The Syrian Serin, a small passerine bird belonging to the finch family, is endemic to parts of the Levant, namely in southwestern Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It breeds in semi-arid, rocky slopes at high altitudes above 900 m a.s.l. with open woodland containing a mix of conifers (e.g. junipers and/or cedars) and evergreen oak and other shrubs, which are important for nesting and roosting.
It frequents during autumn and winter more open steppe habitats (usually Artemisia steppe) with scattered trees or shrubs. Observations of Syrian Serins apparently migrating and overwintering in northwestern Jordan indicate that some populations (e.g. those breeding in Syria and Lebanon) are short-distance migrants, moving to lower areas for the winter.
The Syrian Serin is a rare species with a restricted geographical range; In Jordan, it breeds solely in the Dana Nature Reserve ( See Dana Biosphere Reserve… ). In 2022, Jordan Birdwatch researchers estimated around 450-490 pairs still remaining in part of the reserve, in an area not larger than 12 sq.km. The population and breeding area thus decreased by c. 30% during the last decades due to habitat destruction and degradation caused by a combination of overgrazing, prolonged drought, unregulated picnicking and wood cutting. Other recent threats include wind farm developments and plans to mine copper and other metals at or near its habitats.
Jordan BirdWatch made a recent assessment of the Syrian Serin in Jordan, and recommends upgrading the species category to “Critically Endangered” according to IUCN / Redlist criteria* (Criteria B1a, B1b) at the national level, and to “Endangered” at the global level (B2a, B2b).
In an attempt to raise awareness among decision makers and stakeholders, meetings and a workshop are being held to discuss the management of the threatened woodland where the species breeds. Posters were also printed and distributed to schools. The activities on Syrian Serin in 2022 in Jordan were supported by Global Greengrants Fund.
at Rasun and Irjan, in the Highlands of Ajlun, Northern Jordan – a summary of activities and achievements, April 2022
Project implemented by Jordan Birdwatch (JBW) and funded by Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF). Duration of Project: Approximately 14 months, summer 2021 – summer 2022.
The Ajlun Highlands are part of the Mediterranean Biodiversity Hotspot, which is located in the southern Levant and it is unique for its a semi –arid to sub- humid Mediterranean climate, where the highlands support Mediterranean – type shrub lands, often dominated by evergreen oak shrubs and a flora and fauna containing endemics that are restricted to the eastern Mediterranean and Jordanian Highlands.
Ajlun is home to a wide variety of plants and animals including evergreen oak, carob, strawberry tree, Persian squirrel, golden jackal and much more. The Orjan area is located north of the city of Ajlun, and includes a small valley with a perennial stream fed by springs. These springs are vital as they provide people with all the water they require for drinking and irrigation of their plantations.
For thousands of years, this area has been inhabited by different civilizations. The land has been put to use by people for farming and herding domesticated sheep till today. The impacts of some practices along with climate change and wood cutting is causing a dramatic decline in biodiversity and the area of natural habitats.
Nowadays, traditional farming that includes orchards and small fields is still being practiced in the area. This kind of farming imposes less negative impact on the surrounding environment than extensive farming and wide-spread urbanization. In the villages of Orjan and Rasun, these small farms attract curious visitors who want a traditional hands-on farming experience. Additionally, fruits like figs and pomegranates, are often produced in abundance and the farmers strive to sell their fresh produce whether through markets or even on roadsides.
These two fruits are delightful and in high demand when fresh but they also go into the production of pantry items that are important in the Middle Eastern cuisine. However, most local farmers lack the experience to market their products and prepare and package pantry items in a suitable way for the market. Although most orchards are small and traditional, some farmers often try to expand their farming and building activities at the cost of natural woodland habitats, a trend which is being currently noticed, as a result of the increasing population and the weak legislations making it possible to fully exploit privatized lands.
A socioeconomic study was carried out in the villages along Wadi Orjan, during the last quarter of 2021, to assess economic conditions and develop plans for some agricultural practices that maintain traditional farming, eco-tourism and biodiversity.
The Socioeconomic report focused on traditional best farming practices based on local inherited knowledge and included an inventory of traditional products and their importance for livelihood and food security.
