Important Bird Areas in Syria

Abu Zad : Site description An upland area at the southern end of the Jibal al-Sharqi (Anti-Lebanon) range, 50 km by road from Damascus, and centred on Abu Zad, a small village with small orchards and very small fields lying at 1,500 m above the resort village of Bludan. The nearby village of Halbun is at 1,700 m. To the west, vertical cliffs fall to Zabadani far below, and mountains to the north-east rise steeply to 2,462 m within c.10 km. The land above the village is open, with sparse grassland, scattered scrub and bare rock, and is snow-covered in winter.

Baath Lake: Site description A shallow, 10-km-long lake formed by a dam on the Euphrates (Al-Furat) at Mansurah, less than 10 km to the east of and below the main dam of Buhayrat al-Assad (Lake Assad) at Tabqa. The upper reaches are particularly shallow with a number of islands fringed by Phragmites reedbeds

Bahrat Homs: Site description A semi-artificial, eutrophic reservoir lying 15 km south-west of Homs and just west of Qattiné, formed by impoundment of the Nahr al-Asi (Orontes river). The banks of the north-eastern half are steep, while the very flat south-western shores, together with the influx of water from snow-melt in spring and subsequent evaporation during the summer, lead to the extent of open water varying from 3,000 ha in summer to 5,300 ha in winter; water depth is 4–8 m. There are some islands, but not suitable for breeding birds. The shores are generally bare mud, and the lake_s marginal and aquatic vegetation is very limited; bankside vegetation includes Tamarix, Salix, Nerium, Phragmites and Typha. The surroundings are very open, with no trees of any size but still generally green and verdant. To the south the land is fertile and cultivated, but to the north is a large area of lava flow. Villages are scattered around the lakeside; the main human activity is farming, though there is considerable fishing, plus large factories near Qattiné.

Buhayrat al-Assad :Site description Buhayrat al-Assad is a huge reservoir of more than 63,000 ha created by a dam on the River Euphrates (Al-Furat) near the town of Al-Thawra, and occupies c.80 km of the valley (north-west end at 3618´N 3810´E, south-east end at 3549´N 3828´E). The shores are mainly steep and rocky, and the water appears oligotrophic, being very clear and without sediment. Much of the surrounding area is dry, stony, and almost devoid of vegetation. However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform has recently afforested large areas on the southern shore and around Al-Thawra with Olea, Cupressus, eucalyptus and Amygdalus, including an offshore island (Jazirat al-_Ayd or Jazirat al-Thawra) which is being established as a nature park with a tourist centre and a network of vehicle tracks. The island is linked to the mainland by a causeway with a gate. Sugar-cane and cereals are cultivated in the south-east. The dam is used for hydro-electric power generation. Jabbar Castle is a historical site on the east side of the lake near the dam.

Buhayrat al-Khatuniyah: Site description A mesotrophic, spring-fed, natural lake (its area is variously quoted as being from 50 ha to c.800 ha) together with the surrounding _clay_ desert, c.50 km east of Al-Hasakah and between the small settlements of Khatuniyah and Al-Hul (6 km from the international border). The mean depth of the lake is or was 8 m, and the vegetation includes Tamarix. The lake is used for fishing, hunting and recreation, and the surrounding area for grazing.

Buhayrat al-Laha: Site description The only remaining natural coastal wetland, south of Hamidiyah and only c.2 km north of the Lebanese border. The coast is low and predominantly sandy, with some permanent rivers; settlements are few and small.

Jabal Abdul Aziz Site description A mountain range (up to 920 m) lying west of Al-Hasakah and running for c.50 km east–west. The southern slopes are gentle, but the northern slopes are a very steep, linear scarp with frequent cliffs. Numerous small wadis drain the slopes. The steppe vegetation includes Pistacia, Prunus and Rhamnus scrub, with extensive shrubs of Artemisia, Atriplex, Helianthemum and Teucrium. There is an extensive and ongoing afforestation project, planting Pistacia, Pinus brutia and P. halepensis

Euphrates valley: Site description The entire valley of the River Euphrates (Al-Furat), from its entry from Turkey at 3649´N 3802´E to its exit into Iraq at 3429´N 4056´E, apart from Buhayrat al-Assad (see site 007) and Baath Lake (see site 008). The valley lies 80–250 m below the surrounding plains, varying in width from 2 to 12 km. The river still flows in its original bed and is rich in islands, meanders, pools, oxbow lakes, alluvial cliffs, gravel pits and silted old water courses where the river has shifted, many of these being covered in Phragmites reedbeds. The water level used to flood 3–4 m higher in spring than in autumn, due to snow-melt in the Turkish uplands, but the completion during the last decade of several large dams in Turkey has now greatly reduced this annual flood. Natural vegetation includes riverine thickets of Populus euphratica, Tamarix, Salix and Typha. Intensive agriculture is carried out along its banks in _mazara_, vast areas of irrigated cotton and cereals with orchards and plantations of Populus and Pinus halepensis. The heavily cultivated steppe of the Jazirah region lies to the east and the Syrian Desert to the south-west. Gravel extraction occurs locally.

Jabal al-Bilas: Site description An isolated mountain (up to 1,105 m) lying c.70 km north-west of Tadmur (Palmyra). The landscape is eroded and the scant vegetation includes scattered trees/bushes of Pistacia, Prunus and Rhamnus, and shrubs of Artemisia, Atriplex, Salsola and Anabasis. There is some unspecified waterfowl habitat, presumably caused by winter flooding of depressions.

Jabal al-Bishri: Site description An isolated mountain in the semi-desert 80 km west of Dayr al-Zawr, rising to 851 m. There are occasional cliffs. The vegetation includes trees and bushes of Pistacia, Rhamnus, Prunus and Amygdalus, and is presumably a sparse steppe-woodland.

Jabal al-Shuah: Site description The eastern slope of the Jibal al-Nusayriyah range is a very steep scarp, lining the western edge of the Al-Ghab basin. A 1977 map based on surveys in the 1940s suggests that c.20,000 ha of woodland existed along the scarp at that time. The current extent of woodland is unknown but is still likely to be sizeable, since the steep slopes have presumably inhibited clearance for agriculture or other uses. The woodland is dominated by Abies cilicica, with Carpinus orientalis and Ostrya carpinifolia.

Jabal Sis: Site description A huge, extinct volcanic crater, the largest of many within a huge basalt lava field which covers much of southern Syria and northern Jordan. Jabal Sis (Sies) lies near the eastern edge of the basalt, 100 km east-south-east of Damascus and 55 km south of the main road running east from Damascus to Iraq. The volcano rises about 100 m above the surrounding plain. Spring rain lies in small lakes and pools in scattered pans of impermeable clay, and there is a rain-fed lake at the foot of Jabal Sis itself. Vegetation is sparse. The terrain is impassable to vehicles except along tracks, of which there are few. Nomadic pastoralists graze large flocks in the area in spring and early summer.

Jabal Slenfeh: Site description A relatively well-wooded mountain area, centred on the village of Slenfeh c.20 km north-east of Al-Ladhiqiyah (Lattakia), on the western slopes of the Jibal al-Nusayriyah range. The woodland is dominated by Abies and Cedrus. The area is generally densely populated with small settlements.

Ras al-Ayn: Site description A vast area of steppe around the border settlement of Ras al-Ayn, through which the seasonal Khabur river flows in winter and spring, north-west of Al-Hasakah. Much of the steppe along the Khabur valley is now under irrigated cultivation of wheat and cotton. Trees and scrub occur along the Khabur river, especially at Ras al-Ayn where there is a patch of c.100 ha of dense Salix bushes, fed by a very powerful, sulphurous hot spring.

Sabkhat al-Jabbul :Site description A large, shallow salt-lake in a closed basin of c.37,500 ha, lying just south of Jabbul village, 35 km east-south-east of Halab (Aleppo). In the 1970s the lake was filled entirely by local run-off of winter/spring rainfall and its extent was highly variable from year to year, reaching a maximum of c.3,000 ha and with at least a little standing water at most times of the year. A levée built on the east side by the 1970s prevented flooding of the majority of the salt-flat in the east of the basin. However, in 1988 large, new irrigation projects on the nearby steppe started discharging surplus water into the lake on a substantial scale; it is not known how saline the inflow is nor whether it is seasonal or perennial. This appears to have led to a higher and more stable water level than in the past, since the lake currently measures up to 20 km long and 5 km wide (c.10,000 ha), and although in the 1970s the flat and sandy banks had little or no marginal vegetation, they are now locally lined by extensive Phragmites reedbeds, on the southern and south-eastern shores at least. At least two large islands are created at times of high flooding. Around the lake shore there is turf, close-cropped by sheep. The surrounding steppe has a sparse shrubland of Haloxylon and Artemisia. Primary uses of the area are salt extraction, wildfowl hunting, and livestock grazing on the surrounding steppe by nomadic pastoralists; in the 1970s the sabkhah to the east was an artillery firing range.

Tadmur and Sabkhat Muh :Site description An area of steppe-desert around Tadmur in the centre of Syria, 150 km east of Homs, in a closed basin (c.70  35 km), surrounded by limestone and marl hills. There is an isolated oasis to the south of the town with extensive date-palm gardens, and Sabkhat Muh, a seasonally flooded salt-lake up to c.20 km long, lies to the south of the oasis. There are some scattered Tamarix trees around its fringe, and the steppe-desert surrounds are sparsely vegetated with perennial tussock-grass, Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia. The T-3 pumping station (3431´N 3845´E), 40 km east of Tadmur on the Iraq–Lebanon oil pipeline, is a small, man-made oasis with a plantation of mature Eucalyptus (c.2 ha), a garden and a sewage pond (c.0.5 ha). The main land-use is grazing livestock. The area is famous for its Roman ruins.

