breeding season, to see considerable list of Iraqi breeding Waterfowl and Passerines
Some of these species are in abundant numbers, like White-tailed Plover that was distinct breeder, while one nest with two eggs was observed. The other abundant species was the Little Bittern, surely it was breeder, but I couldn’t find a nest! Many other species were observed frequently, but less than the upper case, which ranged between 5-10 c..."

It's not often that you can detect sheer joy in the pixels of a pdf. Obviously humans were not the only species to benefit from the 2003 invasion.

If you'd like to help with the marsh restoration efforts in Iraq, EdenAgain accepts donations via the Iraq Foundation. There's also an art sale, intended to help fund a studio at the Iraqi Marshes Conference and Research Center. It features paintings by one of the better known Marsh Arab artists.

Doesn't look too much like a "brown field," does it? The artist's name is Kamal Mousawi.

His agent is an American, of course.

The White-Cheeked Bulbul
The Mesopotamian Crow

Next: The Barn Swallow

Posted by Bigwig at February 15, 2005 01:55 PM | TrackBack
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.

Here in Iraq, the guys that feed the troops refer to all birds of this size and flavor as "Cornish Hen".

Posted by: Sam Hill at February 21, 2005 09:26 AM
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