South Afghanistan: Kandahar - November 2006 - April 2007

Published by gajus scheltema (hgscheltema AT

Participants: hg.scheltema


Kandahar Airbase in South Afghanistan does not obviously qualify as an Important Birding Area. The military part of the airfield, which is currently in use as the headquarters of ISAF Regional Command South, was built in the 1950’s and has witnessed the vicissitudes of the long years of war and destruction. Birds not only have to compete with an ever-growing population (more than 11.000 people are living on the Airbase) but accept these days the non-stop noise of fighterjets, helicopters as well as a shooting range.

But, as is well known, not all birds are immediately scared away by such challenges. The airbase is quite large, moreover, and includes large open fields, two major ponds ( a smaller one to the north and a larger one south) and a marshy drain stream flowing from what is locally called the ‘shitpit’. Another area around the civilian part of the airport has some groups of trees and bushes (mainly tamarisk, some pine and eucalyptus) which attract different birds.

The landscape around has a rather steppe character, mixed with small-scale agriculture, although mountains are not far. A few rivers run close by and contain water even in Autumn. The ‘red desert’ can be seen in the distance and the Pakistan (Baluchistan) border is only about 50 km away.

Nearly half a year was spent at the base, only interrupted by holidays, from early november 2006 to late april 2007. I was able, though irregularly, to escape from work and search for birds with a Svarowski 10x32 binocular and Svarovski 20-60x S telescope, and note them in a logbook. For several obvious reasons I could not do the birding as systematic as I would have liked, lack of time being one of them. I used however to get up early and go to any of the more likely birding area’s; sometimes I would come back during lunch or early evening. Some area’s were out of bounds because of old Russian minefields still present within the fence, while the guards would occasionally get uneasy when discovering me with a telescope. Apart from birds, I occasionally would get mammals in view, and in particular the Indian wolf (!), the jungle cat, porcupines (the latter two would often get caught in the cages of the pest control team) and hares.

Although while flying to different bases in helicopters many waders and raptors were spotted in the distance, they were often difficult to identify. At Lake Kajaki, for instance, I saw a group of black storks and 2 osprey’s in February. There is however no doubt that south Afghanistan, with a surprising amount of water in winter and different biotopes, theoretically would offer some excellent birding spots.

What struck me while watching was the predominance of the Western-Palearctic varieties, for some birds (such as the calandula lark) reaching the South-Eastern fringe of its territory. Typical Himalayan varieties, which occur more in the North, are mostly absent. With some exceptions this made identification relatively easy. On the other hand, I found the absence of crows and martins and low occurrence of wheatears surprising. I could not always pin down flying birds, such as falcons, and only included in my list birds which I positively identified.

As reference guides the ‘Collins Birds of Europe’ (Dutch version), Porter’s ‘Birds of the Middle East’ as well as ‘Birds of the Indian subcontinent’ (Grimmett, Inskipp and Grimmett) were used.
The order of the enumeration and the taxonomy is mainly based on Collins.


Species Lists

Black-necked grebe Podiceps nigricollis: 1 in pond end March - through April

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo: one at pond late March, 2 April 19

Night Heron Nycticorax nicticorax: noticed mid-March. A group, once up to 40, roosting in trees in March - April, once at pool at midday

Cattle egret Bulbucus ibis: 1 on April 8 resting at pond

Little egret Egretta garzetta: occasionally seen at pond early-mid April (once 4)

Purple heron Ardea purpurea: flying over early morning April 21

Gadwall Anas strepera: up to 7 during two weeks in December in drain stream

Shoveler Anas clypeata: up to 4 occasionally late March at pond

Wigeon Mareca penelope: one male seen in pond 23 March

Teal Anas crecca: 12 one day in March

Pochard Aythya ferina: 2 male, 1 juv. 1 female 22-23 March at small pond

Red-crested pochard Netta rufina: 1 female November 28 at small pond

Steppe eagle Aquila nipalensis: at least one flying south of Kandahar in January

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosis: 1 hovering over the reedbeds mid March, again mid April

Black-winged kite Elanus caeruleus: 1 mid March, again early April flying and on fence

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus: 1 mid March hovering over field

Long-legged buzzard Buteo rufinus: a few times seen flying in winter, possibly steppebuzzards

Steppe buzzard Buteo buteo: from time to time in winter, ssp. Vulpinus

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus: a couple roosted in trees throughout

Shikra Accipiter badius: first positively identified only on April 14, but probably seen more often

Common kestrel Falco tinnunculus: from time to time flying over field

Lesser kestrel Falco Naumanni: once over field in March

Black francolin Francolinus francolinus: a couple spotted from January onwards, several males sometimes heard, also at midday

Coot fulica atra: 1 in pond on April 9

Black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus: from mid March continuously up to sometimes several hundreds late March and April at both ponds

Collared pratincole Glareola pratincola: one at big pond April 20

Little ringed plover Charadrius dubius: from mid March onwards, several regularly late March and April at small pond

Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus: one in field and at pond occasionally end March- mid April

Red-wattled lapwing Vanellus indicus: up to 4-6 from late February onwards into late April; breeding?

White-tailed lapwing Vanellus leucurus: one-two from mid March, small flock end of March, gone early April

Dunlin Calidris alpina: a few late november and a flock seen late January from a helicopter

Little stint Calidris minuta: 6 once early April

Temminck's stint Calidris temminckii: 5 once early April at small pond

Wood sandpiper Tringa glareola: one or two occasionally end March and in April

Green sandpiper Tringa ochropus: a few stayed in November-December, returned to stay from February onwards

Common sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos: occasionally 1-2 late March-early April at pond

Greenshank Tringa nebularia: occasionally one in April at pond

Marsh sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis: one or two late March- April occasionally at pond

Common redshank Tringa totanus: two at pond December 12

Jack snipe Lymnocryptes minimus: two one evening mid March at pond

Ruff Philomachus pugnax: several end March-beginning April

Black-headed gull Larus ridibundus: one in December, several in March-April

Slender-billed gull Larus genei: up to 25 occasionally from mid March and in April at big pond

Gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica: occasional small groups late March-early April at big pond

Common tern Sterna hirundo: 6 on April 19 at big pond

Rock dove Columba livia: several from time to time

Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto: appearing in April, becoming frequent in camp

Laughing dove Streptopelia senegalensis: a few, one breeding in March,growing numbers in April

Eagle owl Bubo bubo nicolskii: one on a pole at 18.30 in camp mid January!

Barn owl Tyto alba: one in camp once late November

White-rumped swift Apus melba: several late March and in April

Common kingfisher Alcedo atthis: one at West end stream on April 19

Blue-cheeked bee-eater Merops persicus or superciliosus: 3 on wire April 23

European roller Coracias garullus: one in tree on April 13

Hoppoo Upupa epos: in February-April, up to 6 at a time

Wryneck Jynx torquilla: one in field near stream early morning April 20-21

Small skylark Alauda gulgula: one in field in March

Crested lark Galerida cristata: abundant throughout

Short-toe lark Calandrella brachydactyla: passing flocks mid March

Calandula lark Melanocorypha calandra: one mid March (most South-Eastern occurence?)

Barn swallow Hirundo rustica: several throughout in camp

Long-billed pipit Anthus similis: two in field in March, supercilium sandy-yellowish, possibly Tawny

Water pipit Anthus spinoletta: in November-December at pond

White wagtail Motacilla alba: abundant throughout, in evening sometimes more than 100

Yellow wagtail Motacilla flava: ssp. Feldegg and Flava, few in December,end of March in greater numbers, once in April

Citrine wagtail Motacilla citreola: ssp. Citreola and Calcarata, once in December and February, end of March-April several

Black-throated accentor Prunella atrogularis: once early morning November 11 near drain stream and reedbeds

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica: in November and late March-April several, ssp. Svecica at reedbeds

Black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros: a few times in February and March

Northern wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe: in field in early March

Isabelline wheatear Oenanthe isabellina: a few times in the field in March

Eastern pied wheatear Oenanthe picata: mid March in camp

Stonechat Saxicola torquata: once in November, back in late March-April more frequent. Ssp. Maura

Pied bushchat Saxicola caprata: from mid March onwards frequent in fields

Black-throated thrush Turdus ruficollis: in December- February, max. 8 at a time; until mid-March

Orphean warbler Sylvia hortensis: occasionally late March-April in tamarisk

Lesser whitethroat Sylvia curruca: from mid March in tamarisk, many late March-April

Desert warbler Sylvia nana: occasionally mid December

Graceful prinia Prinia gracilis: in reedbeds, throughout. call typical. Lacking black/white end of tail?

Moustached warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon: low in reed at drain early April

Blyth's reed warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum: occasionally in tamarisk end of March and in April

Paddyfield warbler Acrocephalus agricola: occasionally in April in reed and tamarisk

European reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus: in tamarisk in April. Recognized on song

Clamorous reed warbler Acrochephalus stentoreus: positively identified in April in reed;also tamarisk but sometimes possibly European reed warbler

Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita: occasionally in tamarisk and reed in November and again February-April

Mountain chiffchaff Phylloscopus sindianus: in tamarisk in March-April

Dusky warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus: in tamarisk? April song not heard

Green warbler Phylloscopus nitidus: in tamarisk late March-April

Red-throated flycatcher Ficedula parva: as of mid March, late March- early April frequent gone mid April

Great grey shrike Lanius excubitor pallidirostris: occasionally in November-December

Long-tailed shrike Lanius schach: one on April 14 in tree, again April 20

Isabelline shrike Lanius isabellinus: ssp. Phoenicoides, Speculigerus and Chinese, from mid-February, invasion mid-March, in April only exceptionally

Bay-backed shrike Lanius vittatus: one early April

Common babbler Turdoides caudatus: common throughout (not seen in January) up to 8 at a time, mainly in reed/field

Magpie pica pica: one seen in Zabul, east of Kandahar in February

Common mynah Acridotheres tristis: abundant throughout camp

Starling Sturnus vulgaris: very large flocks in winterevenings in reed

Rose-coloured starling Sturnus roseus: 20 and more seen from mid April onwards, big flocks late April

Common sparrow Passer montanus: in april often mixed with Spanish sparrows in large flocks, mainly reedbeds in evening, April predominant and breeding

Spanish sparrow Passer hispaniolensis: large flocks in November-December and February-March, mixed with house sparrows, mainly reed

Tree sparrow Passer montanus: a small group in camp throughout

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs: flocks late January to mid February

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla: small flocks passing early to mid February

Common rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus: one in reed evening of April 10

Desert finch Rhodospiza obsoleta: noticed in December, large flocks early February, less in March, few left in April

Red-headed bunting Emberiza bruniceps: one in reed evening of April 10 and morning of April 16

Reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus: three in reed through the winter, last seen in February