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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 18:00   #1
Joe H
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Birding around Baghdad

Greetings,

IĎve posted here before but mostly about trips in and around Alaska. I find myself in Baghdad these days and thought Iíd share my birding experiences with this group. There are a few other bird watchers who have been to this part of the world recently and the best resource for that would be the Blog: Birding Babylon, which I found to be a great site. Iím a month into my visit and hereís how my trip is going:

Pre-departure preparation: For any other bird watchers planning a trip to Iraq, obviously the Birds of the Middle East is a ďmust have,Ē but due to its format (descriptions separated from illustrations, few in-flight illustrations, and range maps only including breeding data) it is not perfect. I also got a copy of the Princeton Field Guidesí Birds of Europe, by Mullarney, et al. While the book is advertised as a complete guide to birds of Europe and the Middle East, the text states that it does not cover Iran and Iraq but the distribution maps clearly do cover most of Iraq. Furthermore, the illustrations and descriptions are co-located, which I prefer, and the distribution maps include all seasons and migration routes. Between these two books any visitor to Iraq should be well prepared. Lastly, I printed up a up a copy of the on-line bird list for Iraq linked on the Birding Babylon web site. This list is said to be current as of 2004 and lists 416 birds found in Iraq. These sources should give any potential visitor to the area a good head start in getting familiar with what to expect.

I spend four days in Kuwait awaiting transportation to Baghdad. While in Kuwait, I observed only eight different species of birds, all from the area around Ali Al Salam military base near Kuwait City: House Sparrows were the most common bird seen every day; surprisingly I saw no feral pigeons during my brief stay; I saw four or five Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, on light posts around the installation; one European Turtle-Dove, Streptopelia turtur; one sub-adult Steppe Eagle, Aquila nipalensis, circling low over the post; a small number of Rufos-tailed Shrikes, Lanius isabellinus, also known as the Isabelline Shrikes; one Northern Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe, which Iíve also seen during its breeding season in Alaska ; a Crested Lark, Galerida cristata; and one Indian Roller, Coracias benghalensis. The Roller was certainly a high point. I observed it through a spotting scope for a good long while until it flew off its perch and went to the ground out of sight - beautiful bird. The area around Ali Al Salam is a sparsely vegetated desert. Temperatures were around 104 degrees Fahrenheit during the mid-October timeframe.

In Iraq I stayed around the various camps in the area of the Baghdad International Airport. Due to my work schedule, my birding opportunities were restricted to walks to and from my office. I used various routes, each of which were about a half mile long. My routes passed by open scrub fields, man-made canals and lakes, and built up areas with mature trees. My observations for October were:

Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, these started showing up towards the end of the month, mostly seen overhead during what I assume is their migration through this area.

Shag, Phalacrocorax aristotelus, a possible (see post #8 below) pair of adults were seen in the Al Fah palace lake on Camp Victory one afternoon.

Pygmy Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, a pair was seen for several days in a small lake near the ďPerfume Palace.Ē

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, small numbers seen most days.

Greylag Goose, Anser anser, a single adult seen in the Al FAh palace lake on a small artificial island.

Greater Scaup, Aythya marila, a pair of winter plumage or juvinals seen for two days in the Al Fah palace lake.

Spur-winged Plover, Venellus spinosus, a pair seen in a field near a drainage pond on Camp Victory.

Red-wattled Plover, Venellus indicus, small numbers seen every couple of days.

Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, one seen near the Perfume Palace.

Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, one seen over an abandoned field on Camp Victory.

Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus, small numbers seen, mostly on open fields.

Eurasian Collared-Dove, Streptopelia decaocto, large numbers seen daily.

Feral Pigeon, large numbers seen everywhere, possibly the most prevalent bird in Baghdad.

Pied Kingfisher, Ceryle rudis, a daily sighting but only in small numbers.

White-throated Kingfisher, Haycyon smyrnensis, two seen.

Graceful Prinia, Prinia gracilis, small numbers seen on Camp Victory.

