syria8

SYRIA TRIP REPORT
2 - 11 April 2004

Introduction
Syria is a very interesting new destination for birdwatchers, which contains some little known and otherwise almost unreachable species, such as Iraq Babbler and Bald Ibis. A one week visit in early April was quickly planned to look for these two species, and tidy up some gaps in my Middle East list. I have lived in Dubai for nearly 30 years so my target list was relatively small, and only included Thick-billed Lark, Temminck's Horned Lark, Desert Finch, Syrian Serin and Dead Sea Sparrow. I managed to see all, except Thick-billed Lark, for which I had a contingency plan - I was flying to Morocco from Damascus, following this trip. I restricted my itinerary to the desert areas, with a one day trip to the mountains 30 miles from Damascus, to see Syrian Serin. Other very desirable species I logged on my short rip were Pygmy Cormorant, Marbled Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, White-headed Duck, Little Crake, Great Snipe, Armenian Gull, Hoopoe, Bimaculated, Bar-tailed & Dunn's Lark, Finsch's & Mourning Wheatear, Moustached Warbler, Ménétries' Warbler, Penduline Tit, Daurian Shrike and Rock Sparrow.

A full tour of Syrian sites, with more time and effort, and taking in the northern mountains and coast could easily add Purple Gallinule, Cream-coloured Courser, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Alpine Swift, Thick-billed Lark, Citrine Wagtail, Yellow-vented & White-cheeked Bulbul, Rufous Bush Robin, Alpine Accentor, Olive Tree & Rüppell's Warbler, Palestine Sunbird, Southern Grey Shrike, Yellow-throated Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow, Trumpeter Finch and Black-headed, Rock & Cretzschmar's Bunting.

Getting there/visas/flights: My trip was organised at the last minute with only a week's pre-planning, making use of a sudden gap in my commitments. I was able to obtain a single entry visa for Syria (all British citizens require a visa) within 24 hours from the Syrian Consulate in Dubai for Dhs.200 (approx £30). I flew Syrian Arab Airlines on a round trip from Dubai to Damascus, with an onward destination of Casablanca, where I was able to take a one-week stopover at no extra charge, before returning to Dubai, via Damascus. The ticket was valid for 3 months and cost a bargain £280.

Transport/car hire: I travelled alone and hired a car, arranged on arrival through the hotel. The hire car I was given was a 12 year-old Suzuki Swift and cost US$45 per day. On complaining about the cost - I could have bought this car in a London car auction for the 1 week hire cost - and its reliability - I had to have the starting system repaired twice - the agent said that the car was of 'a very good standard' and worth US8,000 in Syria, so clearly there is a huge import duty on foreign cars. I battled my way through the Damascus city traffic, where the driving standard seemed comparable with Lebanon, Italy and Morocco, (which I am used to having lived in the Middle East for 28 years). Very few Syrians own private cars and the roads outside the towns were quiet, occupied mainly by buses and pick-up trucks. The main inter-city roads, and many of the minor roads were well surfaced and wide, although oddly the road system in every town and city - except Damascus (I didn't visit Aleppo) - was predominantly degraded, with unfinished kerbs, huge potholes and absent asphalt surface, not to mention a complete lack of signage. Petrol cost US50 cents/litre.

Security: The Syrian people, although obviously much poorer than people in neighbouring Arab states were very friendly, hospitable and generous. There was no begging and very little pestering. On one evening while shopping in a market town I got into conversation with a friendly shop owner, when enquiring about local hotels. There were none locally, and the nearest was in Aleppo 100 km away. He and his family insisted I stay with them, which I did, not wanting to offend (or sleep in the car!) and this was an unforgettable experience.
Be aware of wandering suspiciously about, as birders do! I had trouble with the authorities a couple of times, once when I was told to move on by a car load of (armed) plain-clothed military police because I stopped beside the road, possibly near a military base east of Damascus. My agent in Damascus suggested that I write to the Ministry of Tourism to make them aware of this problem and they will ask the military to stop hassling the tourists!

Accommodation: Most of the hotels required payment in US Dollars. The hotels I stayed in were all rated as 2 star*, the rooms being clean and adequate, with a private bathroom. There were other tourists in the hotels, mostly French, who were almost the only tourists I came across. The bed & breakfast rate varied from S£500 (£6) per night (Citadel Hotel, Palmyra) to $21 (£12) per night (Sultan Hotel, Damascus). The Ziad Hotel in Deir Ez Zor was of a very good standard, the best of any hotel on my trip and still only cost US$15 (£9) per night for B&B.

