MIKE SAYS

Bird Watching (UK) - - Bird The World -

What I had pre­vi­ously known was that Jor­dan is in the Mid­dle East near Is­rael, has a ‘mod­ern’ ‘Won­der of the World’ called Pe­tra, and a chunk of the renowned Dead Sea; plus I’d gath­ered a few odds and ends from the news, and had a tiny no­tion that there were some Bi­b­li­cal sites there. And I knew it looked pretty dry. So, hav­ing been in­vited to Jor­dan, I checked aerial maps on­line, and con­firmed my pre­con­cep­tions that it looks like one vast area of bare sand and rock, with a tad of green near the cap­i­tal, Am­man. Do peo­ple re­ally live here? Can it re­ally be this bleak and uni­form? Is this re­ally good bird­ing ter­rain? The an­swers are (re­spec­tively) that nearly seven mil­lion peo­ple live in Jor­dan, the land­scape and habi­tats are

rich and var­ied and among the most beau­ti­ful I have seen any­where in the world. And the bird­ing is great. Add to that ut­terly su­perb food and im­mensely friendly peo­ple and you have a bril­liant des­ti­na­tion for a bird­watch­ing trip. My pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of Mid­dle Eastern birds is slight (the clos­est I have got was a fam­ily hol­i­day on the Red Sea coast of Egypt), and I have done very lit­tle bird­watch­ing even in eastern Europe. So, I was ex­pect­ing to see a few new species. As it turned out, I racked up some 20 new birds for me, in­clud­ing some real crack­ers, as well as a few new eastern and Mid­dle Eastern sub­species of birds I’d seen be­fore. We started, as most peo­ple do, at Am­man, the cap­i­tal, in the north-west cor­ner, not that far from Syria and Is­rael. Over break­fast we got our bird­ing eyes in, watch­ing a flock of early-ar­riv­ing Pal­lid Swifts whizzing around and a few White-spec­ta­cled Bul­buls out­side (my first life ‘tick’ bird of the trip). We soon left the city, though, head­ing roughly east to our first proper stop at Qasr Amra, the lit­tle rem­nants of a ‘desert cas­tle;’ which is a World Her­itage Site, mainly for its nude fres­coes. But we were there for the birds, and soon found a few Pied Wheatears which turned out to be Cyprus Wheatears on pas­sage (an­other tick for me; Pied are very rare in Jor­dan, ap­par­ently). This was our first taste of the arid land­scape and camels and the it was hard to see how the Be­douin peo­ple camped out on the flinty ground could scrape any form of a liv­ing. Jor­dan is a land of great beauty, with won­der­ful scenery and his­tor­i­cal sites, very friendly peo­ple, ex­cel­lent food and won­der­ful birds! One of the pret­ti­est and most lo­calised birds Mike saw

Blue Rock Thrush on the red stone of Pe­tra SYR­IAN SERIN

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