|Joined: 09 Mar 2007
Location: Jbeil Byblos
| The Birds of the Mediterranean by BankMed
|The Birds of the Mediterranean,compiled by Bankmed, is a ravishing collection for both, the mind and the eye. Il gives the reader an overview of the avian wealth that populates or crosses the Cedar country.
Of all animal groups, birds are perhaps the easiest to observe. They are all around us; they come out in the daytime; some are colorful; many of them sing, and they can be found in all the different habitats of the country. Lebanon is a great place for bird watching. Indeed, in a relatively small land area, Lebanon holds a very high level of biodiversity with exceptionally high percentages of the world's biodiversity.
There are many different ways to learn about Lebanon's birds. These include overviews of: bird families, the seasons when certain birds are present, and birds' natural habitats.
The Syrian Serin (Serinus syriacus), below on the left, and European Serin (Serinus serinus), below in the middle, look very much alike and are closely related. Both are found in the Finch family. The Syrian Serin is a special bird for Lebanon as it is a regional endemic (i.e. it is only found in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan). It is listed on the IUCN red list as vulnerable. The Woodchat shrike (Lanius senator) above on the right, looks very different with its bright markings and hooked beak, and it is found in the Shrike family.
Explore these birds' families in the next few pages:
Birds of Prey (also known as Raptors)
This is the bird family of fierce predators. All birds in this group share common family features of a hooked beak and sharp claws or ''talons''. In fact, it is with these formidable weapons that these birds make their living - by hunting. Their food varies depending on the size of the bird. For instance, one of the smallest members of the family, the Hobby (Falco subbuteo), catches dragonflies on the wing, whereas the larger Eagles can kill and eat small deer!
Thousands of birds of prey migrate through Lebanon each spring and autumn. The large birds are mostly classified as soaring birds. This means we tend to see them in large flocks spiraling overhead. In fact, Lebanon is hugely important for the conservation of these magnificent birds as so many pass through. It is estimated that as many as 150,000 Lesser Spotted Eagles migrate through Lebanon annually, a very large proportion of the world's population.
Not only these birds are amazing to see, but they also perform an important function in the environment-controlling pests such as rats, mice, and rabbits.
COMMON BUZZARD The Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) has a hooked beak. This is a typical characteristic of birds of prey, which proves that these birds eat meat.
THE HONEY BUZZARD AND THE SHORT-TOED EAGLE We often see birds of prey soaring overhead on migration. As shown in the pictures below, a Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus), and on the right a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus). The Honey Buzzard eats wasps and the Short-toed Eagle eats snakes. A few Short-toed Eagles stay to breed - a god place to see these eagles is at Aammiq or at the Shouf Cedar reserve.
Lebanon's Birds of Prey
Everyone has heard of Eagles, but this group also includes several other awesome predators. The most common members of the family that are worth keeping an eye out for include:
With its forked tail and ''hunched look'', the Black Kite appears sinister - in fact it is a very useful scavenger - while mi-grating through Lebanon.
(Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk)
As their names suggest these small raptors hunt smaller birds. Both species migrate through Lebanon - flocks of the Levant Sparrow Hawk can number hundreds over the hills of the Shouf and Metn like the example in the picture on the left: Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter nisus).
(Common Buzard, long-leged Buzzard, Honey Buzzard)
The long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), unlike the closely related Common Buzzard is a resident breeder in Lebanon. It can be seen perched or hovering against the wind, scanning the ground for mice, rats,and voles etc. that make up its diet. Wherever there is protection from hunting in the hills and Bekaa Valley, this bird is a common sight.
(Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel, Red-Footed Falcon, Hobby, Eleonara's Falcon, Peregrine Falcon)
Falcons - illustrated here by the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) - are the smallest but also the most agile and fastest of the birds of prey. Superb masters of the sky, they can catch birds on the wing or hover above a single spot waiting to descend on an unsuspecting mouse. Indeed, when the Peregrine is ''stooping''(flying fast towards the ground), it is the fastest bird in the world. Kestrels are common winter visitors particularly to farmland (Aammiq and Kafr Zabad / Anjar are great places to see them). This one shows another family trait of the falcon group - strongly marked faces. The largest Falcon in Lebanon, the Peregrine, can be found in winter around the tall buildings of Ras Beirut, which resemble its natural home of cliffs.
(Lesser Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle)
Due to its position on a major migration route, Lebanon is a great place to see Eagles. The most likely species to see are the ones listed above. Of course, these Eagles do not only fly overhead; many rost overnight in safe places (away from people) as this juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) was doing when it was photographed at Aammiq. Other good places to see Eagles are: Ehden, Shouf Cedar Reserve, and Beirut River Valley.