Weather: Syria lies at a relatively high altitude (Damascus 590 metres, Palmyra 380 metres) and the whole country can be quite cool in spring, so a warm jacket or a sweatshirt was necessary. I wore a fleece jacket until mid morning even on sunny days. There was heavy rain in Palmyra on the night of 3 April and it was very cool (though sunny) with a relatively cold wind the next day, with temps. of 10-15oC. Subsequent days became sunnier and warmer and very pleasant indeed probably around 22-25oC by midday, comfortable without being too hot.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: My main sources of information were David Murdoch's two excellent trip reports following his visits in February/March 2002 and June 2003, both taken off the Internet. These documented all the top sites he visited, with directions and access all accurately detailed. I found these reports immensely useful. He has also updated the status of many species, following his trips. I would also like to thank him for all his assistance and for providing suggestions on the final content of this report. Ian Andrews gave me immediate help and encouragement. He had been to Syria in February on an official wetland survey and was kind enough to provide some details of the expedition's sightings, complete with waypoints - these turned out to be invaluable, enabling me to find such places as Ashara ox-bow and Ba'ath Lake quarry, which were two good sites I visited. I am very grateful to him.
Bald Ibis Reserve: And last, but by no means least, I spent a fantastic day with Mahmud Abdulla Ahmed and Adib Aasaad (<hellopalmyra@hotmail.com>) professional ornithologists at Palmyra who took me to the Bald Ibis protected colony, where a tent had been set up and staffed 24 hrs a day by the reserve team. I was put in touch with them by Gianlucca Serra (<gianlu@scs-net.org>), the head of the team, who unfortunately was in Italy during my visit. The importance of Gianlucca's work cannot be understated and you should contact him if you intend to visit the Bald Ibises, which are under the protection of the reserve team.

References: The field guides to use are "Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East" by Porter et al (1996) and the "Collins Bird Guide" by Mullarney et al (1999). For status and timings of the species, you should refer to "The Birds of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" (Andrews 1995) and "The Birds of Israel" (Shirihai 1996), both highly recommended and very relevant to the birds of Syria.

If you go birding in Syria please make your own bird sightings available to others, for example via the Internet, to improve the knowledge of Syrian birds - this will really help future birders and those in Syria working for bird conservation.

ITINERARY (1,820 Km.)

Friday 2 April
Arrived in Damascus 23.00h. Transferred to Sultan Hotel in Damascus city centre.

Saturday 3 April
Walked Hejaz area, Hamidiyah Bazaar. Hire car arrived 11.00h. Departed for Palmyra. Birded at desert and stony plains en route, which contained a healthy population of singing Temminck's Horned Larks and migrant Isabelline Wheatears. Late afternoon I found numbers of birds of prey, including Black Kites, Steppe Buzzards and a male Pallid Harrier, searching for a roost site in a stand of trees on the outskirts of Palmyra. Night Citadel Hotel, Palmyra.

Sunday 4 April

Just after dawn, I took a drive around Palmyra ruins, putting up a flock of Desert Finches and several migrant wheatears. 18 Purple Herons and a Marsh Harrier flew over the distant palms. 9.00h departure with Mahmud and Adib, spending the whole day in the Palmyra foothills and deserts. They introduced me to Sed Wadi Abied (White Wadi Dam), where we watched a Little Swift flying over an interesting selection of wetland species, including Great Black-headed Gull, on the lake. After logging many singing Temminck's Horned and Lesser Short-toed Larks, plus Finsch's, Mourning, Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, we arrived at a Bedouin tent, pitched on a rise in the plain, strategically overlooking Kattar Cliff, where two Bald Ibises were sitting on their precarious cliff nests. In the late afternoon we visited the Talila wildlife reserve, with its thriving herds of protected Rheem Gazelle and Arabian Oryx. Overnight Palmyra.

Monday 5 April
Car wouldn't start until 9.00h - finally, en route to Sed Wadi Abied, I watched groups of Steppe & Long-legged Buzzards and a Lesser Spotted Eagle spiralling up from the desert and migrating north. At Sed Wadi Abied there was much more bird activity, 47 species in all, including hundreds of grebes, ducks and coots, and, in the reed beds, several Little Crakes, a Wryneck, five eastern Stonechats, a dozen Bluethroats, over a hundred Chiffchaffs and my first Dead Sea Sparrows. A visit to the remote edge of the salt lake at Sabkhat Palmyra proved rather fruitless, so I commenced my day drive to Deir Ez Zor, stopping en route at a likely cultivation near a village called Shola, where 100s of Desert Finches provided a good photo-opportunity while several Steppe Buzzards and Montagu's Harriers started to come down to roost in the vicinity. At Deir Ez Zor, I checked in to the Ziad Hotel for two nights.

