Syrian survey throws up surprises
Researchers in Syria last winter found significant numbers of various endangered species of birds, as well as internationally important numbers of wintering wildfowl.
Very little is known about Syria's birdlife, but recent fieldwork has revealed some unexpected finds. In 2002 a small breeding colony of the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita (Critically Endangered), last known to have bred in the country in 1928, was found in mountains near Palmyra.
Three teams totalling 12 conservationists of six nationalities visited Syria during February 2004. Their aim was to carry out counts of winter visitors, and identify areas of significant conservation value. Much important information was derived from local people by the expedition's Syrian conservationists.
Among a total of 185 species, the expedition recorded over 3,000 Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus (Near Threatened) including 1,400 at one roost site in north Tishreen, and a total of 60 White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala (Endangered) at three different sites. Several flocks of Ferruginous Ducks Aythya nyroca (Near Threatened) numbered in their hundreds, with lesser numbers on small oxbow lakes. In total, the researchers counted more than 400,000 waterbirds.
The rarest globally threatened bird to be recorded was the Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius. This Critically Endangered wader was recorded at widely distant parts of the country, leading the team to speculate that internationally significant numbers may winter in Syria. One was seen at Lake of Homs, four over Talila Reserve, and three on agricultural land west of Tal Brak, north-eastern Syria.
The Syrian population of Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris, first found in the country in 2001, was believed to be small and restricted in range. But the expedition revealed that the bird occurs all along the Syrian Euphrates, with good numbers in the reedbeds along the lower part of the river. It was even found away from the Euphrates basin, on the shores of Sabkhat al-Jabbul.
"The range extension of the Iraq Babbler might be explained by a recent population increase, but may be because the species has been largely overlooked in the past." —Tobias Roth, Expedition member
Another important objective of the expedition was to pass on techniques and tools, including optical equipment, fieldguides and the use of GPS (Global Positioning System), to the Syrian conservationists who accompanied the teams.
The expedition was supported by BirdLife International, the Dutch Van Tienhoven Foundation and the Ornithological Society of Middle East OSME), and was led by David Murdoch.