The Best Time and places to See Birds of Prey
As with other mainly migratory species, the best months are mid-March through to the end of May and August, but the best months to spot Honey Buzzards are September and October.
Herons are characteristic birds of wet places, wetlands and the coast. Expertly adapted to catch fish with their harpoon like bills, and able to wade into shallow water using their long legs, Herons can stand motionless for long periods. In Lebanon, only two species breed: the Little Bittern (lxobrychus minutus) and occasionally the Night Heron (Nyctico-rax nycticorax). The seven other species either only migrate through the country, or spend the winter: Eurasian Bittern, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, and Purple Heron.
As its name suggests, the Little Bittern (Ixo-brychus minitus), on the right, is the smallest member of the heron family in Lebanon. A common breeder in the wetlands of Aammiq and Kafr Zabad, it can be seen climbing in the reeds or flying low over the water or as shown here, waiting patiently to catch a fish.
A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) at Ammiq, with its dagger-like bill and long legs is able to wade on shallow water, a typical characteristic of its family.
The Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) on the right, often breeds at Aammiq and occasionally at lake Qaraoun. The bird pictured here is a juvenile as can be told from its streaky appearance.
The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) on the left, like the little Egret (Egretta garzetta) in the previous page, is a stunning all-white bird. During breeding, some Egrets develop long plume feathers, which used to be a fash-ionable addition to ladies hats, and so many of these birds were killed for that purpose. Fortunately, the fashion is long gone, but the birds are still vulnerable to sport hunting and loss of habitat and pollution.
The Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), above, and the much larger Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) below, show the characteristic "S-shaped" neck that these birds display when flying or when perched. The Squacco Heron is a small heron, but the Grey Heron is a large bird almost the size of a stork.
The Best Time and Places to See Herons
Little Bitterns arrive at their breeding sites in April (particularly in Aamiq and Kafr Zabad). The migrant species are best seen in the spring (when there is enough water around) from mid-March to May. Winter visitors such as the majestic Great White Egret tend to arrive at their Bekaa sites when the wetlands fill from winter rain, so they can be seen from January to March in most years. Outside of the wetland sites, these birds can be seen migrating almost any-where in the country, but the coast is a particularly good place to keep a watch for them; Palm Islands, Ras-Beirut Corniche, and Tyre Beach Nature Reserve are particularly good sites for spotting these birds.
The spectacle of thousands of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) wheeling overhead as they pass over the mountains, on their spring migration, is one of the great natural sights in Lebanon.
Two Species migrate through Lebanon: the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) and the Black Stork (Ciconia nigra). The Black Stork is a much rarer bird, internationally, than the White Stork, which is a shy bird of wet forests in its breeding range.
Season of Presence and Duration of Stay in Lebanon
Birds can be classified according to the seasons they arrive and the duration of their stay in Lebanon. They fall within the following categories:
Reseidents: They live all year round and breed in country.
Breeding Summer Visitors: They arrive in the spring, breed, and leave in the autumn. Winter Visitors: They arrive to spend the winter but leave in the spring to breed somewhere else.
Formerly Bred or even Extinct: Unfortunately, these species used to breed in Lebanon, but now, they only passes through or have been completely lost from the national treasure of birds.
Passage Migrants: They just travel through the country on their migration.
Due to Lebanon's position on a major world bird migration route, the situation is very complex. Depending on the species and populations of birds, Lebanon is:
Either a part of the migration route or a destination.
Important for migrants in fall and spring or only during one season (White Pelicans, at the bottom of the page, migrate through in both seasons).
A destination for winter visitors (like the European Robin Eritchacus rubecula, top left).
A destination for migrant breeders arriving in the spring to breed (like the Masked shrike Lanius nubicus, bottom right).
More than one of the above!
When to See Migrating Birds in Lebanon?
In spring, the major route used by soaring birds migrating northward through Lebanon runs along the Eastern flanks of the Mount Lebanon Range and the western half of the Bekaa Valley. These birds include Cranes, Pelicans, birds of prey such as Common Buzzard and Lesser Spotted Eagle, and many thousands of White Storks. A smaller numbers of birds, dominated by White Pelicans and White Storks, pass across the western side of the country where they can sometimes be seen in large flocks at sites such as Bhamdoun or in the Beirut River Valley.
In the fall, when birds are returning south to spend the winter in Africa, most soaring birds pass down the eastern flanks of the Lebanese mountains while some travel higher up on both sides of the ridge. These streams converge about halfway down the mountain chain, with most of the birds, particularly the large birds of prey, passing together over the upper portion of the Beirut River Valley. Unlike spring. White Storks are seen in much lower numbers in most autumns, with the majority passing further east over Syria and Jordan.