Tuesday 6 April
Straight to Sfeirah Tahtani and Mheimideh ox-box lake and pools. This was an excellent site, 60 species present, including some important key birds: Ferruginous Duck, Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Collared Pratincole, Spur-winged and White-tailed Plover and five Iraq Babbler, the first of several groups I would see on the trip. In the afternoon I explored Al Suar (Asswar), 50km northeast from Deir on the Al Khabour river (a tributary of the Euphrates), but there were few trees and the riverside cultivations supported little birdlife. I ended the day back in the Euphrates valley at an interesting reed-lined ox-bow lake south of Ashara, 45km south east of Deir Ez Zor, where Iraq Babblers were feeding a couple of infants just out of the nest. While scanning the lake, finding more Marbled Teal, plus numerous other waterbirds I had to fend off the hospitality of local villagers who kept offering me tea. I remained here until sunset, when a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters came in to roost.
Another evening in Deir Ez Zor searching in vain for a restaurant, but eating instead a snack of shwarma, hommos and salad, plus, Mandarin Cola - the Syrian version of Coca Cola - all for the bargain price of less than £1.
Night Ziad Hotel, Deir Ez Zor.

Wednesday 7 April
Very few birds at the Deir Ez Zor Euphrates pedestrian suspension bridge, except ubiquitous Coots and noisy Cetti's Warblers, then a river walk and back to Mheimideh ox-bow until mid morning. Drove east bank of Euphrates north to Ar Raqqa, then on to Ba'ath lake railway embankment, finding a couple of Ménétries' Warblers on territory in the bushes. On returning to the main Ar Raqqa - Aleppo road I travelled a further 15km, taking the turn off for Al Sefsafeh and drove down to the edge of Ba'ath lake and on to the gravel workings with their extensive reed beds and many birds. There was an active Lesser Kestrel colony on the nearby cliff, while the reed beds and lake below the Assad Dam held a further 40 species, including Pygmy Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Little Crake, Water Rail, Armenian & Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern. Several Pied Kingfishers hunted from the wires, while an endless stream of migrating hirundines passed over. The reeds were alive with singing Eastern Reed Warblers, Iraq Babblers and Dead Sea Sparrows while Wryneck, Yellow Wagtail, Bluethroat and Desert Finch provided interest as they appeared during the afternoon. At dusk, 12 Night Heron flew over, before I decided to look for accommodation for the night. This was solved in a surprising way. On asking a shopkeeper at the town of Al Thawra near Sed Assad (the Assad Dam) if there were any hotels nearby, he said there were none, and invited me to stay at his home. Not wanting to offend, and curious to see family life in Syria, I accepted. At his large, though rather decrepit house, with its central courtyard and outside toilet and washing facilities, I was ushered into the living room and sat on big cushions around the wall - there was no furniture except for a television - while his wife and sister-in-law, covered in black shadours served us with typical Arab dishes: laban, hommos, foule medames, pickled aubergines, olives, goat's cheese and bread. Later, a mattress was provided on the floor of one of the upper rooms and I slept early. What an excellent day!

Thursday 8 April
Departed 6.30h and returned to Ba'ath lake and its reed beds. I found a number of additional birds for the site including Great Crested Grebe, a flock of Red-crested Pochard, Fan-tailed Warbler, several Penduline Tits and, in the reeds, a large Acrocephalus, which may have been a Basra Reed Warbler (which has not previously been recorded in Syria). My circular tour took me to the market town of Mansurah for provisions, before I headed south along a road flanked by pastures hosting Calandra Lark and thousands of Spanish Sparrows. After the spectacular ruined Roman city of Ar Resafe, I arrived back at Palmyra, first photographing a singing Rock Sparrow on territory, then on to spend the late afternoon at Sed Wadi Abied again. Additional surprises found there were a Great Snipe and a male Isabelline Shrike.
Night Ishtar Hotel, Palmyra

Friday 9 April
Before heading west back towards Damascus I made a final visit to the Palmyra foothills, and Sed Wadi Abied - such a good area. Later, intent on exploring more of the desert region, after 140 km. I turned east at a petrol station along the main road to Baghdad. It was a very quiet, almost deserted road - not much trade with Iraq these days - where the desert was blooming with grasses and wild flowers. After driving for 10km (N33o47.265, E37o19.992), I stopped and watched several male Montagu's Harriers migrating north, hunting as they went, while Lesser Short-toed and Hoopoe Lark, Yellow & White Wagtails fed on the ground amongst a grazing flock of sheep. Then a familiar song high in the sky above me attracted my attention - it was a Dunn's Lark and after some time it came down close to the road, and offered great views. I decided to drive on and after a further 28Km (N33o44.998, E37o 33.171), another lark was singing high in the blue sky; this time the 'squeaky swing' song identified the bird as Bar-tailed Desert Lark. I had to return to Damascus, but not before watching groups of Bimaculated Larks and European Be-eaters heading steadily north. This fertile, treeless desert was proving exceptionally productive and was surely worthy of more study another time.
Night Sultan Hotel, Damascus.