Rook, Corvus frugilegus, fairly common and seen daily.

Hooded Crow, Corvus cornix, seen daily but in less numbers than Rook.

Magpie, Pica pica, one seen on a barbed wire fence near a ditch on Camp Slayer.

White-cheeked Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogenys, large numbers seen daily.

Common Babbler, Turdoides caudatus, small numbers seen on Camp Victory only.

And of course, House Sparrows are competing with the Feral Pigeons as Baghdadís most common bird.

Iíll update my sightings next month.

Last edited by Joe H : Thursday 3rd November 2005 at 18:02.
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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 18:15   #2
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baghdad i got a friend from their but he aint a bird watcher.
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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 18:48   #3
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Excellent report, Joe. Thanks for the insight into Baghdad birding... it's not somewhere that we get many bird reports from.
cheers,
Andy
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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 18:55   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Bright
it's not somewhere that we get many bird reports from.
Odd, that....
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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 20:24   #5
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[quote=Joe H]Greetings,
one Northern shrike, Lanius excubitor,

Shag, Phalacrocorax aristotelus, a pair of adults were seen in the Al Fah palace lake on Camp Victory one afternoon.

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the report, glad to hear someone is keeping an eye on the birds amid all the mayhem. I just have one comment and a question your sightings.

You are far more likely to see Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis in Kuwait than Great Grey (Northern) Shrike. This split is now widely accepted but I note that Collins includes meridionalis as part of Great Grey.

Shag is extremely unlikely in Iraq, especially on freshwater. It's a marine species and the closest birds to Iraq are in Cyprus. As you also saw Pygmy Cormorant I am guessing these birds must have been different. Could these have been African Darters Anhinga rufa?

Isn't birding in that part of the world just a tad hazardous?

All the best

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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 20:47   #6
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Originally Posted by level seven
Odd, that....
I'd hazzard a guess that there are more birders in Iraq at the moment than ever before
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Old Tuesday 1st November 2005, 20:56   #7
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Originally Posted by Andy Bright
I'd hazzard a guess that there are more birders in Iraq at the moment than ever before
All those humbies must be a bit of a drag though when you're wanting a quiet stroll down some little lane :)
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Old Wednesday 2nd November 2005, 18:06   #8
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Greetings all,

Thanks for all the kind comments. For those interested in some of the other bird watchersí sightings in and around Iraq, definitely visit Birding Babylon on the Internet. It has links to several sites which have good photographs and far more detail than Iíll be likely to capture. Sorry that I wonít be able to post too often. We have a WiFi service provider but it is very slow and often does not work. But at least there is spotty access to the rest of the world.

Concerning the Shag sighting, I certainly could be wrong. My copy of Birds of the Middle East lists it as vagrant to Iraq and the distribution map in my Birds of Europe does not show a migration path across Iraq. We have quite a few cormorants in Alaska and Iíve seen a good number here so there is little chance I mistook a Darter. When I saw the pair the key things that drew my attention were the short tail, distinctly yellow bill and overall black color. The Pygmy Cormorants are smaller and distinctly two-tone. They also have a noticeably longer tail. The most likely birds I might have seen would be the Socotra Cormorant, Phalacrocorax nigrogularis, or the Great Cormorant. Neither look as much like the birds I saw as the Shag, but Iím certainly no expert on the Shag (Iíve never seen one before) or this area (Iíve never been here before). So Iíd ask if it is possible for either of the two (Great and Socotra) to have a distinctly yellow bill. One last point that might be of help in clearing up the ID, I noticed one of the two had a slightly light or maybe even whiteish colored belly as they flew off. I had assumed it was a slightly younger or female bird; they were otherwise identical.

As for the Shrike in Kuwait, that will have to hold for another day. I did bring a fairly detailed internet guide describing the split and the key points in telling the two appart. I'll cover that later when I have a bit more time.

The big news was that to day I saw a group of five Iraqi Babblers. This was a bird I had hoped to see while here and I was very happy to add this one to the list. For those who keep track by the Latin, it's Turdoidus altirostris. I'm still quite happy about the sighting. I wish I'd had a camera because they let me get fairly close.

Take care,

Joe H
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Old Thursday 3rd November 2005, 18:04   #9
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Greetings,

Itís amazing what keeping a list by flashlight in a tent will do to accuracy Ė but donít feel too bad for me, it got a wooden floor and air conditioning. In any event, David was quite right but I wonít have to go into the whole Northern or Great Grey or Southern Grey issue because I typed in the wrong species in my first post. Iíve corrected it to read Northern Wheatear, which is what I saw. Iíve also added a Magpie sighting which Iíd overlooked as well. Iíve added four life birds and five total new birds to my short but growing Iraq list since the beginning of November. Iíve decided to update this string as appropriate instead of providing the lists on the listing thread just to keep it all in one place.

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Old Thursday 3rd November 2005, 18:05   #10
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Keep it going, always pleased to hear how the birding is in that part of the world...
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Old Friday 4th November 2005, 12:44   #11
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Hi Joe H

If you can get out- big IF I know! - some of the utra-threatened central population of Lesser White-fronted Geese have finally been tracked down to Haur Al-Shubaicha marshes about 80km east of Baghdad. I would dearly love to see them down there one day.
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Old Friday 4th November 2005, 18:30   #12
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I had to promise my wife that I wouldn't expose myself to any additional risks for bird watching or fishing (there's a bit of that here too). I'd love to get over to the Al-Shubaicha or even the larger system down South, but I'm afraid I'll be restricted to what I can do around here on foot. Maybe one of the Lesser White-fronts will make it's way over here...Thanks for the tip though. If I do get a chance to travel I'll certainly take the bins and field guide along.

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Old Saturday 5th November 2005, 04:49   #13
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Am I the only one who finds this thread a tad surreal?

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Old Saturday 5th November 2005, 07:43   #14
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I find it very encouraging that no matter what the situation- birders bird! Keep it up Joe!

James
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Old Saturday 5th November 2005, 09:23   #15
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Quote:
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Am I the only one who finds this thread a tad surreal?

-Adam
It just goes to show that, in whatever situation you find yourself in, an interest in birds helps to take your mind off whatever else you are doing. Interesting thread.
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Old Sunday 6th November 2005, 11:17   #16
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Joe, Socotra Cormorant occur in their millions off the UAE, here's some photos I took in Dubai (note the shag like bill).

http://www.pbase.com/clive_temple/socotra_cormorant
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Old Sunday 6th November 2005, 13:13   #17
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Thank you Gashead,

You are right about the bill. That is a likely possibility for the bird I saw. I don't get much time to do on-line research and I'm limited to the two books I've mentioned above. With the right sort of lighting, the bill could look yellow I suppose. I'll consider the Shag identification most probably wrong for now, especially if the Socotra is so prevalent down there. Thanks again for your help.

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Old Thursday 1st December 2005, 08:58   #18
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Greetings again,

Iím still safe and sound and ready for the November bird update. November proved to be an interesting month with evidence of a migration which included large numbers of cormorants, herons and ducks. I saw the first gulls around the 9th or 10th and by the 17th or so they had become a daily sighting. I saw one group of a little over a hundred Black-headed Gulls on the 17th and a larger (possible Black-backed Gull) land in our office lake. The temperatures ranged from the low 80s (Fahrenheit) at the beginning of the month to the 70s towards the end. At night it reached the low 50s. During the first half of the month we had very little cloud cover and only two days with brief showers. By mid-month we had our first heavy rain which washed off the trees and turned the sand into a nasty brown mess. Also around mid-month I started seeing gulls for the first time. I was quite pleased to see all three kingfishers common to this area, and the Iraqi Babbler, which I had really wanted to see. I saw a small group of the Iraqi Babblers that were not particularly wary so I got to watch them for quite a while. The adult male Blue Rock Thrush may have been the most interesting sighting as I initially had no idea even what type of bird it was. Itís distinctive enough that I was easily able to pick it out of the field guide while it watched me from a former Saddam regime guard tower. It seemed to find me interesting and watched me intently from a perch on the tower, occasionally moving around the tower to keep me in sight. The complete bird list for the month follows:

- Little Grebe, Tachbaptus ruficollis, one pair seen for a few days at the beginning of the month, joined by a juvenal male by the end of the month.

- Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, a few seen flying south at the beginning of the month.

- Pygmy Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, a good number were seen during the first 10 days of November, numbers trailed off after that.

- Gray Heron, Ardea cinerea, several seen around the camp, usually near the shallow ponds.

- Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, small numbers seen most days.

- Little Bittern, Ixobrychus minutus, one adult seen along a canal with dense shoreline reeds.

- Greylag Goose, Anser anser, a single adult seen in the Al FAh palace lake on a small artificial island; later two apparent cross breed (with lots of white plumage) were with the original.

- Common Pochard, Aythya ferina, One adult seen with a group of Coots, a few days later five were seen on the same lake. Up to a dozen seen later during the month.

- Greater Scaup, Aythya marila, a pair of winter plumage or juvinals seen for two days in the Al Fah palace lake.

Ė Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, a group of five seen on a local pond. Small numbers seen every few days.

- Gadwall, Anas strepera, One adult male in breeding plumage and four females mixed in with Coots and Pochards.

- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, a group of 15 arrived on the lake near our office on the 16th and were gone by the end of the month.

- Red-crested Pochard, Netta rufina, four females and or juveniles arrived on the 16th.

- Ferruginous Pochard, Aythya nyroca, five joined the coots and pochards on the 19th.

- Eurasian Coot Fulica atra. Three seen in a lake near the office, two possible immature ones in the group; the following day 14 adults were seen on the same lake, later that week, 40. Another large group of about 30 or 40 was seen on another lake. Last month, these lakes were empty of birds.

- Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus, a male and female seen along the reeds on the office lake.

- Spur-winged Plover, Venellus spinosus, small numbers seen a few times each week. By the last third of November, groups as large as a dozen were seen, usually with one or two Red-wattled Plovers.

- Red-wattled Plover, Venellus indicus, small numbers seen a few times each week along drainage ditches and canals.

- Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, few seen along lake shores and canals.

- Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia, two winter adults in a shallow slew near a drainage pond.

- Black-headed Gull, Larus ichthyaetus, large numbers of first year winter birds seen flying past the office.

- Slender-billed Gull, Larus genei, small numbers seen when compared to Black-headed. Seem to be more likely to feed on the lakes while migrating through, unlike Black-headed.

- Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus, small numbers seen, mostly on open fields.

- Eurasian Collared-Dove, Streptopelia decaocto, large numbers seen daily.

- Feral Pigeon, large numbers seen everywhere.

- Pied Kingfisher, Ceryle rudis, a daily sighting in small numbers.

- White-throated Kingfisher, Haycyon smyrnensis, several sightings, but the least common of the kingfishers seen here.

- Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, one seen near a bridge over a shallow canal, regularly seen thereafter.

- Graceful Prinia, Prinia gracilis, small numbers seen in reeds along one of the ponds on Camp Victory and occasionally in dry scrub.

- Rook, Corvus frugilegus, fairly common and seen daily. There seems to be a daily pattern of flying from a forested area where they roost at night to a location (likely a trash burning facility) South of Camp Victory. The morning departure is impressive but they seem to straggle back to the wooded area in smaller bunches.

- Hooded Crow, Corvus cornix, seen daily but in less numbers than Rook.

- While Wagtail, Motacilla alba, small numbers seen along the canals and lake shores.

- White-cheeked Bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogenys, large numbers seen daily.

- Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros, one adult male semirufus seen at the base of a date tree in a built up area, another seen a few days later near the original spot Ė possibly the same bird. A very pretty bird but too skittish for me to get a photograph.

- Blue Rock-Thrush, Monticola solitarius, one adult male seen in a field with date trees.

- Common Babbler, Turdoides caudatus, small numbers seen on Camp Victory.

- Iraqi Babbler, Turdoides altirostris, a group of five seen on Camp Victory two days.

- Crested Lark, Galerida cristata, two seen in a gravel areas near built up areas.

- Sky Lark, Alauda arvensis, one or two seen on a dirt trail along a ditch.

- Marsh Warbler, Acrocephalus palustris, one identified among tall grass on a lake sore.

- House Sparrows continue to be one of the top two most common birds seen.

To answer a few of the comments since my last posting, I believe Jos was referring to the HMMWV (pronounced ďHum-veeĒ), which stands for High Mobility Multi-wheeled Vehicle. Yes, with them, helicopters, and the ubiquitous drone of generators, there is little chance for true silence around here. But the birds are still singing and Iím getting to where I can ID most of the common birds by their calls. There are a few birders who have posted on-line about their time here in Iraq and Iím sure many more who have not. A pair of binoculars is not a lot of extra gear to bring along. The field guides seem to be the most difficult thing to thing to track down but they can be ordered through the Internet. Itís nice to see the change in my co-workers as they went from curiosity to genuine interest. A couple are even coming to me to identify interesting (colorful) birds theyíve seen. Iím afraid Iím going to have to steer clear of weather all this is surreal or not. I canít imagine coming all this way and not taking the opportunity to see some new birds. I mean, how many guys from Alaska have the Iraqi Babbler on their life list? I feel like posting my observations on the Internet adds something to the small but growing knowledge base for this area.

Take care, Iíll post again after the Christmas holidays.

Joe H

Last edited by Joe H : Thursday 1st December 2005 at 14:55.
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Old Thursday 1st December 2005, 09:45   #19
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When I was deployed in Bahgdad in '03-'04 all I remember seeing were the Eurasian collared Dove and Spanish Sparrow. There were a few others but I had no bins or guides to identify them with. Too bad!
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Old Thursday 1st December 2005, 10:49   #20
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I believe Jos was referring to the HMMWV (pronounced ďHum-veeĒ), which stands for High Mobility Multi-wheeled Vehicle.
Oops, I never was very big on my identification of military vehicles! Good to hear reports from that part of the world ...spent periods in Jordan and Syria, and a single afternoon in Iraq too. Fantastic birds in the first two ...but in Iraq only remember House Sparrows hopping about the airport though
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 18:12   #21
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great reports jos
i do belive i have become aquainted to reading great reports from you whatever the subject
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Old Sunday 11th December 2005, 16:31   #22
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Thank you Lark,

I'm going to try to post some digital photos I've taken while here. They won't be too impressive since I have some fairly simple camera gear.

The Common and Iraqi Babbler are pretty interesting birds but they don't stay put long enough for me to try to photograph them with any kind of scope. My shot of the Iraqi Babbler was too large for this format so I will have to resize it and send it later.

The Pied Kingfisher was kind enough to sit still while I took this picture through my binoculars (digi-bins?). I'll try to post a few more pictures later.

Joe H
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Old Sunday 11th December 2005, 16:37   #23
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Greetings,

Another attempt to attach photos. These are a Common Kingfisher and a White-throated Kingfisher. These plus the Pied Kingfisher seen above fill out the three kingfishers seen here.

Joe
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Old Monday 12th December 2005, 18:45   #24
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sum great birds on them pics and well taken too
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Old Tuesday 13th December 2005, 05:23   #25
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One last shot. This is the Iraqi Babbler. The differences between the Iraqi and the Common Babbler, is that the Iraqi has a more chestnut breast, less streaking on the back, almost no streaking on the underparts, and darker legs than the Common Babbler. The calls are also quite different.

Take care,

Joe H
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ALASKAN BIRDING FROM A CRUISE SHIP: part 1 - Introduction HelenB Vacational Trip Reports 17 Sunday 21st September 2003 13:04
Returning to birding hornet Say Hello 8 Monday 1st September 2003 17:08

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