The Little Owl
The Little Owl (Athene noctua), to the left, is a resident bird that spends all its time and breeds in Lebanon. The Black Eared Whea-tear (Oenanthe hispanica) arrives in spring to breed and leaves in the autumn, so it is a summer breeder.
The Bluethroat, the Honey Buzzard, and the European Roller
The beautiful Bluethorat (Luscinia svecica), above on the right, is a winter visitor that comes to Lebanon from far to the north. The Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) only migrates through Lebanon, so it is a passage migrant.
Unfortunately the European Roller (Coracias garrulus) is a former breeder. Since it had been heavily hunted, this bird no longer breeds in Lebanon. Now it only passes through on migration.
Although Lebanon is a small country, with a land area of only 10,452km2, it has an amazing diversity of habitats. This is largely due to the wide range in altitude from sea level to mountain peaks rising to over 3,000 meters. Broadly the habitats can be divided into the following types:
Coasts and Islands
With massive development along the roughly 200km coastal strip, the shore line habitats have been affected, perhaps more than any other, by man. Nevertheless, there are still wild places and wild life survives in some of the most unlikely places.
You can see wildlife pretty well from anywhere on the coast, particularly from headlands - such as Ras Beirut and Ras Cheka. In winter, Gulls are common and often gather in huge flocks feeding off schooling fish that come close to shore. In spring and fall, the coast is an important route for migrating birds (Pelicans, Grey Herons, Egrets and Cormorants).
Wild Life in the City - Urban Habitats
A number of animals have adapted well to the urban environment and are seldom found anywhere else. In fact, because there is so much concrete, cities heat up more quickly than the surrounding, largely green, countryside in the spring. This in turn causes thermals of hot air to rise above the cities'surroundings. Soaring birds use these conditions to gain height on their long migration journeys. Therefore, keep a watch for flocks of large soaring birds.
Some birds specialize in living close to man and make our towns their permanent homes too. Amongst the commonest in Beirut is the Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis).
Other birds are more widely distributed but reach their highest density in our towns. If there are gardens, parks or similar habitats, the Yellow-vented Bul-bul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) on the left, is commoner in town than outside.
Certain species arrive in the spring to breed in the urban setting and then leave in the late summer. A good example is the Common Swift (Apus apus). In summer, its screaming cries can be heard over many town and village squares. Other species descend from their mountain summer haunts to lower altitudes where they spend the winter in warmer conditions.
Many of these birds come into towns. Both the Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) below on the left, and the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) above, can be found in rocky areas in towns in the winter - particularly ruins.
(Olive Groves & Orchards - Arable Fields)
Olive Groves and Orchards
The Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus) below on the left, is a type of bird that lives among olive groves and feeds on large insects that thrive there such as the ground beetle (Coleoptera sp).
Aammiq fields in West Bekaa provide just the right conditions for large numbers of the Levant Vole (Micro-tus socialis hermonis). These fields support larger numbers of Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo), below on the right, and Harriers than do any other habitats in Lebanon.
Black - Headed Bunting
The Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala), in the picture, with its bright yellow plumage and black head is a distinctive bird of farmland.
Mediterranean Oak Woodland
The oak trees and other plants are a rich source of food for an army of invertebrates who in turn are on the menu for many insect-eating birds. Some of the commonest include: Blackbirds (Turdus merula), Lesser Whitethorats (Sylvia curruca), Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) below on the right, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers (Hippolais pallida) above, Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) top left, and Great Tits (parus major). The seeds of the oak trees - acorns - are a special food for a number of animal species including the Jay (Garrulus glandarius), which feeds exclusively on them. Jays bury the acorns in the fall and use them up in winter. The Mediterranean oak forest is widely distributed throughout the country. However, only a fraction remains as the trees have been cleared from antiquity to make room for houses and fields. Even today we are losing forest cover due to fires, construction, and habitat degradation - see Pine Forest and Maquis and Garrigue. Nevertheless, good examples of oak forest can still be found at The Shouf Cedars Nature Reserve, Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve, Bentael Nature Reserve, Aammiq, Jabal Moussa, and many other places.
Maquis & Garrigue
Maquis and garrigue are landscape forms that developed from the progressive destruction of former broad-leaf and coniferous forests. If you have to force your way between the shrubs, then you are in a maquis. However, if you walk on bare ground between the undergrowth, then you are in a garrigue. Maquis and garrigue are rich in birds as there is plenty of food around for them as shown below. The Green Finch (Carduelis chloris) on the right, eats seeds while the Blackbird (Turdus merula), below on the left, eats worms, small insects fruit and berries. The Bee Eater (Merops apiaster), centered below, feeds on bees and wasps, and the Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus) eats larger insects.
