The man made terrain of village, town and city may serve our needs well, but seem an unlikely place for wildlife. From a vantage point above, the Lebanese cities (like Beirut right) seem just concrete jungle – huge expanses of sterile gray. However a number of animals have adapted well to the urban environment and are seldom found any where else.
Also there are green corners in even the most built up areas and because Lebanon is on such an important bird migration high way these green oases can harbor a surprising diversity of migrants in the right season. A great place to look for such birds and other wild life are the ancient ruins and tourist sites. Often in urban settings (our ancestors lived in the same places) they are free from development, hunting and often have overgrown banks and extensive areas of green. Examples of such sites in the heart of towns are: the Roman excavations of down town Beirut (left), Byblos castle and archaeological site, the Hippodrome at Tyre, The Roman site at Beit Mary (right) and many many more.
In fact because there is so much concrete towns and cities heat up more quickly than the surrounding, largely green, country side in the spring. This causes thermals of hot air to rise above them and soaring birds use these to gain height on their long migration journeys. So keep a watch for flocks of large soaring birds. (See migration and Storks).
Huge flocks of soaring birds pass over towns and cities in the spring and fall. In this case as can be seen from the second picture – White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus).
Some birds specialize in living close to man and make our towns their permanent homes too. Amongst the commonest in Beirut is the Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) top right. Other birds are more widely distributed, but reach their highest density in our towns. If there are gardens, parks or similar habitats the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) bottom right, is commoner in town than outside.
Certain species arrive in the spring to breed in the urban setting, leaving in the late summer. A good example is the Common Swift (Apus apus). In summer its screaming cries can be heard over many town and village squares. Other species descend from their mountain summer haunts to lower altitudes where they spend the winter in warmer conditions. Many of these birds will come into towns. Both the Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) below left, and the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochuros) below right, can be found in rocky areas in towns in the winter – particularly ruins.
Most wild mammals are scared of people and stay well away from cities and towns (see Mammals). However there are a few species where the opposite is true and they are associated with people, making their living right along side us. In Lebanon, as elsewhere, this is supremely true of the House Mouse (Mus musculus praetextus) and the Brown and Black rats (Rattus norvegicus and Rattus rattus). Considered pests and disease carrying animals, they live in close association with us, feeding from our trash. Recent studies in capital cities of the world show that our throw away society has made them more common than ever before. It is estimated in London you are never more than 4m from a rat – similar statistics will hold for Beirut.
Other species, that are less closely associated with cities but will benefit opportunistically from our garbage , can sometimes be found deep in our urban space; e.g. the Stone Martin (Martes foina syriaca) and the Jackal (Canis aureus syriacus). Particularly, in areas where woodland habitats are close to the city limits, the eerie cries of the Jackal can be heard at night. No wonder it is called “Ibn Awa” = son of the howl.
Lastly, mammals that you can easily see almost any where in Lebanon, including cities, are bats. One species is especially common and comes out a little before dark; Kuhl’s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhli). If you are walking near trees and you see a large black shape flying above you, at night – it is probably a Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). Common throughout coastal cities where there are gardens and fruit to eat, they are huge bats.
A walk on the wild side at night in a coastal town and you might see house mice (Mus musculus praetextus) and Egyptian Fruit Bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus).