Breeding Survey of the Syrian Serin in Lebanon

This research is being conducted by Trevor Poyser Species Conservation Fund Recipient Association for Bird Conservation in Lebanon (ABCL) led by Fouad Itani.

Backed by the generous support of the Trevor Poyser Species Conservation Fund, the Association for Birds Conservation in Lebanon (ABCL) is conducting a much-needed national population count for the endangered Syrian Serin (Serinus syriacus).

This is the first time a national count-study of the Globally Vulnerable Syrian Serin, according to the IUCN Red List, has been undertaken in Lebanon. This is long overdue research. In the past, the studies of this species were limited to certain selected areas only. The Syrian Serin in Lebanon mainly favors open and semi-arid Mediterranean woodlands dominated by conifers and junipers. A qualified study team started surveying nine sites (Aana, Anjar, Bcharre, Chouf, Ehden, Hermel, Qammouha, Rachaya and, Tannourine) and is determined to include any new site where at least an individual of this species is encountered during the period of the study has already been sighted at the site according to literature or local communities. Using the point-count method, the field researchers have so far counted, the Syrian Serin at 136 random points (sampling spots) between 06:00 and 10:00 am, when the birds are at the apex of their morning activity.

This random selection of points within already known non-randomly selected areas is called stratified sampling and will provide representative samples of the study area. In each point, ABCL observers stayed immobile for 20 minutes and recorded all pairs of birds encountered within a 100 metre-radius circle.

As advised by Dr Ghassan Ramadan-Jaradi the team’s scientific advisor, the 20 minutes are enough for nesting birds to return or leave the nest to feed or bring food to the chicks, as the parents cannot generally stay away from the eggs or the nestlings for more than 20 minutes.
Birds passing overhead, without using the study area, were all recorded but not used in the analysis as pairs. For each plot, one log sheet is used and data is collected within the same conditions. Other breeding/non breeding bird species encountered during each count are also recorded.

Syrian Serin Photo: Fouad Itani

Site visits started in mid-March to enable the team to record the date of arrival of this summer’s breeding species. Unfortunately, snow has delayed access to high altitude sites such as Bcharre and Ehden, and the team is hoping to initiate research there once the snow melts around early May.

Hermel Juniper Forest – typical Syrian Serin Habitat Photo: Fouad Itani

Syrian Serin in typical juniper habitat Photo: Fouad Itani

To date our study showed that in some sites numbers of summer breeders including the Syrian Serin are increasing by the week.

Some sites will be visited at the time of the second and third broods as breeding may occur when the temperature is high and the birds may need to climb up the mountain in search of more appropriate breeding sites. At the end of the study, we will be able to deduce the breeding colonies status.

The main threats found to be facing the Syrian Serin are:
ongoing illegal hunting in most of the visited sites, chiefly in Hermel and some visited protected areas where we have detected fresh cartridges;
habitat loss or degradation like in areas surrounding Aana where some woodlands are transformed into vineyards;
disturbance in other sites like Faqeaa area in Rachaya where construction with heavy machinery is still taking place, and no Syrian Serins were detected.
We have a strong responsibility to be active in conserving this globally threatened species, and ABCL is committed to developing a Syrian Serin Species Action Plan to make sure that this bird has the best chance to recover.

Source: Fouad Itani, Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and central Asia
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