Bird Camp Lebanon
A guest blog from Tomas Axen Haraldsson
”Are ALL those birds eagles you mean? But there are hundreds of them…!” Shouts of excitement and disbelief from Lebanese picnic tables as the spectacle of bird migration overwhelms local villagers during Bird Camp Lebanon held from 1-4 October 2018.
During 2015-2017 we held a number of Bird Camps at Besh Barmag in Azerbaijan. The idea was to invite interested young people from different countries to enjoy and learn about bird migration at a spectacular place like Besh Barmag. These camps were really succesful and also attracted university student groups as well as local civil society groups. The idea developed that such camps should be done in other countries in the OSME region as well and Lebanon was one of the first that came to mind.
Lebanon, situated on the migratory bird flyway along the eastern Mediterranean, has a reputation for illegal bird killing on a horrible scale. To counter this we need both immediate law enforcement in action as well as a long term shift in mentality and awareness. As true as that horrible situation may be it also overshadows the many attractive things about Lebanon; spectacular sceneries, world class cuisine, famous village hospitality and lots of interesting bird species.
Bird Camp Lebanon was thus arranged together by BirdLife Sweden and Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL, the BirdLife partner in Lebanon) and with funding from the OSME Conservation Fund. Early October was chosen for its peak time for raptor migration as well as pleasant weather for outdoor activities for a few days. The activities were based in the mountain village Ras al-Matn which has an active environmentalist community as well as being a recent Hima* reserve. Participants were a number of young Swedish birdwatchers, Lebanese high school students from two different schools in Ras al-Matn and volunteers from SPNL and their local partners. We demonstrated bird ringing, looked at migrating raptors through binoculars and also gave presentations at the schools about migratiory birds and the threats facing them. Accompanying us was also one of the responsible hunters who gave an interesting insight into the hunting practices and rule breakings in the country.
”There are hunting competitions. They each dig a pit in the ground where they hunt and the one who can fill his pit with shot birds wins. Its a macho thing. And we grow up with this mentality; we hunt birds. Birds are for eating.” says Nada Halawi of SPNL.
One crucial component to involve are the responsible and law-abiding hunters that wants to contribute to change. One such is Amr Salha.
”Its a difference between hunters and shooters. Most don’t know what they are firing at. Everything is for show. I used to be one of them, before I realised the effects it had on wildlife.” says Amr.
In terms of bird watching we also managed a few really spectacular sights; some 5.000 raptors of 20 species in just a few hours of counting! Along Mount Lebanon the raptors can come in bursts and that happened just after a late and massive Lebanese mezze lunch one day. Literally from the tables we started seeing kettles of Lesser Spotted Eagles and within 30 minutes, 2.750 eagles passed over our spot. We could also pick out Short-toed, Booted and even two Greater Spotted Eagels as well as Levant Sparrowhawks and a lone Griffon Vulture.
There will be more OSME-supported Bird Camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in 2019!
Tomas Axén Haraldsson, OSME Youth Development Officer
*Hima = means protected area in Arabic; it is a community-based approach used for the conservation of sites, species, habitats, and people in order to achieve the sustainable use of natural resources (source: SPNL)