Saturday 10 April
Unhurried departure for Ani-Lebanon hills. I took the Beirut highway and after 45 minutes turned off for Bloudan, a summer resort located at 1,600 metres above sea level. The hillside was scattered with pines and small cultivations and ideal for Syrian Serin, which proved initially a little elusive, until finally a singing male perched on a TV aerial on one of the houses.
Night Sultan Hotel.

Sunday 11 April
Transfer to airport 8.15h for 10.45h flight out.

CHECKLIST
158 bird species were seen during the tour.
LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis Sed Wadi Abied: two 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 20 on 6 Apr, probably also present 7 Apr. Sfeira Tahtani: present not counted 6 Apr.

GREAT CRESTED GREBE Podiceps cristatus Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake near Assad Dam: one obvious pair in full breeding condition 8 Apr.

BLACK?NECKED GREBE Podiceps nigricollis Sed Wadi Abied: 36 on 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr.

PYGMY CORMORANT Phalacrocorax pygmeus Ba'ath Lake: six 7 Apr, three 8 Apr.

LITTLE BITTERN Ixobrychus minutus Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr, six 7 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: two 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake gravel quarry: one 7 Apr, another 8 Apr.

NIGHT HERON Nycticorax nycticorax Talila reserve: one adult on ground, resting on migration 4 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 15 flying over at dusk 7 Apr.

SQUACCO HERON Ardeola ralloides Ashara ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry: four 7 Apr.

LITTLE EGRET Egretta garzetta Desert pools, 40km. east Palmyra: three 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: five 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: six 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry reeds: four 7 & 8 Apr.

GREAT WHITE EGRET Egretta alba Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: two 6 Apr.

GREY HERON Ardea cinerea Max. seen, 34 resting on migration Sed Wadi Abied, 5 Apr and nine Mheimideh ox-bow lakes on 6 Apr. Otherwise only one at Ba'ath Lake.

PURPLE HERON Ardea purpurea Palmyra cultivations: 16 on 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: one 7 Apr.

GLOSSY IBIS Plegadis falcinellus Sed Wadi Abied: one on 5 Apr.

BALD IBIS Geronticus eremita Palmyra 4 Apr: one lone bird on escarpment, while two pairs nested at the known site protected by the Talila Reserve Project on Kattar Cliff about 20km away - incubating birds seen on nests, from a distance.

WIGEON Anas penelope Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 10 on 6 Apr.

GADWALL Anas strepera Ba'ath Lake railway embankment: two 7 Apr.

TEAL Anas crecca Sed Wadi Abied: four 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 10 on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: up to 16 on each visit 7 & 8 Apr.

MALLARD Anas platyrhynchos Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: only three 6 Apr.

PINTAIL Anas acuta Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr.

GARGANEY Anas querquedula Sed Wadi Abied: 45 on 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 40 on 6 Apr, 20 on 7 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: five 6 Apr.

SHOVELER Anas clypeata Sed Wadi Abied: 120 on 5 & 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 140 on 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: 12 on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: seven 8 Apr.

MARBLED TEAL Marmaronetta angustirostris Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr, four 7 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: one pair 6 Apr.

RED-CRESTED POCHARD Netta rufina Ba'ath Lake: 44 in a flock plus 3 obvious pairs 8 Apr.

POCHARD Aythya ferina Sed Wadi Abied: 30 on 5 & 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: five 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: eight 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 20 on 8 Apr.

FERRUGINOUS DUCK Aythya nyroca Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 16 on 6 Apr, nine 7 Apr.

TUFTED DUCK Aythya fuligula Sed Wadi Abied: 23 on 5 & 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 15 on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 15 on 8 Apr.

WHITE-HEADED DUCK Oxyura leucocephala Up to four (3 males, one female) at Mheimideh ox-bow 6 - 7 April.

EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARD Pernis apivorus 10km west of Palmyra: four possibly this sp. 3 Apr.

BLACK KITE Milvus migrans 10km west Palmyra: three migrants coming in to roost 3 Apr. Palmyra foothills: four 4 Apr. Sfeira Tahtani: three 6 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: four 6 Apr. Ar Raqqa rubbish dump: three 7 Apr. Mansurah: three 8 Apr.

EGYPTIAN VULTURE Neophron percnopterus Palmyra foothills: one 5 Apr.

GRIFFON VULTURE Gyps fulvus Palmyra foothills: three 4 Apr.