Direct consultations is also taking place with farmers to provide technical advice for maintaining feasible and sustainable crop production, and use of biodiversity-friendly practices (e.g. integrated pest management and organic farming).
Twenty fig and pomegranate farmers along Wadi Orjan are regularly being visited by an agricultural expert. During the project, farmers have gained important knowledge and became more aware of the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services at and around their farms.
Supporting traditional farming and local products
The project is managed by JBW in cooperation with a local CBO (Zahrat Al-Widyan) in the Orjan village. The first part includes the support of traditional farming by helping farmers make use of their products while maintaining environmentally friendly practices (e.g. reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides), and to raise local capacity in marketing local products.
JBW along with its local partner, developed a production kitchen which opened up a new dimension for the locals to benefit from their farms’ produce and to diversify their income sources by producing pomegranate molasses and fig jam. Training in the production, filling and storing of products, in addition to marketing were carried out during the first phase of the project Effective pricing, distribution and marketing plans have to be put in place to close the cycle of these products and make them reach the market.
Filling bottles with pomegranate molasses. A workshop was held for training local inhabitants about best practices in producing fig jam (one day) and pomegranate molasses (two days) according to traditional recipes with high quality and health standards.
Training included the filling and sterilizing of jars, and pasteurization methods. The end product was labeled in a professional manner, to help in marketing.
This capacity building included 26 persons.
As part of this project, the production kitchen was prepared according to governmental health standards and equipped with necessary tools and material.
Local products including fig jam and pomegranate molasses from Wadi Orjan area, produced and packaged with support of the project, were regularly displayed in a market specialized in local products, in Amman during September - October 2021.
The local farmers started presenting local products on social media, made contacts with supermarkets and restaurants, and also took part in local products markets in Amman.
Supporting Nature-based tourism and developing awareness
Hiking trails in the woodland and along the stream near Rasun and Orjan villages were developed by local guides. These hiking trails give visitors the opportunity to explore the wild nature as well and indulge in bird watching experience.
They also cross some of the traditional orchards owned by local inhabitants. There are 5 main trails so far in the area, one of which will have a bird hide with a small drinking pool built on the edge of a private land (for protection from vandalism), to give visitors an amusing experience. Photographing, mapping and describing these trails will assist in promoting them among adventure and nature tourists.
Few people from the local community offer accommodations (BnB) to tourists and visitors to experience the traditional, rural lifestyle. This experience encourages visitors to interact with locals to learn more about the culture, tradition and personal stories resulting in the creation of strong, personal connections.
Many small, scattered tourism projects and activities (e.g. trails and local guides, camps, small resorts, BnB) were initiated by the people of Ajlun. Our project aims at developing a tourism plan for the Orjan Valley agro-eco-tourism destination to become organized and better known.
Collection of data started in January 2022, and the tourism plan is expected to be ready by May 2022. Small local projects are expected to transform their operations and become sustainable tourism products through protecting the natural environment they exist in, retaining project revenues in the area through localizing supply chain, and preserving heritage. By doing so, local initiatives will operate in a sustainable model that will support livelihoods without harming the environment, the natural habitats and biodiversity, which is the source of their businesses and projects.
Moreover, packaging these scattered projects in solid programs of different lengths to be sold to visitors as trips to Ajlun destination. This will encourage visitors to explore the whole area over two days rather than spending few hours. Elongating the time spent in the destination will surely increase visitors’ spending. Local people are expected to benefit from and appreciate the natural landscape and biodiversity, while many visitors (e.g. Jordanian city dwellers) will have the opportunity to learn more and become connected to nature.
The Woodlands around the Rasun and Orjan villages include several trails for visitors / tourists. Field trip for school children and teachers from Amman along the Rasun trail, led by a local guide and JBW ornithologist; April 2022.
A joint visit of the JBW project team, JBW board members and tourism development experts (Baraka Destinations) in January 2022 to Wadi Orjan to collect data and information for developing the tourism plan.
As part of this project, surveys of flora and vertebrate fauna are being conducted. These surveys started in late January 2022, however most fieldwork will be conuducted during March – April.
