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.
A long-eared owl chick rescued by Al-Weibdah inhabitants and Jordan BirdWatch
Jordan BirdWatch is frequently contacted during the breeding season of birds, to collect and deal with chicks, often fully grown but still not able to fly properly. In one case, a Jackdaw chick was being kept on the roof of a house by people who took the chick from children playing near their home. The chick probably fell from its nest while attempting its first flight. JBW advised to immediately return the chick to the nesting site and place it on a higher place, safe from ground-dwelling predators.
In another case the chick of a Long-eared Owl was found grounded in a garden in Al-Weibdah in Amman, probably after attempting to leave the nest. The habitants contacted JBW and kept it in a safe place for a day or two. JBW personnel then placed the seemingly healthy bird on the branch of a tall tree. It was evident that the nest was located nearby and the parents were present and still feeding the chick after it left the nest. The young owl was spotted in the days following its rescue, perching on the branches of the trees in the same garden.
“Unfortunately, most “grounded” Owls, Birds of Prey and other birds are mistakenly deemed orphaned – they’re actually just in the process of testing their wings. Many young birds disperse from their nests long before they can fly – this prevents overcrowding in the nest as the chicks grow. This is nature’s way of helping to minimise any threat to the entire clutch from predators. Many young birds lose their footing during these first explorations and fall to the ground”. A grounded chick may look lost and vulnerable, but the parents are likely to know where it is and will continue to feed it. Owl chicks can climb up bushes and trees to stay safe https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=81.
The risks and advices
What JBW observed and the measures to take in a rescue situation
Healthy owl chicks that would still have a chance to survive in the wild are often taken to local conservation or animal welfare societies or facilities in Jordan with the good intension of “saving its life”. In some cases people take things into their own hand and attempt to feed and care for the bird themselves, then give up after the bird becomes a “nuisance”, or so weakened it would be difficult to save. It is usually impossible for non-specialists to determine the age and physical condition of a chick, and thus its chances to survive in the wild; in many cases the chicks are deemed “orphaned” or even injured because they still are not able to fly well. That is why we advise calling JBW to get appropriate advice and assistance and before taking the birds into what often turns out to be a life-long captivity. Evidently, some of the birds brought to these facilities are kept in captivity indefinitely and are sometimes used as additional attraction for visitors.
Some of the owl species are still threatened or rare in Jordan (see our Bird list), due to habitat destruction, disturbances at nesting sites, persecution and deliberate collection of owls from the wild and offering them for sale on social media platforms. Eleven species of owls have been recorded in Jordan including nine that breed in the country, one of which became extinct a few decades ago. Although considered by some Jordanians as “bad luck”, these magnificent birds provide humans with a lot of “services” when in the wild and thus deserve more appreciation and protection in Jordan.
Jordan BirdWatch, in cooperation with the Jordan Valley Development Society and supported by sGEF/UNDP, carried out a training workshop in the Jordan Valley about nature/bird guiding.
Most participants belonged to the local communities at and around south Shuna.
The special conservation area of “Wadi Gharaba” was visited as part of this training. The wetland habitat in the wadi, managed by Jordan BirdWatch along with local stakeholders, is to be used for educational purposes and bird-watching.
Solid waste is one of the main and ever-growing environmental issues in the Jordan Valley, others being depletion of water sources, overgrazing of native vegetation, invasion of alien shrub species and unregulated hunting.
JBW is carrying out projects in one site to tackle the root causes for such local problems and present a model of best practices and for integrated management of ecosystems and natural resources in the Jordan Valley area.
Moreover, JBW organizes birding trips to spread awareness and to monitor birds and their habitats.
this context, Jordan BirdWatch
together with Ahl El-Balad
initiative carried out a clean-up event in Wadi Gharaba Special
Conservation Area, which is located in Ghor Rama north of the Dead
Sea on Saturday 7th
December 2019. Large amounts of waste were collected, including
mainly plastic water bottles and cans.
JBW members also
enjoyed watching a variety of birds in and around Wadi Gharaba in the
early morning including Herons and Egrets, two Black-winged Kites
Kingfishers (three species), Little Green Be-eaters, Bluethroat,
Robin, Stonechat, Indian Silverbills and Spanish Sparrows.
Jordan BirdWatch participated in the annual Environmental Day hosted on 2 April 2019 byThe Ahliyyah School for Girls and Bishop’s School for Boys.
This year’s theme was “Zero Waste in 2022”. The main objective was to involve students in taking actions towards achieving a better and greener world.
Jordan BirdWatch presented books and bird-watching tools, and had lively discussions with students about bird diversity in Jordan, and the negative impacts of solid waste pollution on birds and the eco-tourism sector in Jordan.
Wadi Gharaba, Jordan Valley, was announced as a “Special Conservation Area” by the Ministry of Environment upon the request of JORDAN BIRDWATCH and after obtaining the approval of various stakeholders.
An SCA includes management of important habitats and ecosystems to conserve biodiversity while allowing limited or traditional use by local communities.
The nearly 5 Km² area is adjacent to the River Jordan and 7 km north of the Dead Sea. It is around 35 km (half an hour drive) from Amman. It includes a narrow, shallow wadi with marsh-like conditions and Tamarisk thickets, suitable breeding habitat for Little Bittern, Blue-cheeked and Little Green Bee-eater, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Clamorous Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and Dead Sea Sparrow.
The management plan was prepared by JBW during 2018, and includes activities for preparing the site for visitors and minimizing threats, namely overgrazing, encroachment by an invasive shrub, hunting of birds and waste management.
Soon after the management plan was prepared, however, new plans to invest within and around the SCA have been announced. Nonetheless, JBW along with supporters is determined to protect the natural bird habitats along the wadi which flows into River Jordan. GIZ and SGF/UNDP are supporting JBW in carrying out two projects at the site in 2019-2020 (see projects for more information).
For information on how to reach the site and for organized birding trips please contact JBW.