Fight or Flight

A soldier goes birdwatching in Iraq

Illustration: Jed Morfit

When Sergeant Jonathan Trouern-Trend, an avid birder, deployed to Iraq with the Connecticut National Guard, he saw a chance to update his life list. His sightings are chronicled in his new book, Birding Babylon (Sierra Club Books).

2/15/04 I’m lying on the ground with my eye on some guy racing around in a pickup truck, wondering if he’s going to take a potshot at us (which would have been suicidal), while a pair of crested larks were not even 10 feet from me, the male displaying and dancing around.

3/16/04 Tomorrow I get to go on a run to the burn pit…. [The pit] is a big draw to gulls and crows, and I’m sure I’ll see something good in the gull department.

3/18/04 I think everyone thinks I’m doing security work when I’m looking into the distance with binoculars. I’m not sure what they think when I’m looking up in a tree.

5/14/04 On the way the helicopter hit a bird. It traveled through one of the windows near the pilot’s feet and into the helicopter…. The bird was a male pin-tailed sandgrouse. I’d like to see one alive, maybe later this year.

6/23/04 As I was watching some wood pigeons, a pair of F-16s came tearing down the runway…. The birds were unfazed.

1/27/05 Yesterday was my last day in Iraq for this deployment…. One day I hope to return, with binoculars but without a weapon.


We believe that journalism needs to stand for something right now. That the press is the enemy of secrecy and corruption. That reporting without a sense of right and wrong only helps liars and propagandists succeed. And that we're in this fight for the long haul.

So we're hoping to raise $30,000 in new monthly donations this fall. Read our argument for journalism that is fair and accurate and stands for something—and join us with a tax-deductible monthly donation (or make a one-time gift) if you agree.