The Birds survey already revealed the status and distribution of most breeding and resident species within the Orjan district area. The dense Mediterranean – type woodland of NW Jordan has a unique bird community at the national level, with many Eurasian species and specialists of the Levant area. Although some may be common further north, some of the birds have a very limited distribution in Jordan and the Middle East.
Dense stands of the Mediterranean, evergreen oak woodlands near Rasun and Orjan are suitable habitat of Tawny Owl, Lesser Whitethroat, Wren and Blue tit, among others, while e.g. Sardinain Warbler and Cretzchmar’s Bunting prefer more open shrubland. Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler breeds locally, while orhards offer suitable habitat for Syrian Woodpecker, Spectacled Bulbul and Palestine Sunbird. Woodcutting, and rapidly increasing land ecroachment are decreasing the size and connectivity of the natural woodland area which is currently estimated by exprets to cover not more than 0.4% of Jordan’s total area. Ongoing land encroachment, i,.e increase of farmed and and urbanised areas at the cost of the natural habitats is evident in the AJlun highlands, including the villages of Orjan district.
Jordan Birdwatch’s statement issued on the 19th of August 2021
“Does a copper mine have priority over nature and world heritage?“
The Dana Nature Reserve is one of the most diverse and important bird areas in the Middle East with breeding populations of globally threatened species like Sooty Falcon and Syrian Serin.
The habitats in the reserve have been suffering locally from droughts and local overgrazing by livestock and woodcutting. However this is nothing compared to the destruction expected from the copper mining being planned in the western side of the Reserve. We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.
The reserve is located along the southern rift margins of Jordan with an altitudinal range of 60 below sea level to around 1500 above sea level, and being at the crossroad of three continents, it is no wonder that this reserve holds so much diversity, ranging from deserts and arid acacia stands in the lowlands to mountain steppe and open juniper and evergreen oak woodlands.
We urge all who care and who are working in the fields of nature conservation, education and (eco-)tourism to raise awareness about this case.
Statement issued by Jordan BirdWatch, dated 08/19/2021
Subject: Decision to remove part of the Dana Nature Reserve for mining purposes
The Dana Biosphere Reserve is considered one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the Middle East due to its geographical location between three continents, and the great variation in terrain, climate and habitats within a relatively small area.
It is characterized by a heterogeneous landscape and a great diversity of plant species and resident and migratory birds.
The area of Dana and Feinan is also globally famous for its distinctive archeological sites and historical importance, displaying the development of human civilization that began in the Stone Ages.
The area contains beautiful archaeological and natural sites visited by a large number of tourists. There is still great potential of developing Feinan and its surroundings in a sustainable manner as tourist destination, and to be a source of continuous income for local communities and for future generations.
In fact, the reserve area including the village of Dana were almost deserted before the establishment of the reserve in 1994, but many of the original inhabitants came back, indicating the importance of this reserve from an economic point of view for the local communities.
All activities related to copper exploration and mining in the Dana Reserve will have devastating effects on the natural environment, heritage and the economy of local communities. The previous and current efforts to protect and sustainably develop the area will be totally lost. The decision of the government to change the borders of the reserve, and promises of the authorities to the public about great profits and new job opportunities in copper mines is currently based on assumptions, and not supported by published, professional assessments or scientific studies.
Assessments of the direct and accumulated negative effects on the environment and economic feasibility studies are not known to exist or to have been published.
The decision contradicts the goals of sustainable development and principles of environmental protection, and it also violates some international treaties (Rio conventions) to which Jordan is a signatory. The Dana Nature Reserve will probably lose its title of “Biosphere Reserve” granted by UNESCO if the borders are significantly shifted and the area reduced by a quarter.
Jordan BirdWatch is a specialized environmental society which develops and implements its programs based on scientific knowledge. Accordingly, we would like to inform first and foremost the Ministry of Environment, of our position, refusing to exclude any part of the Dana Nature Reserve, due to the expected detrimental effects of mining activities. We also recommend to strengthen and improve the management system for all nature reserves in Jordan.
We all as members of the Jordanian society bear the responsibility of protecting and preserving the environment for future generations.
Grattan J.P., Huxley S.N., Pyatt F.B. (2003). Modern Bedouin Exposures to Copper Contamination: an Imperial Legacy? Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 55: 108-115.
Grattan J.P., Huxley S.N., Karaki L.A., Tolund H., Gilbertson D.D., Pyatt F.B., al Saad Z . (2002): “Death more desirable than life ”? The human skeletal record and toxicological implications of ancient copper mining and smelting in Wadi Faynan, southwest Jordan. Journal of Toxicology and Industrial Health 18: 297-307.
Rasoun and Irjan, in the highlands of Ajlun, Northern Jordan
Jordan BirdWatch started implementing a project in May 2021 with the aim of sustaining traditional farming as part of the diverse landscape of Ajlun in northern Jordan.
The activities of this project include training in the packaging and marketing of local products while maintaining the traditional processing ways, and promoting improved practices in agriculture such as integrated pest management.
Additionally, JBW will develop a walking trail crossing both the Fig and Pomegranate orchards, along the Wadi Irjan stream and the surrounding slopes with natural woodland, dominated by evergreen oak shrubs.
The aim is also to make the area more suitable and attractive for visitors including birdwatchers and to diversify income generation in a sustainable way, making local communities more resilient to environmental or other changes.
JBW along with local partners will attempt to raise the level of protection for the remnant natural habitats and maintain ecological connectivity.
Local CBOs will develop the professional capacity to sustain traditional and more sustainable farming, and play a vital role in conserving natural habitats as part of the diverse Mediterranean landscape.
The area is of great importance for threatened plants, e.g. Nazareth Iris, and for a variety of reptiles, birds and mammals which have a limited distribution in Jordan, for instance the Persian Squirrel. Typical breeding birds include Short-toed Eagle, Tawny Owl, Eurasian Turtle Dove, Syrian Woodpecker, Sardinian and Orphean Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Great and Blue Tits, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, Spectacled Bulbul, Palestine Sunbird and Cretzschmar’s Bunting.
JBW is carrying out surveys to establish biodiversity in the area and always welcomes volunteers from Jordan and abroad to participate in its activities. This project is supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and will continue until the summer of 2022. Please contact us for more information.
The impacts of introduced birds on native species and human economy and health are generally considered weak; however, these impacts e.g. on agricultural crops and on native birds by competing for nest sites or predation of nests, may vary according to the alien species itself and various factors in the area being invaded.
One of the most harmful invasive bird species at the global level is the common myna (Acridotheres tristis Linnaeus, 1766) that is originally native to Central and Eastern Asia (Lowe et al. 2000).
Researchers from Jordan BirdWatch, and the Biology Departments of the American University of Madaba (Jordan) and Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (Saudi Arabia), are carrying out joint studies on the spread and impacts of invasive species in the region. The results of the first detailed study on the spread and potential distribution of common myna in Jordan is published in the scientific journal “Management of Biological Invasions” (Khoury et al. 2021; https://doi.org/10.3391/mbi.2021.12.3.08).
The common myna spread into the Jordan Valley around 2010, as a result of secondary expansion of an invasive population from a neighboring country. Consequently, the myna expanded throughout many parts of Jordan, driven mainly by anthropogenic factors.
The Common myna, also called Indian Myna, can be seen nowadays in the hotel areas of the Dead Sea and Aqaba, in the streets of most Jordanian cities, in agricultural and semi-urbanized landscapes of the Jordan Valley and NW Jordan including the ruins of Jerash and Um-Qais, desert towns and other facilities along major highways.
Similarly in the case of the highly invasive mesquite shrub Prosopis juliflora which was subject to recent projects and studies by JBW in the Jordan Valley, the rapid expansion of alien invasive species indicate serious ecological disturbance caused by random and extensive urbanization, spread of various infrastructure in the landscape and in some cases (e.g. mesquite) overgrazing by livestock.
The study provides a nationwide baseline about the distribution of the invasive common myna, and potential for further spread, as a baseline for monitoring and prioritizing actions to control spread and impacts.
First proof of breeding of Pallid Scops Owls in Jordan
and other bird news (January – July 2021):
Jordan Bird Records Committee accepted recent records of Egyptian Nightjars that apparently spent the summer 2021 at Azraq. There has not been a breeding proof for the nightjars since over four decades.