SHORT?TOED EAGLE Circaetus gallicus Kattar Cliff: one 4 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 7 Apr.

MARSH HARRIER Circus aeruginosus 20 seen, including two Mheimideh ox-bow lakes 6 Apr, four Ashara ox-bow lakes 6 Apr, three Ba'ath Lake railway line 7 Apr, three Ba'ath Lake quarry. Several singles on migration in Palmyra area.

PALLID HARRIER Circus macrourus 10km west Palmyra: one male 3 Apr. Palmyra foothills: one 4 Apr.

MONTAGU'S HARRIER Circus pygargus Palmyra desert: one 4 Apr. Shola (35km west of Deir): one 5 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: one male 7 Apr. Baghdad road (100km east Damascus): 5, including 2 males, hunting on plains while heading north 9 Apr.

Ring-tail harriers: Talila: one 4 Apr. Shola: two 5 Apr.

SPARROWHAWK Accipiter nisus Shola: one 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 8 & 9 Apr.

STEPPE BUZZARD Buteo (buteo) vulpinus A total of 244 birds seen. Max. numbers follow: 10km west Palmyra: 16 came down for night in patch of Eucalyptus 3 Apr. Talila: 66 dropping on to ground late afternoon 4 Apr. Palmyra desert: 70 rising in thermal 5 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 30 in small groups in thermals 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: seven 6 Apr, 19 in area soaring 7 Apr. Ar Raqqa: four along Euphrates valley over the city 7 Apr. Ones and twos seen elsewhere 4 - 9 Apr.

LONG?LEGGED BUZZARD Buteo rufinus Plains 150km east of Damascus: one 3 Apr. Palmyra foothills: total 20 seen in area on 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 Apr.

LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE Aquila pomarina Sed Wadi Abied: one soaring with buzzards 5 Apr.

BOOTED EAGLE Hieraaetus pennatus Al Suar (50km north-east Deir): one pale phase 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: one pale phase 6 Apr.

OSPREY Pandion haliaetus Ashara ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr.

LESSER KESTREL Falco naumanni Talila: nine 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 Apr. Near Ba'ath Lake quarry: 13 pairs on cliff face, chasing, copulating etc. 7 Apr, two nearby 8 Apr. Mansurah: one 8 Apr.

COMMON KESTREL Falco tinnunculus Pairs seen Palmyra, Talila, Ba'ath Lake, Sed Wadi Abied and several other sites.

WATER RAIL Rallus aquaticus Heard in most reed bed areas. Ashara ox-bow lakes: four heard 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry: three seen 7 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: heard calling.

LITTLE CRAKE Porzana parva Sed Wadi Abied: one male, one female 5 Apr, another different location 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: five females seen 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry: one female 7 Apr.

MOORHEN Gallinula chloropus Up to 30 present Mheimideh ox-bow lakes, Ashara ox-bow lakes, Ba'ath Lake quarry and Ba'ath Lake railway bridge sites.

COOT Fulica atra Very common. Sed Wadi Abied: 380 on 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 100 on 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: 29 on 6 Apr. Deir Ez Zor suspension bridge: 60 on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake railway embankment: 1700 on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry 700 on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake near Assad dam: 3500 on 8 Apr.

BLACK?WINGED STILT Himantopus himantopus Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 25 on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake, Assad Dam: 20 on 8 Apr. A few pairs Sed Wadi Abied.

COLLARED PRATINCOLE Glareola pratincola Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 48 on 6 Apr, two on 7 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr.

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER Charadrius dubius Sed Wadi Abied: two 4 & 8 Apr. Sfeira Tahtani: one 6 Apr.

SPUR-WINGED PLOVER Hoplopterus spinosus Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 10 on 6 Apr.

LITTLE STINT Calidris minuta Desert pools 40k east Palmyra: one 5 Apr, with other waders. Sed Wadi Abied: eight 8 Apr.

RUFF Philomachus pugnax Sed Wadi Abied: four 5 Apr, 80 on 8 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 41 on 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: two 6 Apr.

COMMON SNIPE Gallinago gallinago Sed Wadi Abied: two 5 Apr, four 8 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 10 on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: two 7 Apr, one 8 Apr.

GREAT SNIPE Gallinago media Sed Wadi Abied: one flew out of tamarisk cover at lakeside 8 Apr.

BLACK?TAILED GODWIT Limosa limosa Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 & 8 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: two 6 Apr.

REDSHANK Tringa totanus Seen at four sites, with max. 10 at Mheimideh ox-bow lakes 6 Apr.

MARSH SANDPIPER Tringa stagnatilis Three Sed Wadi Abied 8 Apr, with singles at desert pools 40k east of Palmyra 5 Apr and Sfeira Tahtani 6 Apr.