Although they have witnessed a reduction in the number of animal species within them, cedar forests in Lebanon still constitue an important habitat for many birds. There are three cedar forests in the country: Horsh Ehden, Tannourine, and the Cedars above Becharre in the north. Birds that can be found in cedar reserves include: The Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros), Lesser Whitethorat (Sylvia curruca), Coal Tit (Parus ater) and Great Tit (Parus major).
Despite the fact that the number of resident birds is few, these magnificent forests are the setting for some of the most spectacular migrating species such as the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila po-marina) - thousands can pass over these ancient trees in a day.
Large stretches of pine forests can be very important for the roosting of migrant birds. Huge numbers of migrating birds of prey and storks pass over these forests, and sometimes rest overnight in the trees, particularly, on the west side of Mount Lebanon and in forest areas in the Beirut River watershed.
Although quieter than oak forests, pine forests are, nevertheless, home to their own selection of resident and breeding birds. Amongst them are Masked Shrikes (Lanius nubicus) above, Great Tits (Parus major) below to the left, Lesser Whitethorats (Sylvia curruca), and the regional endemic Syrian Serins (Serinus syriacus).
High Altitude Slopes
When the higher slopes are still free from snow during the fall season, certain migratory birds use these areas to roost, breaking long journeys in isolated mountain areas. Other birds are specialist high altitude species. They make their living high in the mountains. These species include: such species as Shore Lark (Eremophila alpestris) above on the right, Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) below on the right, and presently, but rare, the crow of the high mountains the aptly named Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) below on the left.
Lebanon has semi-desert habitat in the northern Bekaa region, near Hermel. Al-though deserts and semi-deserts, have little plant production due to the lack of water, and therefore lower levels of insects and other animals, yet what they have is quite special. Many species are adapted to this harsh habitat and a visit to such areas is quite rewarding as you can spot special types of birds in them. The following species are found only in such habitats in Lebanon: Cream-colored Courser (Cursorius cursor) below on the left, Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) bottom right of the previous page, Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti) top right, Temminck's Lark (Eremophila bilopha) below on the left, Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta) below on the right, and Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lu-gens) shown on the following page.
As can be noticed from the aforementioned list of birds, most desert birds share the same colors of the sand and rocks around them. However, the Mourning Wheatear with its black and white plumage and habit of sitting on thorn bushes stands out among this group.
Wetlands, Lakes & Rivers
Under the broad heading ''wetlands'', there are several different types of habitats, ranging from small mountain ponds to the largest of all, Lake Qaraoun in the Bekaa. In between these two extremes, there are lakes, pools, temporary flooded areas, rivers and the extensive marshes of Aammiq and Kafr - Zabad / Anjar.
Some of the wetland habitats in Lebanon, from top left to bottom right include: Jezzine waterfall, Damour river, the outflow from the largely vanished Yammouneh wetland, Lake Qaraoun – the largest freshwater habitat of all - Tanayel pool and the temporary wetland of Aiha that only appears every few years.
Wetlands in Lebanon are the most biodiversity rich habitats of all - they have both plenty of sun and water as well as various plant production levels that rival tropical rain forests. Plants sustain all animal life, so these habitats are also home to more animals than any other habitats in Lebanon. To see Lebanese wetlands at their best, you need to visit the wetlands of the Bekaa plain: Aammiq and Kafr Zabad / Anjar.
The Bekaa wetlands are best known for their birds - partly as they lie on the Bekaa bird migration route - but also because they have rich populations of breeding birds.
A trip to the Bekaa wetlands, or lake Qaraoun, will certainly allow you to spot ducks such as this Garganey (Anas querquedula) shown in the previous page. However, not all the birds on the surface are ducks! The flock of Coots (Fulica atra) below on the left, are not actually ducks. If you are lucky and quiet, you may see a reed bed specialist, such as this Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) below on the right, or a real rarity such as this Pygmy Cormorant.
With their undisturbed habitat and great feeding opportunities, wetlands do not just harbor water birds. Wetlands make a good habitat for more species, particularly Birds of Prey and Herons, than any other areas in the country.
LEBANON'S wildlife and wild places are facing many threats such as hunting, pollution, urban encroachment, quarrying, invasive species, and many other factors.
It is our responsibility to protect rare and endangered species. One way of doing this is by creating nature reserves and protected areas. In Lebanon, particularly important sites for animals and plants are managed for the benefit of the biodiversity. Whether it is a wetland or a forest, it is protected so the plants and animals can thrive. Responsible visiting to these sites can bring money to help conserve rare species and is often the best way to see wildlife.
WHAT is more cheerful, now, in the fall of the year, than an open-wood-fire?
Do you hear those little chirps and twiters coming out of that piece of apple-wood? Those are the ghosts of the Robins and Blue-birds that sang upon the bough when it was in blossom last spring.
In summer whole flocks of them come fluttering about the fruit-trees under the window: so l have singing birds all the year round.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich