Monday, November 29, 2010

Birds vanishing from parts of Afghanistan?

McClatchy Newspapers' own Kansas City Star published this item on its website, written by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Warren has seen a lot of birds for sale in the Kabul market, including cages full of the Chukar partridge, which has of course been introduced into North America.

Here's the item (Herat is in western Afghanistan, bordering Iran):

Rahimullah stood in his field, killing field mice one by one as they were driven from their holes by a rush of irrigation water. But the 55-year-old farmer understands that he’s fighting a losing battle against the scrambling rodents. And he knows that he stands even less of a chance of successfully combating the swarm of locusts that are destroying his crops.

He’s tried using chemical sprays and insecticides, but to little effect. What he’s lacking are the various species of birds that have long been the Afghan farmers’ natural ally in the battle to protect his crop.

Birds are disappearing from Afghanistan, either killed by hunters or caught by trappers who then sell them to the burgeoning international market.

Agriculture officials in Herat province confirm that hunting and smuggling have decimated the bird population in the province, allowing pests like mice and locust to run wild.

There are no accurate statistics on wildlife numbers in Herat province. But officials say that a dozen bird species are in danger. Hunting bans are virtually impossible to enforce. Meanwhile, the booming business in exporting birds has had a devastating impact.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes, I Should Be Raking this up...

Or, better yet, out birding....

In the meantime, and for Cute Husband's far away amusement, this is time lapse of just a portion of the leaves that need raking.  
Cool stuff created by our Wingscapes PlantCam

Friday, November 19, 2010


  Many of our readers are probably familiar with the book and movie The Kiterunner, a gripping story that spans the time of (relative) peace in Afghanistan to the 1996-2001 rule of the Taliban. As its backdrop, the book describes the favorite pastime of kite battles in Kabul, and the Kiterunners who race to get kites that are falling from the sky.

  Today being Friday in Kabul (the Western equivalent of Sunday), my Afghan colleague and I walked up to a hillside where dozens - maybe even 100 - kites were flying and battling in the sky. I was the only foreigner there, and I was mesmerized.

   A kite, its string cut by another's, floats to earth:

Kids use these long poles to catch the kites, twirling the string around them. You can faintly see kites flying in the background:


    Kites, which come in different sizes, are all handmade, from paper:

     String, coated with a material that makes it sharp, for sale:

     Not the bird kind of kites (as in Mississipi, Swallow-Tailed), but amazing all the same...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Miss you back, Princess!

Oh, I do! Those are waterfalls behind me, hint hint. 

This is at a famous lake in central Afghanistan called Band-e-Amir.   To quote from the Wikipedia entry (now a bit dated, since the road is being paved):  "The problems facing the visitors are harsh terrain, rocky plateau, lack of basic facilities and mined unpaved roads. The surrounding roads were heavily mined by the local militias and the Taliban during their respective reigns. Only a thin track is clear from mines and is in use by traffic."

Miss you darling.

PS - About these public love letters. ... Others read this blog, you know.... :)

Say I'm a Bird...

So, as most readers of BirdCouple know, Cute Husband and I far from hip, cool or current on anything pop culture.

We don't watch television and rarely go to the movies, although we do watch occasional movies through Netflix.  Which makes us completely clueless when it comes to current contestants on Dancing with the Stars and story lines to How I Met Your Mother, much less who is starring in what.  

I also like to blame the fact that I rarely clean the house on our lack of television viewing, as I simply am not aware of the latest cleaning solutions that are available and widely advertised on TV.

With Cute Husband reporting from miles away and me pining for him from miles away, it probably was not the best idea to watch (3 times so far!) The Notebook without him.  Now, I realize this movie is something like 6 years old, but referring back to our lack of hip-ness, it was completely new to me.

The movie has nothing to do with birds, although there appears to be some bird symbolism throughout.  And, if you care to,  you can may try to ID birds in certain scenes.   I think the gulls in my favorite scene are Ring Billed...

Anyway, as I'm sure you are completely aware, there is a scene where Rachel McAdams' character asks Ryan Gosling's character to "Say I'm a Bird".  He indulges and she then asks him to say he is a bird. 

And, he responds, exactly as I know Cute Husband would respond  (after I cajole him into watching the movie 4 more times with me)...

"If you are a bird I am a bird...."

I miss you, Warren P. Strobel.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Avian Keratin Disorder is Spreading...

Photo: USGS

Deformed beaks, elongated claws and feather color variations are on the rise in Alaska.

Avian Keratin Disorder, found first in Black-Capped Chickadees,  is showing up in an increasing number of other species including the Northwestern Crow.  The disorder makes foraging and preening difficult, not to mention raising young.

In the past, Avian Keratin Disorder has been associated with environmental pollutants.  Black-Capped Chickadees and Northwestern Crows are mostly permanent residents, but they do not share the same habitat, making finding the cause of the disorder difficult. 

In the meantime, it looks like nuthatches and woodpeckers are starting to also be affected.

Oh, sometimes it just makes me want to scream about what we are doing to our planet...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mitch, the Steppe Eagle from Afghanistan

Here's a heart-warming story about Mitch, a Steppe Eagle (a species which princess and I saw in India) that was saved in Afghanistan, after it was wounded, apparently after an Afghan soldier used it for target practice.

The magnificent creature was nursed back to health by Army soldiers and Navy SEALs (go Navy!) and finally taken to the U.S., where Mitch found a home at the Berkshire Bird Paradise, near Albany, N.Y.

We like Mr. Steppe Eagle's moniker. Mitch is the name of our first-born!

Meanwhile, my Afghanistan bird list continues to expand slowly, the equivalent of Chickadees and Titmice and Cardinals, but much appreciated all the same:  Laughing Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Myna and Eurasian Magpie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Starting that Afghan bird list

Warren's been in Kabul since Tuesday morning, and there are *definitely* birds here. So far, my Afghanistan bird list is quite humble, a Eurasian magpie (pica pica) and the ubiquitous Rock Dove. But late this afternoon as I was getting some fresh air on the veranda, I saw this little sucker with a plain brownish belly, flicked-up tail, dark eye, and white outer tail feathers. If only I could get a better look.....

Here's an interesting and accurate (as far as I can tell) blog about birding in Kabul.

I actually saw a version of this happen today, just before my unidentified passerine friend popped in:

‘Every afternoon at around 5.00, I go to my window and look outside because I have been watching something which happens every day around this time, just before the sky turns pink and spirals of sweet smelling smoke start to appear from mud brick homes.
A man stands on a roof and starts waving a long thin red flag, giving short sharp whistles, followed by long ones. Then he waves his flag again, waits for a while and the whistling resumes.
I thought at first he must be corresponding with another person somewhere close by, but as I watched I realized he was communicating with a flock of birds.
Kabul’s pigeons are light brown in colour with bright black eyes. They are actually probably doves. A group of around ten of them suddenly appears and they begin to circle overhead, diving and soaring for a while, then come back to land beside the man on the roof.
After a few moments he shoos them away with his flag and the whole thing starts again in a frenzy of trained wings and synchronized swoops, until dusk falls and the call to prayers sounds out across rooftops in the cold evening air.’