GREENSHANK Tringa nebularia Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 14 on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: two on 7 & 8 Apr.

GREEN SANDPIPER Tringa ochropus Seen widely. Max. numbers: Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: nine 6 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 11 on 8 Apr.

WOOD SANDPIPER Tringa glareola Nine seen, including nine Ashara ox-bow lakes 7 Apr.

COMMON SANDPIPER Actitis hypoleucos Up to six Sed Wadi Abied each visit. Singles other sites.

GREAT BLACK?HEADED GULL Larus ichthyaetus Sed Wadi Abied: one 4 Apr.

BLACK?HEADED GULL Larus ridibundus Seen Sed Wadi Abied, Ba'ath Lake, but max. 300 at sewage outfall Ar Raqqa 7 Apr.

SLENDER?BILLED GULL Larus geneii Ba'ath Lake: 12 adults 7 Apr, five 8 Apr.

COMMON GULL Larus canus Sed Wadi Abied: 20 possibly this sp. 4 Apr.

ARMENIAN GULL Larus armenicus Sed Wadi Abied: three 5 Apr. Ar Raqqa, Euphrates: 20 immatures 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 10 imms. 7 Apr.

GULL-BILLED TERN Gelochelidon nilotica Sed Wadi Abied: 27 on 8 Apr.

COMMON TERN Sterna hirundo Sed Wadi Abied: 20 possibly this sp. 4 Apr.

WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN Chlidonias leucopterus Ba'ath Lake: one 7 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 9 Apr.

ROCK DOVE Columba livia Palmyra desert: at least 50 on cliffs in foothills 4 Apr.

WOODPIGEON Columba palumbus Ba'ath Lake quarry area: two 8 Apr.

COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto Up to 10 seen most days.

TURTLE DOVE Streptopelia turtur Ba'ath Lake: one only in trees near dam, 8 Apr.

LAUGHING DOVE Streptopelia senegalensis Several seen Damascus city centre and suburbs 3 Apr. Otherwise up to five seen Ar Raqqa town area and Ba'ath Lake 7 Apr.

COMMON CUCKOO Cuculus canorus Singles flushed in plantation near Al Suar 6 Apr and Ba'ath Lake 7 Apr.

COMMON SWIFT Apus apus Damascus city: hundreds flying over city area 3 & 10 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 10 on 4 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 20 on 6 Apr. Deir Ez Zor suspension bridge: 20+ on 7 Apr. Bloudan: 200 on 10 Apr.

LITTLE SWIFT Apus affinis Sed Wadi Abied: one 4 Apr.

COMMON KINGFISHER Alcedo atthis Ba'ath Lake: up to two each visit 7 & 8 Apr.

PIED KINGFISHER Ceryle rudis Singles seen along Euphrates en route. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr, one 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry area: three 7 Apr, six 8 Apr.

BLUE-CHEEKED BEE?EATER Merops persicus Ashara ox-bow lakes: four 6 Apr.

EUROPEAN BEE?EATER Merops apiaster 10km west Palmyra: one over only trees for miles 3 Apr. Baghdad road: 24 migrating over desert on 9 Apr.

HOOPOE Upupa epops Ones and twos various locations, song often heard.

WRYNECK Jynx torquilla Singles Zenobia Hotel garden, Palmyra 5 Apr, Sed Wadi Abied tamarisks 5 Apr, Ashara ox-bow lakes 6 Apr, Ba'ath Lake quarry reeds 7 Apr, another Sed Wadi Abied 8 Apr.

DUNN'S LARK Eremalauda dunni Baghdad road plains: one singing 9 Apr, the 2nd record for Syria (per D. Murdoch).

BAR-TAILED DESERT LARK Ammomanes cincturus Baghdad road plains: One, also in song 9 Apr.

DESERT LARK Ammomanes deserti Palmyra foothills: one very pale bird (ssp. azizi) 4 Apr.

HOOPOE LARK Alaemon alaudipes Palmyra desert: one 4 Apr.

CALANDRA LARK Melanocorypha calandra Mansurah plains: four 8 Apr, then dozens in roadside fields south and beyond to Ar Resafe ruined city.

BIMACULATED LARK Melanocorypha bimaculata Baghdad road plains: 10 appeared to be on migration 9 Apr.

SHORT-TOED LARK Calandrella brachydactyla Palmyra desert: very common in area, 150 on 4 Apr. No other sightings.

LESSER SHORT?TOED LARK Calandrella rufescens Common in south and eastern plains. Palmyra desert: 26 on 4 Apr. Many heard west of Palmyra, north of Palmyra and towards the Iraqi border on the Baghdad road.

