Friday, 26 October 2012

Cedars National Park, Lebanon

Last Friday, my friend Steve and I had a hire car and drove out of Beirut eastward to the Cedars National Park. Ironically, we were actually in the tranquility of the park at the same time as a car bomb went off in the district where Steve lives and where I was staying. We knew nothing about it until we got back to Beirut.

In stark contrast, the birding in the park was a little too quiet. This wasn't a birding holiday but Steve was very patient with me wandering off looking for birds. I used much of my "credit" with him in the national park and yet the area around the cedars was disappointing.


The most obvious bird is chiffchaff and unlike so many birds in Lebanon they were not shy. They are numerous and present in the woods and in the valleys. My belief is that they are the known resident birds.

Cedar forest

After that I struggled. There was the odd stonechat. I was also pleased to see a blackbird and a European robin. The latter is only found in Lebanon in winter.

stonechat in the national park

Overhead, I saw three birds of prey. Two were together and were in the goshawk - sparrowhawk - levant sparrowhawk family. I didn't get a good enough or long enough view to be sure which member they were.

lesser spotted eagle

I had more success with the other bird of prey. Although it was high and a long way away, it is identified as a lesser spotted eagle which must have been on passage. 

Otherwise the area of the national park around the cedar forest was not productive.

On my evidence I question why the park is an IBA (Important Bird Area). It's possible that other parts of the park are better but just as likely it seems to have been designated because it is a national park and free from hunters rather than intrinsically having a wide diversity of birds.

Bekaa valley

Having finished with the national park in mid afternoon, we drove further east over the top and into the Bekaa valley.  This immediately looked like a better birding area!  The drier, east side slopes of the mountain were covered in low lying scrub very suitable for sylvia warblers. Unfortunately time was short by then and I had to take into account my hosts wishes too. The rattling sounds of sylvia warblers were obvious and all around but there was no time.

Turtle dove

In the Bekaa valley towards the end of the afternoon, there were two birding sights which we happened upon. Hunters with guns had gathered in an area where I had wanted to visit. Suddenly over 100 turtle dove rose into the air. The hunters must know a way of gathering them or at least where they gather. This was the largest flock of turtle dove I have seen in my life. For some reason, the hunters seemed to have killed very few, at least from what I saw.

They are both resident and passage birds in Lebanon. 


Having been forced away from a birding spot I had chosen and taking regard of my host's patience I scrambled around in near-by undergrowth for something, anything! 

I finally got a bit lucky. In the scrub were two bluethoat, almost certainly still on passage along with yet more stonechat and graceful prinia.

yellow vented bulbul (white spectacled bulbul) at Byblos

On Saturday we went out touring again. This time we went north towards Tripoli, Lebanon and then inland up to the ski resorts.  However, for a variety of reasons this was not really a birding day. What I can say however is that the birding in the gardens around the ancient ruins at Byblos would have been a much better use of 4 hours than the IBA at Cedars. The gardens held various wheatears and sylvia warblers and probably much more.  Futhermore the "little Switzerland" area around the winter resorts looked very good for birds though I didn't get to bird there. From the car as we pass through, glimpses of black redstart, hooded crow and pied wheatear (IDed by tail pattern, must be on passage) were tantalising.

If there is a next time, I now know where I need to go.

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