A future for Birds in Lebanon

Guest blog by Fouad Itani

Lebanon lies on one of the most important migration routes for birds, the Eastern Mediterranean Flyway. Thus a significant number and variety of birds pass through the country, or winter in it each year. Indeed, the wide diversity of habitats found in Lebanon makes it the perfect place to breed for different species.

So far, 407 species of birds have been recorded in Lebanon and can be found across the country, in wetlands, agricultural lands, forests, semi-desert areas and other mixed habitats. 42 of those species are of global conservation concerns and all are, sadly, illegally killed across the territory.

Alongside Illegal hunting, logging, unsustainable agriculture practices, habitat loss and degradation, pollution and pesticides are contributing to the disappearance of several species in Lebanon.

Many of those species perform vital services and bring joy to people in the world; we believe they should be recognized and valued as such in Lebanon as well. Since 2014, ecologists, responsible hunters, activists and bird lovers came together as a group of likeminded people to try to limit and control those threats and promote bird conservation in Lebanon.  To have a broader reach and to be more effective, the group decided to officially establish a new organization, the Association for Bird Conservation in Lebanon – ABCL. In May 2019 the association was registered as an official NGO, dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats through education, awareness, advocacy, outreach activities and stewardship.

Greater Spotted Eagle on migration

As members of ABCL, we are passionate about bird conservation but in these difficult times for our country, we have to be resilient and resolute for our cause. Indeed, there are many pressing priorities for Lebanon and its people besides environmental protection: the Syrian refugee crisis, the lack of a functioning government, the Covid-19 pandemic, the appalling financial situation. Many reasons why environmental protection and bird conservation are seen as low priorities. It is unfortunate for a country especially rich in biodiversity.

However, we remain true to our mission and keep on working on those challenges as a solid team:

In the recent years:

-We have consistently monitored and reported the illegal killing and illegal sale of live and dead birds to the relevant authorities;

– We advocated better hunting controls, in the frame of the Hunting Law, by working closely with Ministries, Internal Security Forces and officials;

– We have raised awareness on the illegal killing of Migratory Birds with informative sessions in schools and by providing printed material on the topic.

We also work to advance the idea that Bird Conservation-related activities (like birdwatching), have the potential to increase national much needed incomes and give a better reputation to our country globally. Birdwatching for example, can truly offer an opportunity to develop a specific eco-tourism sector in Lebanon, help create jobs and boost economic growth in remote regions and vulnerable communities.

We look forward to the day when Lebanon will become a touristic destination for Birdwatchers of the world!

A glimpse into one of our projects:

In the autumn of 2020, the Association for Bird Conservation in Lebanon and Lebanon Birdwatching Tours, with support from relevant authorities, initiated a bird migration observation point in Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve, for a period of 8 days where the focus was mainly on birds of prey. After this successful trial, ABCL was able to secure a fund from Global Greengrants Fund and launched in the fall of 2021, the Ehden Raptor Count that lasted a full month.

It was another successful year for the count! The spot proved again to provide excellent vintage points with exceptional weather for most of the period during which the team recorded the passage of more than 30,000 birds. We were able to build up a solid Database where we have recorded all species using Trektellen and eBird. These records will help create a database for scientific analysis which can be used for conservation purposes, contributing to the knowledge of raptor migration in Lebanon.

Western Marsh Harrier Male

The project attracted participants from many countries and backgrounds, sharing the same love for nature and birds. The project’s success was made possible thanks to the involvement and support of the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve and our local partner, the Municipality of Zgharta Ehden.

Through this Birdwatching activity, we were able to develop an eco-tourism experience in Ehden, we upgraded knowledge of raptor migration in this area and we raised awareness on the importance of bird migration in this region (North or Lebanon), where most of the Birds massacres occur.

For the years to come and with the support of our partners, we will continue to build a better future for Birds in Lebanon.

Fouad is a naturalist working on bird conservation in both Lebanon and wider in the Middle East. He is President of the Association for Bird Conservation in Lebanon, Chairman of the Awareness and Guidance Committee at the Middle East Sustainable Hunting Center as well as a wildlife photographer, eBird reviewer and bird recorder for Lebanon. He is also Director of the Department of Hunting and Wildlife Photography for Sayd Magazine and founder of the Birds of Lebanon Website.

Photos from the Ehden Raptor Count were taken by ABCL executive member Julie Lebnann. All other photos are by Fouad Itani

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