CRESTED LARK Galerida cristata The most common species seen: up to 100 daily on roadsides.

EURASIAN SKYLARK Alauda arvensis Talila: two 4 Apr, Mahmud thinks might be nesting there.

TEMMINCK'S HORNED LARK Eremophila bilopha Common from 70km east of Damascus and eastwards, in open stony and alluvial plains, particularly Palmyra area and Baghdad road plains. Palmyra desert: 10 on 4 Apr, typical.

SAND MARTIN Riparia riparia Sed Wadi Abied: 20 on 4 Apr, two 8 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: continuous movement late afternoon 7 Apr, 200 counted in half-an-hour migrating up river.

BARN SWALLOW Hirundo rustica See daily - strong northward migration during period. Max. numbers: Deir Ez Zor suspension bridge: 100 early morning on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry/reeds: 2000 counted heading up river in half-an-hour, late afternoon 7 Apr.

RED-RUMPED SWALLOW Hirundo daurica Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr, two 7 Apr.

HOUSE MARTIN Delichon urbica Deir Ez Zor suspension bridge: at least one 7 Apr.

TAWNY PIPIT Anthus campestris Eucalyptus grove 10km west Palmyra: 10 on 3 Apr.

TREE PIPIT Anthus trivialis Sed Wadi Abied: three 8 Apr, 10 on 9 Apr. Baghdad road: one 9 Apr.

WATER PIPIT Anthus spinoletta Ba'ath Lake: 10 on 7 Apr.

YELLOW WAGTAIL Motacilla flava Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 & 9 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 30 on 7 Apr. Baghdad road: one 9 Apr.

BLACK-HEADED WAGTAIL Motacilla flava feldegg Sfeira Tahtani: eight 6 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 20 on 6 Apr.

GREY-HEADED WAGTAIL Motacilla flava thunbergi Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: four 6 Apr.

SYKES'S/BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL Motacilla flava beema/flava Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 10 on 6 Apr, could not be separated by race.

GREY WAGTAIL Motacilla cinerea Sed Wadi Abied: two 5 Apr, one 9 Apr.

WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba Max. numbers: Ba'ath Lake: 30 on 7 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 14 on 8 Apr.

ROBIN Erithacus rubecula Sed Wadi Abied: three 5 Apr, one heard 8 Apr, seemed to be very late winter visitors.

BLUETHROAT Luscinia svecica Sed Wadi Abied: 16, mostly males red & white spots, on 5 Apr, six 8 Apr, one fem. 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one fem. 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: one fem. 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: one fem. 7 Apr, one male (red-spot) 7 Apr.

COMMON REDSTART Phoenicurus phoenicurus Three male singles various locations, plus two Sed Wadi Abied 5 Apr.

STONECHAT Saxicola torquata Sed Wadi Abied: five Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 7 Apr.

ISABELLINE WHEATEAR Oenanthe isabellina 14 birds seen, including five in Palmyra desert 4 Apr, many paired. All in Palmyra and eastern desert areas, except one 85km south of Mansurah 8 Apr and a pair 130km west of Palmyra.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR Oenanthe oenanthe 23 birds seen on migration all in Palmyra area, including six Palmyra desert 4 Apr, five Talila reserve 4 Apr and four Sabkhat Palmyra 5 Apr.

BLACK?EARED WHEATEAR Oenanthe hispanica Palmyra: five 4 Apr and one 9 Apr. 85km south Mansurah: one 8 Apr. Baghdad road: one 9 Apr. Bloudan: two males 10 Apr, both in song.

FINSCH'S WHEATEAR Oenanthe finschii Palmyra foothills: one male 4 Apr, at known site (per Mahmud).

MOURNING WHEATEAR Oenanthe lugens Palmyra desert: one 4 Apr. Several seen by others in recent days amongst Palmyra archaeological ruins.

BLACKBIRD Turdus merula Bloudan: four 10 Apr.

SONG THRUSH Turdus philomelos Talila: one migrant erupted from a solitary palm 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 8 Apr.

CETTI'S WARBLER Cettia cetti Deir Ez Zor: up to five heard in thick riverside vegetation 6 & 7 Apr. Not seen or heard anywhere else.

GRACEFUL PRINIA Prinia gracilis Sed Wadi Abied: six 5 Apr. Sfeira Tahtani: several present 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 10 on 7 Apr.

ZITTING CISTICOLA Cisticola juncitis Ba'ath Lake: only one heard, over fields beside quarry morning of 8 Apr.

SAVI'S WARBLER Locustella luscinioides Ba'ath Lake reeds: one possible 7 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one possible 9 Apr. Song heard in both cases, and subsequent brief views left me a little confused as I am not very familiar with species.

