We can sometimes think that wild life can only be found in “natural habitats.” Although habitats untouched by man are the richest in animals and plants, many species have, long ago, adapted to share our space. It is just as well, as in Lebanon, there are no habitats left that have not been modified by people. Other than urban habitats, the huge areas taken up to grow our food have been the most modified by man. However, if they have not been heavily treated with pesticides and fertilizers, they can be rich hunting grounds for wildlife. Broadly we can divide agricultural land into the following types:
Olive Groves and Orchards
As a simple rule, if Olive trees grow in an area it has a Mediterranean climate. In Lebanon large areas of the hillsides and Bekaa are taken up with olive production – some of the trees are hundreds of years old. When fruit orchards are added, this habitat can be found high up into the mountains. In the spring, under the trees can be a carpet of wild flowers, with more pouring over the stone walls, often used to divide the fields or create the terraces on steep slopes. Red poppies (Papaver sp) (top right) cascade down a dry stone wall and Crane’s Bill (Erodium sp) paints the floor purple. If there is a rich under storey of plants there will be many insects which in turn will support birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
A characteristic bird of olive groves, feeding on the large insects that thrive there, such as the ground beetle (Coleoptera sp) below right, is the Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus), below left.
Butterflies are common in agricultural habitats and they don’t come much more spectacular than the Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) left.
Abandoned terraced slopes
The terraces in the picture left are still being farmed. However, many terraces have been abandoned and the higher and steeper slopes, particularly, are no longer worked. These “range lands” are now used mostly for grazing sheep and goats but are also the home to wilder inhabitants.
In early spring one of the first butterflies to emerge, the False Apollo (Archon apollinus) can be found here in great numbers, below left, and later in the season a hike will reveal tortoises (Testudo graeca) below, middle. (See Land Turtles and Butterflies).
Large expanses of one crop (mono culture) with pesticides and fertilizers applied do not make for good wild life habitat. However, with reduced chemical input, smaller fields and leaving field margins fallow, wild plants and animals can still thrive. These fields (right) at Aammiq in West Bekaa provide just the right conditions for large numbers of the Levant Vole (Microtus socialis hermonis), below left, which support larger numbers of Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) below middle, and Harriers than are found in any other habitats in Lebanon.
The Black – headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala), left, with its bright yellow plumage and black head is a distinctive bird of farmland.