Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Birding for Survival

AAN Team 2 min

Our Dutch ex-soldier-cum-birdwatcher HG Scheltema from Kandahar (see his bird list here(*) has a friend, a US National Guardsman from Connecticut who served in Iraq for a year in 2004/05: Birding Babylon.

His name is Jonathan Trouern-Trend who wrote a blog on his bird-watching (see it here, it seems to be continued by other bloggers). Meanwhile, it also has been turned into a book by the Sierra Club in the US, an environmental organization. See a review here. The book can be ordered here and here in Germanhere.

German novelist Marcel Beyer now has produced a radio play based on it, juxtaposing the text, bird song and ‘normal’ sounds of war. The author called Trouern-Trend’s blog ‘an essential necessity’ and ‘a history of his survival’ in Iraq.

Here, Trouern-Trend’s first blog entry, a flashback to his first day in Iraq, 23 February 2004:

‘On February 23rd at 3:00 in the Iraq. By the time it was light we were far into the country. In the southern part of the country, the landscape was like Kuwait, flat desert with a cast of green from the winter rains. There were a few camels and traditional black Bedouin tents here and there with large flocks of sheep and goats nearby.

As we moved north the desert became scrub. We got off the highway and onto a dirt road to avoid the populated areas. I was surprised to see pools of water all along side of the road.

We drove through the southern marshes which were absolutely decimated by Saddam’s draining program. He did this to destroy the traditional home of the Marsh Arabs. All along the road were ditches and dug up ground. For miles and miles the land looked like a giant disorganized construction zone.

Since everything was new I was having a great time my first day in Iraq. What looked like miles from any dwellings little kids stood by the side of the road waving to us.

The birding was fantastic. In fact I haven’t had so many life birds in a day since being in Indonesia in 1990. There were birds everywhere, waterbirds and shorebirds in the pools, landbirds flying by or sitting on fences.

The number of birds was in stark contrast to the dearth of birds in Kuwait.

The pools had so many shorebirds, that I could only identify the large and distinctive ones as we whizzed by. There were lots of black-winged stilts, avocets, Red-wattled plover and black-headed gulls. Lots of hooded crows and rooks.’

And already back in the US, he writes on 20 February:

‘Birdlife International is commencing a 6 month study of the birds of the wetlands in Southern Iraq. Their website has a story about training Iraqi biologists for the survey.’

(*) See this blog here.