On the frontline: Dangerous birdwatching

The very latest birdwatching destination has been unveiled, offering the jaded British birder the perfect combination of sun, sand – and of course birds. This new location even has its own unique species, guaranteed to set the pulse of every keen birder racing.

Just one tiny little problem: the species is Basra reed warbler, and the destination is southern Iraq.

The suggestion by Britain’s consul general for the region, Nigel Hayward, that the area around Basra could become a birding hotspot, isn’t quite as far-fetched as it sounds.

His claim that “we are on major bird migration routes” is spot-on. Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general, are slap-bang in the middle of the world’s largest avian flyway, with hundreds of millions of migrating birds from Europe and Asia funnelling through to and from their winter-quarters in Africa every spring and autumn…

But even by the most optimistic estimates, birding trips to Iraq are unlikely to happen for another five years or more…And birders do run risks, even in far more innocuous places. Like the plane spotters arrested as “spies” in Greece a few years ago, birders regularly get into trouble for walking around with high-powered optics near sensitive military sites.

So, be careful out there. Let folks know where you’re going and when. Maybe, just maybe, you might for a while before trying to see the Basra reed warbler.

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