Monday, February 15, 2010

Flying Things

There's a lot of stuff in the air here. Besides dust, I mean. Birds and bugs and machines. It makes for some interesting experiences.

Early in the morning, right around sunrise, our compound is the gathering place for thousands of crows. Literally thousands of them. You see 'em flying in from wherever the spent the night and they converge on top of us. They'll go for the radio antennae, or settle on the barbed wire on top of the walls, or perch on top of the streetlights. Mostly they fly back and forth, pushing and jostling in the air and for landing spots. They're a noisy bunch, too: cawing at each other and raising quite a racket. After a bit of ruckus, they'll settle on the wire fence. Long rows of crows, all lined up next to each other, all facing into our compound. Then it gets quiet, just an occasional squawk. Seems like they're getting their marching orders from their command sergeant major.

Crow Sergeant Major: "Blackie! Take your squad and check out the dumpster behind the DFAC. Report back to me."
Blackie: "Yowp!"
Crow Sergeant Major: "Yellowbeak! You get your boys and recon the fire station."
Yellowbeak: "Aawk! How come we never get to do the DFAC?"
Crow Sergeant Major: "Shaddap! Squawker! Your squad's got the north canal. Get goin'!"
Squawker: "Aaarp!"

Then all the crows scatter for their work day. Not all at once: one leaves, then two and four, and within just a minute or so, the thousands of crows are gone. And the next morning, they do it again.

We have a lot of pigeons here, too. They don't seem too bright. They'll come flying in right about the time all the crows arrive, only where the crows are pushing and shoving each other, the pigeons are more like "Pardon me! 'Scuse me! Sorry, sir!" They're all flustered, trying to get out of the crows' way, ducking for cover. Then, of course, they make the same mistake the next morning. Well, duh: if you don't want to get into a shoving match with the crows, then don't show up over our compound at sunrise. But there they are, every morning. "Scuse me! I'm sorry!"

I get a kick out of the sparrows. At least I think they're sparrows: little bitty mouse-brown birds, all chirpy and alert. We don't have a sparrow-tree on our compound - maybe because of the crows - but I've seen sparrow-trees on other parts of the base. Sparrows like to congregate at sunset. They'll have hundreds of them in one tree. And they don't just amble in, either. They'll come screaming in at high speed, slam on their brakes just inches from the leaves, and disappear skidding into the tree. Where crows have the morning mission brief, sparrows have Happy Hour!! which is properly spelled in caps and with exclamation points. Happy Hour!! is very festive - you can see the whole tree vibrating as the birds hop from branch to branch, chirping with all their friends, telling tall tales about their exploits that day. They're just as noisy as the crows, but high-pitched and excited. "Whoopee! It's Happy Hour!! Let's get naked!"

We have a rather surprising type of bird here, too. Seagulls. Yes, you read that right. Seagulls. Damned if I know why they're here, but they are. I see them congregate around shallow ponds of stagnant muck as far as they can get from humans. Sometimes I see them circling in the air in some updraft, going round and round, not doing anything in particular. When they're on the ground, they just stand there, not doing anything in particular there, either. They're the wallflower of the bird world.

We also have a lot of flies. Iraqi flies are the most aggressive, persistent, and annoying flies I've ever encountered. Brush it away and it comes right back. If it decides that it likes your eye, it's going to land right by your eye come hell or high water. Moving to a different area will do nothing to dissuade it: it'll follow you around until it friggin' lands on your eye. Period. I guess life as an Iraqi fly is hard, so they have to be even hardier to survive.

Speaking of bugs, right around sunset, the gnats come out. I don't know if they're really gnats, or mosquitoes, or whatever. They don't bite me, they just swarm in different areas, going round and round, maybe following me as I walk, but not really landing and biting. They're annoying, but not for long, because just a few minutes after they show up, the bats do, too.

I like watching the bats. They're very quick, zipping around, changing direction inside their own length. They never present any kind of trouble to humans - it's really hard for a bat to eat a human - but they munch right down on the gnats and whatever other bugs are unfortunate enough to be airborne at sunset. They're quiet, too, since their built-in sonar systems are pitched way too high for us to hear.

What we can hear, and way too loudly, are the commercial airliners on final approach to the airport. They pass directly over our building, a few hundred feet up. Sometimes, I swear that they're trying to land on our roof. I can walk outside and do a visual inspection of the plane's landing gear as they fly by. Inside our office, sometimes the whole building shakes. I am not a fan of living under final approach, but so far, none have fallen out of the sky, so I guess we're safe.

But I like the helicopters. They're the reminder that we're not in Kansas anymore. Helicopters always fly in pairs. We see Blackhawks, the CH-46's from the Marines, and occasionally the Embassy's blue birds. As they fly over the base at night, the helos will have their lights on. As they pass over the perimeter, though, the lights go out. No running lights. Just the sound, which you can't really pinpoint. This is an extremely active base for helicopters. Go to the BX and there are two landing zones nearby, one of which is often being used. Right down the road is another landing zone. Cross the canal, and there's another. I don't ride in helos anymore, more's the pity - I always got a kick out of it. Sure would be fun to get one more ride before I leave here in April.

We have several blimps around the base, too. These have various kinds of bad-guy detectors on them. I like the blimps. They don't move around, they don't make any noise, they just float in the air and do their job. Cool.

Finally, there are the Predators. You can often hear them when it's quiet outside. Sounds like somebody's little model airplane off in the distance. Which it is, sorta. Sometimes you can even spot them, cruising slowly along at a few thousand feet. Predators have more bad-guy detectors on them, and ways to track the bad guys, and maybe even ways to hit at them, too. I really like the Predators!


Sam said...

we here in Baghdad say, dont look at the crows in ur morning cuz crows brings bad luck!!!

btw im jst wondering, r the crows SgtMag is Army or Marines!!! just kiddin..

Kanani said...

Okay, this is hilarious. I'm linking this over to Facebook.