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Pleske's Groundpeckers in Iran
by Jerzy D.
We saw Pleske's Groundpeckers, Podoces pleskei, on 10 Oct. 1999 about 30km NW of Chahr-Babak, Kerman Province, Iran. [Taxonomic update: Molecular biologists recently have placed Podoces and Pseudopodoces with the tits, so they should no longer be called "Ground Jays". Details.] We were driving with the local warden in the Zygophyllum steppe, and first saw two very distant birds perched on bushes, but they quickly disappeared. Rather sad, we drove farther and saw another Groundpecker, an adult, on a bush close to the car. As previously, it dropped to the ground. We watched for about 10 minutes as it ran around and fed under the bushes, as close as 5m from our car.
On 9 Oct, we had taken the following route, without success: Approaching Chahr-Babak city from Sirjan road (roughly south), you see to your left five groups of rocky outcrops rising from the flat steppe. (To the right, there are many, connected outcrops.) From Chahr-Babak, the closest outcrop appears round-topped, while the rest have conical tops. We took the minor street on the outskirts of Chahr-Babak, which changes from asphalt to a dirt road. Where the road turned to dirt, there was a sandy track (actually several connected tracks) going to the right, roughly toward the round hill.
We followed the sandy track, first near some cultivation, then through grassy and bushy steppe. It led roughly west, a bit to the right from the hill. Finally, we reached a single tree with a hut and a well, roughly at the level of a hill. But not a single Groundpecker.
The next morning we went north of Chahr-Babak by paved road, and after about half an hour, we turned left by 4WD into the roadless steppe with Zygophyllum bushes. Apparently, our guide was checking habitat at random. We slowly turned left and drove roughly a huge loop of ca 60km and returned to the first track. Groundpeckers were seen somewhere in between. The steppe has sometimes fairly thick bush and sometimes none at all. We saw the Groundpeckers where the bush was not very dense, with much sand visible between.
Cream-coloured Coursers, Hoopoe Lark, Desert and Scrub Warblers, Desert, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears and sandgrouse were a bonus.
People in the Department of Environment in Kerman told us that that the Groundpecker is common wherever Zygophyllum steppe occurs. It is even regularly seen scavenging at the roadsides. Zygophyllum seems to be the scrub 0.5-1.5m high, with thick, juicy-looking and rather twisted branches and small spoon-shaped leaves, few of which remained on plants in autumn. The Groundpecker is active in morning and evening, and like everything avoids afternoon heat.
We also asked local ornithologists about Slender-billed Curlew. This species is still seen on Persian Gulf in Iran (the furnished precise sightings of 2 and 1 from 1996 and 1997), but in very small numbers. Their guess was about a dozen in total. Hopefully a survey planned this winter will reveal more.