Monday, June 19, 2006

Bird Watching in Iraq (Cross-Posted at Birding Aus)

It interests me that in the midst of a chaotic war people go bird-watching. I am a pretty keen bird-watcher myself and have seen a fair number of Australian bird species. But bird-watching in a combat zone? The Economist book review section reports on bird-watching in wartime Iraq:

'IN EARLY 2004 Jonathan Trouern-Trend of the Connecticut National Guard started a year-long posting in Iraq. A birdwatcher since he was a boy, he used his spare time on base, and on trips "outside the wire", to look for birds, and wrote about the 122 species he saw in the Gulf in a blog that attracted thousands of readers. This tiny, beautifully illustrated book, produced in the style of a birdwatcher's diary, collects together the highlights of his online journal into a gentle war memoir that conveys a simple message of hope.

Mr Trouern-Trend was stationed at Camp Anaconda, one of America's biggest bases, in the Sunni triangle north of Baghdad. Although under almost daily mortar and rocket attack, the camp was full of wildlife; "a refuge of sublime natural beauty to those who looked."
Despite the effort of birdwatching in "full battle rattle", and the searing desert heat, Mr Trouern-Trend delights in the antics of the birds he sees: a spectacular Smyrna kingfisher perching on the reeds of the pond by the base laundry; white-cheeked bulbuls chasing each other in the tamarisk trees; wood pigeons unfazed by the roar of F-16s tearing down the runway; a flock of white storks riding a thermal "never once flapping their wings as they spiralled up higher and higher".

What makes this little book special is the author's joy that "something worthwhile or even magical" could take place amid the horror of war. "Knowing that the great cycles of nature continue despite what people happen to be doing is reassuring," he writes. "There is an order we can take comfort in and draw strength from."

Although the chaos in Iraq continues, those great cycles have already started to repair the damage. Iraqi ornithologists have begun surveying the birds of the country's southern marshes, which stretched for 20,000 square km (7,722 square miles) until they were drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein's government. Some species feared extinct have recently been seen. Life goes on.

This was for a time recorded on a blogsite here. The book is Birding Babylon: A Soldier's Journal from Iraq , J. Trouern-Trend, Sierra Club Books; 79 pages; $9.95US ( in Australia , the cost $23.95 plus postage from

Update: Via Andrew Taylor at Birding-Aus I am referred to Restoring the Garden of Eden: An Ecological Assessment of the Marshes of Iraq.


Patrick said...

Incidentally, have you read David Malouf's book on a young Australian in WWII? It echoes the sentiments of the marine birdwatcher, to a surprising if more poetic degree (or rather vice versa, to a less poetic degree!).

hc said...

I am a fairly keen bird watcher though time limits possibilities. I have a fairly poor list of land birds in Australia but a reasonably good list of pelagic species - so I'll chase up the Malouf book. Thanks.