A Kurdistan Wheatear was near Madaba and a Yellow-browed Warbler near Wadi Rum last autumn/winter; records of migrating or wintering Yellow-browed Warblers have become almost regular in recent years.
The most significant record was of an adult Pale Scops Owls heard singing and three juveniles calling in the Jordan Valley during July 2021; two fledged chicks / juveniles were observed and photographed. This was around the 5th record for this species and the first proof of breeding in Jordan, an adult was observed at Azraq around the same time, but this record is still being considered by JBRC.
The record on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley was not totally unexpected as the Pale Scops owl started breeding on the western banks of the River Jordan in mature palm orchards, apparently just a few years ago.
Other news include the breeding of several pairs of Ferruginous duck at Azraq wetland reserve during spring – summer 2021, for the second consecutive year.
As part of the “People and Birds of the Southern Levant” project, a study was carried out on illegal trapping of large falcons in eastern Jordan. The results were published in Sandgrouse (Khoury et al 2020). The report provides a much needed counterpoint to recent media outputs that glorify modern falconry in the region as a practice steeped in ancient desert tradition and a ‘heritage sport’.
In reality, modern falconry has evolved into a widespread sport in the Gulf region, stimulating the captive breeding and release programs of species targeted by falconers, such as Macqueen’s Bustard, establishing reserves for falconers, and other novel activities like falcon “beauty contests” and races.
The higher demand for wild falcons has elevated black market prices and thus trapping pressure on large falcons like the Saker and Lanner that are globally or regionally threatened. Illegal falcon trapping in eastern Jordan started in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s to meet rising demand for wild falcons due to the rise of modern falconry practices fuelled by growing wealth in the Gulf region.
Trafficking is apparently well organized in the Middle East region, with the help of social media outlets, and much of the falcon smuggling remains undetected at border crossings.
The Jordan Bird Records Committee (JBRC) accepted in 2020 various new reports of rare birds in Jordan including the 10th record of Black Vulture at Azraq last winter. A Crested Honey Buzzard in Aqaba during March was apparently part of a small group that stayed for the winter. Groups of White-cheeked Terns were recorded along the beaches of Aqaba during two successive years (2017-2018); these included fledged juveniles getting food from their parents, although nesting probably occurred on islands further south. A Black bush Robin in April 2019 in the city of Aqaba was the fifth national record; three out of the five records were in Aqaba. The second and third records of Yellow – browed Warbler in Jordan included a bird at Burqu’, eastern Jordan, during September and another in Aqaba in late 2019. For more details see (JBRC).
Significant records of birds include the first two confirmed breeding events of Ferruginous Ducks in Jordan. Several chicks and juveniles were seen accompanying their parents at Azraq and the Aqaba Bird Observatory during May-June 2020. Both breeding reports were located in protected areas. Even after decades of over pumping of ground-water, there is some good news from Azraq, such as the extension of the reserve to include parts of the mudflat close to the wetland reserve. The mudflat or “Qa’” is occasionally flooded in winter, forming a large shallow lake, attractive to a variety of water birds that visit or breed if the water does not completely evaporate before summer. Ferruginous ducks were among the birds apparently benefiting from winter floods and the extra protection this year, and at least two pairs bred in pools surrounded by dense vegetation adjacent to the shallow lake. Other ducks breeding at Azraq this year included Mallard, and for the first time in Jordan, one pair each of Shoveler and Pintail. Further species certainly or probably breeding along the edges of the Qa’ during 2020 were Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Gull-billed Terns, Greater Sand Plover, Kentish Plover and Collared Pratincoles.
We are having our annual general assembly meeting on the 6th of February 2021, from 3 to 5 pm.
The program would be as usual, first 30 minutes is the annual and financial report, followed by presentations and discussions about birds and birdwatching in Jordan (including a presentation about the rare and threatened Red-rumped Wheatear by Dr Fares Khoury and discussions about invasive bird species). The meeting will take place at the Jordan BirdWatch office:
Due to sanitary restrictions we cannot receive more than 12 JBW members in JBW’s meeting-room, we appologize and hope for your understanding. JBW members from abroad or who live outside Amman, or can’t participate for any reason, can attend online.