With all of its birds also found in either Turkey or Israel, the small country of Lebanon is rarely considered as a birding destination. Indeed, few tourists have visited the country at all since the beginning of the civil war in the 1970s. There has been a reduction in the conflict since the late 1990s but it will be a long time before this country becomes popular with birding visitors and due to the long years of conflict little is known of the country's avifauna. However, in recent years there has been a major growth in interest in conservation in the country, hopefully a reduction in hunting, and there have been more serious attempts to study its birdlife.
The Aammiq Marshes lie in the Beka'a Valley in the centre of the country to the east of the capital, Beirut. This swamp is the largest and most important wetland area between Turkey and Israel and despite hunting (now mostly controlled on the site) and habitat loss, it remains the most important site for wetland birds in Lebanon.
Starting from the autumn rains, the marshes can flood to nearly 300ha with meltwater from the mountains but by autumn they may be completely dry with just two permanent water holes remaining. Conservation programmes carried out in the marshes in recent years have involved returning some of the land loss to agriculture back into marshland and reducing water abstraction.
Surrounding the wetland are areas of rough grazing, cultivated land, drainage ditches, and an avenue of trees, all adding to the diversity of habitats in the area.
On the nearby mountain slopes, small wooded areas and rocky shrubland give an even greater variety of habitats and species. Behind the nearby village of Aammiq is a woodland where Scops Owl, Syrian Woodpecker and Sombre Tit can be found. In spring and summer, shrubby hillsides are home to Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pale Rock Sparrow various buntings, wheatears, warblers and shrikes, and rocky gorges host Rock Nuthatch and Eagle Owl. Higher up the mountain Syrian Serin, Shore Lark and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush can be found breeding.
Huge numbers of migrant birds pass over this area each year and these include pelicans, storks and many raptors: at times in April over 10,000 White Stork may roost on the marsh. Winter brings ducks including occasional Ferruginous Duck to the marsh. Breeding species of the Aammiq Marshes include Little Crake, Garganey, Little Grebe and Little Bittern and warblers such as Graceful, Savi's and Moustached with Lesser Short-toed Lark in the more arid land nearby. Great Snipe is among the waders recorded on spring passage. Pine Bunting is regular in winter among larger flocks of Yellowhammer.
Regular surveys and ringing programmes are now taking place in the Aammiq Marshes and rarities have recently been recorded including Saker Falcon, Black-winged Pratincole, Pygmy Cormorant, Little Swift and Rustic Bunting. More than 250 bird species have been recorded in the Aammiq Marshes and undoubtedly much remains to be discovered about the birds of this area and the Lebanon in general.
Birds you can see here include:
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, Great White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Great Bittern, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black Stork, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Tufted Duck, European Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Merlin, Northern Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Chukar Partridge, Common Quail, Baillon's Crake, Little Crake, Spotted Crake, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Eurasian Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Feral Rock Dove, European Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Great Eagle Owl, Eurasian Scops Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Little Swift, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Syrian Woodpecker, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Bimaculated Lark Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Blue-headed Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Eurasian Robin, Thrush Nightingale, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Eastern Stonechat, Isabelline Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Graceful Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Upcher's Warbler, Menetries's Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Barred Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Collared Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Masked Shrike, Common Jay, Eurasian Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, European Serin, Syrian Serin, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Pine Bunting, Yellowhammer, Ortolan Bunting, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Reed Bunting, Black-headed Bunting, Corn Bunting
Though rarely seen there is an impressive list of mammals recorded in the Aammiq Marshes and the nearby slopes. Wildcat Felis silvestris and Swamp Cat Felis chaus both occur, as well as Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena, Otter Lutra lutra, and there are historical records of Wolf Canis lupus.
Access and Facilities
Zahleh forms a good base from which to explore the Beka'a Valley with the Aammiq Marshes to the north and Lake Quaraoun to the south. Zahleh is easily reached by road from Beirut.
A Rocha Lebanon: http://www.arocha.org/lb-en/contact-us.html