Under escort

Gary Stix profiles Omar Fadhil, ornithologist and researcher with the University of Baghdad. Field work in Iraq presents special challenges.

Whenever I go out, villagers always ask, “What the hell are you doing here?” I never engage them directly. Instead I get out my binoculars, set up the camera tripod and take out my bird books. I show them pictures of the birds I’m looking for and, when possible, let them look through the binoculars at the birds themselves.

After a time, they often warm to me. They point to a bird in the book and say, “We’ve seen this one but not that one.” They become my scouts. Despite the war, I have found six new species that had never been seen before in Iraq.