MOUSTACHED WARBLER Acrocephalus melanopogon Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 6 Apr.

SEDGE WARBLER Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 14 on 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: four 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: one each 7 & 8 Apr.

EASTERN REED WARBLER Acrocephalus scirpaceus fuscus Very common in most reed beds. Sed Wadi Abied: three 5 & 8 Apr. More heard several locations 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: 20+ on 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake: 20+ on 7 & 8 Apr.

GREAT REED WARBLER Acrocephalus arundinaceus Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr.
Large Acrocephalus Ba'ath Lake quarry: one seen (and photographed) 8 Apr, ID not certain.

EASTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER Hippolais pallida Palmyra: one in Xenophobia hotel garden 5 Apr.

MÉNÉTRIES' WARBLER Sylvia mystacea Ba'ath Lake railway line: two 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake/Assad dam: one 8 Apr.

BARRED WARBLER Sylvia nisoria Sed Wadi Abied: one seen briefly 5 Apr.

LESSER WHITETHROAT Sylvia curruca Sed Wadi Abied: four 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Ba'ath Lake railway line: one 7 Apr.

COMMON WHITETHROAT Sylvia communis Bloudan: five in full song 10 Apr.

BLACKCAP Sylvia atricapilla Sed Wadi Abied: four 8 Apr.

WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: one 6 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 8 Apr.

CHIFFCHAFF Phylloscopus collybita The most common species seen. Sed Wadi Abied: 150 on 5 Apr, 30 on 9 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 29 on 6 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: 100 on 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry reeds: 100 on 7 Apr.

WILLOW WARBLER Phylloscopus trochilus Sed Wadi Abied: three 9 Apr.

Ficedula sp. Sed Wadi Abied: one male seen briefly in tamarisk forest 8 Apr.

IRAQ BABBLER Turdoides altirostris Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: five 6 Apr, two 7 Apr. Ashara ox-bow lakes: 12, including two (unfledged?) juvs. huddling in reeds 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake railway embankment: one 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry reeds: six 7 Apr, one 8 Apr.

GREAT TIT Parus major Bloudan: Two 10 Apr.

PENDULINE TIT Remiz pendulinis Ba'ath Lake quarry: five 8 Apr.

DAURIAN SHRIKE Lanius isabellinus isabellinus Sed Wadi Abied: one male 8 Apr.

WOODCHAT SHRIKE Lanius senator 10km west Palmyra: two in Eucalyptus grove 3 Apr. Talila: one 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 4 Apr.

MAGPIE pica pica Common in Euphrates and Al Suar valleys.

CHOUGH Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Dawara Cliff, Palmyra: six 4 Apr.

JACKDAW Corvus monedula Cliffs near Ba'ath Lake: eight 8 Apr.

HOODED CROW Corvus corone Fairly common Euphrates valley and Bloudan.

BROWN?NECKED RAVEN Corvus ruficollis Bald Ibis cliff: four (according to Mahmud) 4 Apr.

RAVEN Corvus corax Palmyra desert: 12 on 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: one 5 Apr.

HOUSE SPARROW Passer domesticus Common everywhere, even desert areas.

SPANISH SPARROW Passer hispaniolensis Where present, in large flocks. Palmyra desert: 350 on 4 Apr. Talila: 20 on 4 pr. Shola, 35km west of Deir: 350 on 5 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: 74 on 6 Apr, 20 pairs 7 Apr. Resafe relics cultivations: 900 on wires 8 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 400 on 9 Apr.

DEAD SEA SPARROW Passer moabiticus Sed Wadi Abied: six 5 Apr, 20 on 8 Apr. Mheimideh ox-bow lakes: three 7 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry reeds: one in song 7 & 8 Apr.

ROCK SPARROW Petronia petronia Near Palmyra-Homs road: 2 males in song 5 & 8 Apr, four 9 Apr.

SYRIAN SERIN Serinus syriacus Bloudan: six 10 Apr.

LINNET Carduelis cannabina Bloudan: 12 on 10 Apr.

DESERT FINCH Rhodospiza obsoleta Palmyra desert: 44 on 4 Apr. Sed Wadi Abied: 10 on 5 Apr, seven 9 Apr. Shola cultivation: 210 on 5 Apr. Ba'ath Lake quarry area: seven 7 Apr.

CORN BUNTING Miliaria calandra Palmyra desert: 20 on 4 Apr. Pools, 40km east Palmyra: 14 on 5 Apr. Shola, 35km west of Deir: 30 on 5 Apr. Mansurah: 20 on 8 Apr. Smaller numbers seen and heard in cultivations, not noted.

Colin Richardson