Tual al-’Abba: Site description An extensive area of steppe to the west of Jabal Abdul Aziz and to the east and south-east of Skiro village (3625´N 3905´E), bounded by the Balikh valley to the west. In the 1960s there were seasonally inundated fresh and saline marshes in the Balikh valley, e.g. at Ali Bajiliyah, c.100 km north of Al-Raqqah. In the 1970s, there were extensive reedbeds and some open water at Skiro, and about 10 km north along the road from Skiro on the western side was Al-Sharkrak pond (c.1 ha). In the early 1980s there was an area of small permanent lakes (c.50 ha) called Waz Göl (3631´N 3901´E), fed by springs at Ayn al-Arus. Vegetation here, and probably elsewhere in the valley, consisted of Salix trees/bushes and stands of Phragmites, Lythrum, Carex and Luzula. However by 1992 (and perhaps as early as 1984) the lakes, springs, and river itself were all dry due to major and unsustainable water abstraction from the Balikh river for irrigation in Turkey and Syria. The continued existence of other wetland areas in the valley, of which the above are only representative examples, is thus in doubt. The majority of the steppe is cultivated with cereals and cotton and otherwise very heavily grazed by livestock; crop failures are common during droughts.

Umm al-Tuyyur: Site description A 12-km stretch of mainly rocky coast c.30 km north-north-east of Al-Ladhiqiyah (Lattakia) on the road to Al-Basit, extending north from the sheer limestone cliffs of Jabal Tarnajah (Ras al-Janzir) to the rocky headland of Ras al-Basit. There are 2 km of sand beach with seagrass beds offshore, and the 10-km-deep hinterland comprises well-wooded hills and narrow river valleys and plains. The area itself is also well-wooded, with coastal slopes covered in garigue, and there are a number of small, dammed lakes, including Ballouran Dam (25 ha). About 2,000 people live in and around Umm al-Tuyyur village, which is surrounded by a cultivated plain. Some fishing occurs offshore.

Wadi al-Azib :Site description A stony, semi-desert plain, c.120 km east of Hamah. Vegetation includes sparse Pistacia trees and shrub-steppe with Salsola, Atriplex and Artemisia. There is said to be a north-south trending depression at 3522´N 3800´E which floods in some winters (extent of water up to c.1,000 ha); although this could not be found on maps, there is an area of sabkhah basins (totalling c.5,000 ha) centred on 3540´N 3730´E. There are many small settlements and wells, and cultivation is probably extensive.

Wadi al-Qarn—Burqush: Site description The main Damascus–Beirut road runs through Wadi al-Qarn (Karn) which runs south-east from the frontier post at Jdeideh (1,275 m). The area of interest in this wadi is the steep hillside above the road on the northern side of the wadi, along the last 1–2 km at the north-west end just before the valley opens out to the area of the frontier post, and includes the small Zarzer reservoir at the lower end (1,175 m) of the wadi 6 km from Jdeideh. The upper reaches are vertical cliffs, below which are rocky slopes with grass, scrub and stunted trees. The area is used for recreation in summer, and people fish at the reservoir. Burqush is an upland site on the slopes of Jabal al-Shaykh (Mount Hermon), 10 km north-west of Qatana, with similar habitat. The area is very close to the steep mountains of Maloula, where there are Christian monasteries.

Wadi al-Radd: Site description A steppic basin in the Jazirah, 60 km long by 10 km wide, near Al-Qamishli and a few kilometres north of the border with Iraq. Numerous small drainage lines descend from Jabal Sinjar in Iraq and from the Turkish mountains to the north. The basin used to flood in winter and spring, the extent depending on the season_s rain and snowfall. By December 1971 the area had been converted to intensive cultivation (wheat and cotton), and there was no standing water apparent in that year, but even in the 1990s smaller parts of the original area are considered still liable to winter flooding.

Yarmuk valley Site description The Yarmuk river runs along part of the Syria–Jordan frontier, at the southern end of the Golan Heights, and is joined by other streams in this region, e.g. near Heite by the Nahr al-Allan running from the north and by Wadi al-Thahab from the east. The watercourses lie in steep, narrow wadis cutting through a plateau with well-watered farmland (cereals), and though the sides of the valleys are barren the bottoms are full of lush vegetation including Phragmites reedbeds and oleander Nerium. The lower valleys are below sea-level. There are a few houses by the river below Heite. Lake Muzayrib (3242´N 3601´E, 2 ha) lies in a shallow depression on the plateau (Wadi al-Thahab), just west of Al-Muzayrib village and c.12 km north-west of Dar_a: a natural, spring-fed, mesotrophic lake of 2.5 m mean depth, with banks of grazed turf and at least one reedbed Phragmites. The lake is much used for irrigation, fishing, fish-farming and recreation (picnicing, etc.), and is surrounded by agriculture and many houses.

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