Northern bald ibis back at Syrian nests

This is a video about the northern bald ibis in Syria.

From Wildlife Exra:

Northern bald ibis return to nest in Syria

March 2012. The three known adult Northern bald ibis in the Middle East have returned to their nesting site in Syria. The three birds, known as Odeinat, Salama and Zenobia, are safely back from their migration across Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia.

Odeinat and Zenobia are named after well known third century Syrian historical people. Odeinat (Odaenathus in Latin) was the ruler of Palmyra in Syria. Zenobia was Odeinat’s wife, and his successor as ruler after he died.

This is particularly pleasing since Salama had not transmitted since late last year, but this now seems to simply be tag failure rather than anything worse.

Two other birds of unknown origin were seen at the birds winter feeding grounds in Ethiopia in February. However there is still no sign of these two untagged birds that so where those birds go is fast becoming a source of speculation. They were not first year juveniles, so could definitely not be last years fledglings.

Who’s who

Odeinat is an adult male, the father of two juveniles that fledged in 2011. His untagged partner is Zenobia.

Salama is an adult female – her partner didn’t return from migration in 2010, but she continues to migrate and spent the breeding season at the nesting cliff in 2011.

The two untagged juveniles that fledged in 2011 have not been seen, but it has not been discovered where juveniles go to after they fledge as they have never been seen with the adults in Ethiopia.

Two other juveniles that were taken from the semi captive birds kept in Birecik in Turkey were released in Syria, but both disappeared some time ago and their fate is unknown.

Ameer hatched in the wild in 2010 in Syria and was the offspring of Odeinat and Zenobia. Sadly Ameer died after being found in a very weak condition in southern Saudi Arabia two weeks after leaving Syria on migration.

See the latest news on the RSPB blog.

Feared extinct until 2002

The wild population of northern bald ibis was feared extinct in the Middle East, when in 2002 birds were found nesting in the mountains of Syria, near Palmyra – after not being seen in Syria for 70 years. Since then conservationists have sought to give the birds protection by working with local people and by using state-of-the-art technology to track the birds’ movements. This research has identified that the Syrian adult birds head to the highlands of Ethiopia to spend the winter, but where the juveniles go still remains a mystery.

Critically Endangered

The Critically Endangered northern bald ibis was once widespread across North Africa and the Middle East. Aside from Syria, the only other nesting population occurs in Morocco, where just over 100 breeding pairs still occur in two coastal locations near Agadir, on the Atlantic coast. The outlying birds in Syria will be an important addition but only if the population can be sustained.

Two of the three adult birds carry tracking devices and their daily progress can be followed by visiting the following website: and for more background visit


Black-tailed godwits back from Africa, and storks

Today, north of the railway station, greenfinch sound. A jay, sitting on the bicycle track, flies away.

I am going again to where the Baillon’s crakes nested years ago.

I did not expect to see, and in fact did not see, these rare birds here again this afternoon. Like many other migratory birds from Eurasia, the Baillon’s crakes are probably still in Africa, and will migrate back later in spring.

However, quite some other birds have already returned from their deep southern winter quarters. I saw hundreds of black-tailed godwits.

Probably, just back from Africa. Or maybe from Portugal and Spain: rather recently, a minority of black-tailed godwits decided to winter in the ricefields etc. of the Iberian peninsula. Because climate change makes southern European winters warmer? Climate change brings grave problems for tropical birds; is the black-tailed godwit one of few species to benefit from warming, as its migration distance may become shorter? There are still no definite answers to those questions.

Were those black-tailed godwits just back from the Gambia? Probably not, or maybe just a few of them. I did not see any black-tailed godwit while in the Gambia; only their bar-tailed godwit relatives. Guinea-Bissau, just south of the Gambia, is an important black-tailed wintering area.

In late winter-early spring, black-tailed godwits migrate back to the north. They migrate in big groups, arriving in areas like this nature reserve. A bit later, the big groups break up, as they scatter to the various nesting grounds.

I saw another species, traditionally migrating to Africa, as well: two white storks walking not far away from the northern bench. However, quite some storks do not migrate south as a result of a re-introduction program which used to provide them with food in winter. While I sit on the bench, one of the storks flies past me with a leafy twig in its bill. Probably, it nests not so far away.

As I had arrived at the northern reserve entrance, I had first noted many Canada and gray lag geese.

And scores of teal. And shoveler ducks. Males and females; some bobbing their heads, as a sign that they are in love.


A bit further north: gadwall ducks.

Great cormorants. Mallards. Shelducks.

Male and female tufted ducks.

In the northern meadow, four hares. Two oystercatchers. Scores of coots. Some gadwall ducks.

In the water: three great crested grebes.

On the muddy island opposite the bench: between over a hundred godwits and scores of northern lapwings and black-headed gulls, a redshank.

Seven common pochards, male and female, swimming not far away.

Many mole hills.

A dead coot near the bank of the northern canal.

A living Egyptian goose on the opposite site of the water.

Birding in British Columbia – Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica): here.

Afghan graffiti artists about war and oppression

From Reuters:

Afghan artists use graffiti to depict war, oppression

03/06/2012 10:59

Encased in head-to-toe burka, image depicts distraught woman on cement stairwell, chronicles violence

KABUL – Encased in a head-to-toe burka, the image depicts a distraught woman slumped on a cement stairwell, the work of Afghanistan’s first street artists who use graffiti to chronicle violence and oppression.

The female-male duo surreptitiously spray-paint the crumbling and dilapidated walls of buildings in the capital Kabul, abandoned and destroyed during 30 years of war that still rages today.

Talking of her woman on the steps, Shamsia Hassani, 24, said: “She is wondering if she can get up, or if she will fall down. Women in Afghanistan need to be careful with every step they take.”

The sombre depictions of Afghan women on Kabul’s rutted streets offer rare public insight into their lives, still marred by violence and injustice despite progress in women’s rights since the Taliban was toppled over a decade ago.

The “progress in women’s rights” since the Talisban dictatorship was replaced by United States-NATO dictatorship is mainly limited to a few warlords’ wives, sisters and daughters, who make money now as token women politicians telling Western media how great the Karzai puppet regime is. While the mass of Afghan women suffer from hunger, war, and misogyny as bad as, and sometimes even worse then, under the Taliban.

In an abandoned textile factory, Hassani spray-painted a wall with six willowy figures in sky-blue burqas, who rise out of the ground like ghosts.

“In three decades of war, women have had to carry the greatest burdens on their shoulders,” Hassani, who also works in the faculty of fine arts at Kabul University, told Reuters.

Her friend and fellow artist Qasem Foushanji, 25, said he avoids images he describes as cliche, such as the Taliban, but wants to produce socially political art about aspects of Afghan life that “make people go nuts, like women being beaten.”

His works include a huge red heart flanked by bones, with the words “the positive anger” spray-painted across it in English.

The pair, taught how to spray-paint at a workshop in Kabul two years ago, hope their graffiti will gradually bring art back to Afghanistan, where cultural development has been severely hindered by turmoil.

“People were too busy trying to feed their families and art was shelved,” said Hassani, whose family comes from Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace. Like millions of Afghans fleeing violence, Hassani grew up in neighbouring Iran as a refugee.

“We can develop our culture with art, but not suddenly, and not alone. For a country that’s undergone so much pain and war, it will take time,” she said, sporting a dark overcoat and a head scarf the shade of blue she uses in her paintings.

Government officials, others stigmatize artists as un-Islamic

The austere rule of the Taliban frowned upon painting and banned images depicting peoples’ faces, saying it was un-Islamic. They banned cinema, music and theatre outright.

Foushanji, from western Herat province, said stigma surrounds artists, seen as “odd and crazy” in Afghanistan’s ultra-conservative society.

Both Hassani and Foushanji said that stigma translates into harassment and disapproval from government officials. And like graffiti artists in other countries, they face attempts to stop them spray-painting public buildings.

“My friends have backed out when they realized it was serious, they said it was too dangerous,” Foushanji said between puffs on a cigarette.

For now, the two have avoided main streets and outdoor markets, where they would love to spray-paint, and are instead sticking to sites hidden from view.

Hassani hopes to one day teach a graffiti course at her university, similar to the kinds colleges offer in the West.

Contemporary Afghan artists are also accused by the more traditional figures of society of being too Western-leaning, which the graffiti duo reject, saying they instead use Western tools to tell an Afghan story.

“I will never say I am not an Afghan. This messed up country is mine. I will perfect what I have and try connect to our people,” said Foushanji.

Washington’s Afghan puppets as misogynistic as Taliban

This video from the USA says about itself:

Malalai Joya, former Female Member of the Afghan Parliament, founded an illegal school for girls when she was only 16 and has since founded more schools, health clinics, and an orphanage. She was elected to the national parliament at the age of 25, but was driven out by warlords—even facing four assassination attempts. She calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. BBC has called her “the bravest woman in Afghanistan.”

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Afghan clerics’ guidelines ‘a green light for Talibanisation’

Edicts released by Hamid Karzai issue repressive rules for women who, they declare, are subordinate to men

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul

Monday 5 March 2012

Women are subordinate to men, should not mix in work or education and must always have a male guardian when they travel, according to new guidelines from Afghanistan‘s top clerics which critics say are dangerously reminiscent of the Taliban era.

The edicts appeared in a statement that also encouraged insurgents to join peace talks, fuelling fears that efforts to negotiate an end to a decade of war, now gathering pace after years of false starts and dead ends, will come at a high cost to women.

“There is a link with what is happening all over the country with peace talks and the restrictions they want to put on women’s rights,” said Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi, who warned that the new rules were a “green light for Talibanisation”.

The points agreed at a regular meeting of the Ulema Council of top clerics are not legally binding. But the statement detailing them was published by the president’s office with no further comment, a move that has been taken as a tacit seal of approval.

“Ultimately, I don’t see a way you can read it as not coming from (Hamid) Karzai,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s probably not an extreme position for the Ulema Council, but it’s an extreme position for Karzai, and not compatible with the constitution, or Afghanistan’s obligations under international law.”

The clerics renounced the equality of men and women enshrined in the Afghan constitution, suggesting they consider the document that forms the basis of the Afghan state to be flawed from a religious perspective.

“Men are fundamental and women are secondary,” the statement says, according to a translation by Afghan analyst Ahmad Shuja. “Also, lineage is derived from the man. Therefore, the use of words and expressions that contradict the sacred verses must be strictly avoided.”

The statement drew criticism in parliament, where some politicians took it as a direct assault on the constitution and the wider government. If a ban on men and women working and studying together were implemented, it would in effect dissolve the legislature.

“The statement is against the constitution, against human rights and against women’s rights,” said Ahmad Shah Behzad, a member of parliament from western Herat province, who warned that Karzai risked being in dereliction of his duty to protect the constitution.

The clerics also appeared to condone violence against women in some circumstances.

“Teasing, harassment and beating of women without a sharia-compliant reason, as set forth clearly in the Glorious Qur’an, is prohibited,” the statement said, although it then called for punishment of those who assault women.

But overall, the statement marks a disturbing return to the language and ideology of the Taliban, said Nader Nadery, a former commissioner on Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.

In spite of its name, it is doubtful how “independent” from the Karzai regime and the NATO occupiers that commission really is. That even from that direction the guidelines are condemned says something.