Sunday, 28 March 2010

25th February. Birding on the edge.

We pick up Yaseen, our guide, from the centre of a small village, creating quite an attraction in the process, and then speed towards Al Rawda on the Iraqi border. The landscape is flat, dotted with oil wells and Bedouin tending sheep. Yaseen is a Saker hunter and has a picture of Saddam Hussein as his mobile phone 'wallpaper'. He caught only one Saker in 2009 but sold it for 700,000 Syrian pounds. Sakers are present at Al Rawda in autumn from October to December. We passed some Bedouin with a herd of 150 Dromedaries and stopped briefly for a drink of camel's milk from a communal silver bowl. Driving on across the desert, we skirted along the Iraqi border close to the watch towers. A meeting with a Syrian army border patrol passed uneventfully.
We reached a cliff edge; below us lay a huge crater with a shrinking shallow lake with muddy edges stretching in all directons. An estimated 40,000 - 50,000 waterbirds were before us. We drove down into the crater to get closer. A courtesy call on a group of hunters in a tent resulted in a fragrant glass of camomile tea and a look at a dead White-fronted Goose. As we continued on, our guide had clearly got us lost. An hour of to-ing and fro-ing ensued, culminating in us having to push our vehicle out of the mud. Stuck in mud with no phone signal on the Iraqi border. Not ideal!

Eventually we come to a viewpoint over the lake. The sheer numbers of birds was mindboggling. Counting individual species was near impossible. However, at least 9000 Ruddy Shelduck were nearest. Flamingo, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler and White-fronted Geese were all numerous. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Gull-billed Tern, Imperial Eagle, Siberian Chiffchaff, Tawny Pipit, Pallid and Hen Harriers and many waders added to the tally. What a place! Never surveyed and probably never visited by westerners before.

Yaseen invited us to dinner but we respectfully declined. After some persuasion he let us go, stating, as he pulled a hand gun from his bag "next time I will insist".

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