in the field -
a hong kong
a hong kong
My wife and I flew to Amman, Jordan on April 11 to visit our daughter who is currently working there. During our ten-day stay, we did the usual tourist things and I managed to fit in some casual birding on our travels.
We were taken by our driver, Tariq, to Jerash, an hour’s journey north of Amman. Although the site dates back 6,500 years, it is most famous for its Roman remains, being one of the largest, best-preserved ancient Roman cities outside of Italy.
When we were there, it was hot and dusty and was over-run by hundreds of Jordanian schoolgirls on end-of-term trips. The northern part of the site, however, was greener and quieter and offered some respite from the crowds after we had covered the main attractions in the south. The most obvious birds in the area – and indeed throughout the country – were Feral Pigeons and House Sparrows; the latter were nesting in holes on the ancient columns. Hooded Crows flew overhead. Sardinian Warblers and Graceful Prinias sang in the scrubland, and I also heard a Hoopoe singing. Crested Larks were fairly common and I counted at least three Eastern Black-eared Wheatears in the less disturbed areas. The Mediterranean feel to the landscape was enhanced by at least three Blue Rock Thrushes perching on the rocky Roman remains. The best bird, however, was a Lesser Spotted Eagle that flew overhead; my heavily cropped photographs reveal that the bird was ringed.
Apart from the birds, lizards were much in evidence, basking on the rocks in the mid-day sun. I saw the Starred Agama elsewhere in Jordan but Jerash was the only site where I came upon the Northern Fan-footed Gecko.
We drove east through flat gravel plains to visit a string of small desert “castles” – as well as to pay a brief visit to Azraq Wetland Reserve. Unfortunately , there was no time to explore the gravel plain properly. At Qasr Kharana, there were the ubiquitous pigeons and sparrows. I saw five Black Kites perched on the ground in the distance. Three migrant House Martins flew around the deserted building and there were a couple of Lesser Whitethroats feeding in the low scrub. Qusayr Amra held a couple of Crested Larks, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Hoopoe.
And so to Azraq. This oasis was once one of the most important sites for wetland birds in the Middle East. It used to cover an area of 12,710 sq. km. In February 1967, 347,000 birds were recorded. Since then, in what must be one of the great environmental tragedies of the twentieth century, the wetlands have been almost totally drained – mainly to provide drinking water for the expanding urban areas in the north. All that remains at the wetland reserve is a couple of small ponds containing a handful of Coots and Moorhens. (Think of Mai Po, mud flats included, dried up and reduced to the two ponds that used to house the waterfowl collection.) In an attempt, to improve the situation, water is continuously being pumped into the reserve but there are hundreds of illegal deep wells in the area that take out more water than is being pumped in.
It takes half an hour or so to walk along the boardwalk that circles through the dried up area and the remaining small ponds from the small reserve headquarters. When I was there, a sandstorm had blown up from the south, reducing visibility and making being out in the open unpleasant. In spite of all of this, there were some birds to be seen: a single Squacco Heron, a Purple Heron and a Spur-winged Lapwing were the only water birds of note, but a melanistic Montagu’s Harrier flew over the small reed bed and there were a number of migrant Red-rumped Swallows and Sand Martins feeding over the pools and other migrants in the surrounding vegetation including Masked Shrike, Eurasian Wryneck, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap and Common Chiffchaff. Also present were resident Laughing Doves and White-spectacled Bulbuls – both species seen commonly during my journey.
We drove back to Amman. The wind had gotten stronger and visibility was poor because of the blown sand. It also began to rain, making road conditions even worse.