Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Lost in translation

Abu Quibes and migration

This is the second United Nations Development Programme Protected Area that we are working in. It is on the west side of the country, near Hama, and forms part of a mountain chain running north to south up the spine of the country. Dense maquais (ie bloomin’ thorny) scrub predominates, with oak and pines amid the groves on the sun-blasted slopes. Great team here and we are out doing samples in 1km squares as well as vantage point logging of migrating species – mainly raptors and storks

1300 Eagles in a day cant be bad. Primarily Steppe Eagles, but in recent days, Booted, Lesser and Greater Spotted, Short toed (Snake to the Syrians) Eagle, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Goshawk, Kestrel, Levant’s Sparrowhawk, Long legged and Steppe Buzzard have all added to the mix. Non raptors have included big numbers of Black and White Storks as well as a surprise group of c.300 White Pelicans.

Egyptian Vulture

Passerines have included Masked Shrike, Cretzchmar’s Buntings, Orphean Warblers, Thrush Nightingales, hundreds of Lesser Whitethroat (probably nominate and Hume’s), Sardinian Warbler etc. A bonus surprise was an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler.

Female black eared wheatear

Finches wheatear

Rock thrush (male)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

A hunter's tale

Part of promoting conservation here has always been talking to as many locals as possible. This time we were told of a prolific hunter who may be willing to meet us. A few phone calls later and it was arranged. We went to a darkened apartment block and were met by a larger than life friendly character who showed us his collection. Quite a revelation, with all manner of species stuffed and an ammo collection a small army would be proud of.

Species investigation gets underway

Among them were two Red-breasted Geese that we ascertained were the first and only Syrian records, having been shot in Feb 2007.

Red breasted geese and a red faced Maggs

The hunter was well aware that his pastime is technically illegal, but as he said it isn’t policed. He clearly had an intimate knowledge of his quarry and showed us many of the species he sees from our European Field Guide. He had never seen a bird book before, but was interested in their status, distribution etc. He suggested off his own back that something more practical, such as a permit system needs to be implemented, rather than an unworkable blanket ban. We left after several glasses of Arak as friends and with a better understanding of each others positions, and an agreement that no more White headed Ducks, Marbled Teal or Red breasted Geese would ever be shot by him now that he knew their significance.

White fronted geese and Ruddy shelduck massacre

Hot Shave

Us going feral was too much for the Jebel team so we were taken out for a makeover Syrian Style. Being shaved with an open blade is always a nervy experience, but even more so when in security conscious Syria.

We went in looking like ho-bo’s, and came out as George Clooney and Robbie Williams – or so they told us!

Hywel goes into the barbers

Robbie Williams comes out!


It was our final day in the Protected Area of Jebel Addul Azizz when we connected with wolves. We’d been out since 6ish and three hours later I was scanning down a dry gorge. Something stirred beside a tree, a dog maybe, so I put the scope on it. I couldn’t believe my eyes as a wolf, only a 100m or so away stood up and began to slowly walk up the hill side. I signalled for Zoober to come quickly, and he seemed to disbelieve me when I said Wolf, and told him to look in the scope. He grinned like a Cheshire cat – it was a first for him too.

As a one off wildlife experiences it is one that is in my top five. Killer Whales chasing seals and penguins off the Falklands and stumbling on an Armadillo in South America are two others.


Apologies for the sparse postings this week. Things have been pretty hectic as the trip comes to an end and only occasional access to the internet.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Out and about: Birds

Tawny pipit

Black Kite

Blue rock thrush

Desert wheatear

Marsh harrier

Sociable Lapwing

Penduline tit

Semi collared flycatcher