It seems the quintessentially Lebanese scene; wooded hillsides stretching up to the higher peaks covered in Umbrella or Stone Pine (Pinus pinea). Indeed huge areas of the Metn and Shouf hills are covered in these characteristic and beautiful trees. However, they are not, in fact, native to Lebanon. They have been planted widely over the past 200 years as a valuable source of pine nuts and wood.
When stands of the other common pine tree Pinus brutia are included pine forest makes up a large proportion of the woodland cover of Lebanon. In comparison to the Mediterranean oak forests, that these plantations have often replaced, they are rather poor for native wildlife. The needles and wood of pine trees is resinous and much less edible than oak and similar trees. This means that there are fewer leaf and wood eating insects and so less birds and other insectivores. The needles also produce a more acidic soil which reduces wild flowers.
When combined with heavy grazing pressure the floor of pine woodlands can be almost bare as in the top picture left, in the Bekaa valley. However, many Umbrella Pine woods are relatively undisturbed and can develop a rich shrub and herb layer with Heather (Erica) and Rock Rose (Cistus), orchids and other flowers such as the Long lipped Serapia (Serapias vomeracea) left and the Anatolian Orchid (Orchis anatolica) right, are common in pine forests.
Large stretches of pine forest can be very important for the roosting of migrant birds. Particularly, on the west side of Mt. Lebanon, in forest areas in the Beirut River watershed (see Migration) huge numbers of migrating birds of prey and storks pass over, and sometimes rest over night in the trees – if they are not disturbed by hunters’ guns.
Although quieter than oak forests pine forests never the less are home to their own selection of resident and breeding birds. Amongst them are Masked Shrikes (Lanius nubicus) Great Tits (Parus major) Lesser Whitethroats, (Sylvia curruca) and the regional endemic Syrian Serins (Serinus syriacus) as shown above.