As two “chronic” city dwellers, we never thought the sentence “let’s birdwatchon AUB’s campus” would leave our mouths... But here we are, really saying it! Don’t get us wrong, we are both Ecosystem Management graduate students andavid nature lovers who spend quite a bit of time hiking and camping, but weseldom used to think of the nature and wildlife present within the city. It wasn’t until we took a course called Urban Greening with Dr. Salma Talhouklast semester where our frames of reference were blurred on what makes aspace “wild” or “urban”. It turns out this dichotomy wasn’t really necessary!Among the most discussed topics in the course was rewilding, and itsapplications within the urban context. This inspired the topic of our classproject, which aimed at taking a closer look at the AUB campus as both a cathaven and bird sanctuary.
AUB’s campus was announced as a bird sanctuary in 2003 by Dr. John Waterburyand later a botanic garden in 2016 by Dr. Fadlo Khuri to highlight the university’s commitment to keeping the campus a safe-haven for the wonderful residentsand migrating birds alike. In one of the interviews conducted for the classproject, we were able to interview Dr. Waterbury, former AUB president and avidbirdwatcher. Though the interview covered several topics, we found ourselvescoming back to the topic of birdwatching frequently. He had a number of storiesabout the rich diversity of birds he had seen on campus. He also mentioned thatthe Lebanese birdwatching scene was very small (despite meeting multiple staffmembers who had vast knowledge about birds– most probably a result of theexisting hunting culture).
These conversations with Dr. Waterbury inspired us to look more into howimportant birds really are to an ecosystem and, as you may already know, theyare predators, sometimes prey, pollinators, scavengers, seed dispersers, andecosystem engineers. All of which means they can significantly modify,transform, or maintain a habitat! All of this sparked our interest to considerstarting birdwatching on campus. AUB’s location has the potential to be astarting point for growing a wider birdwatching movement, as the campus fallson one of the migratory routes of many bird species flying between Europe andAfrica, and is one of the last remaining green spaces in Beirut.Nature can truly bring much needed comfort during these difficult times. Webelieve that making bird watching activities accessible can be beneficial to thephysical and mental health of the AUB community, as well as help monitorconservation efforts.
BY FIRAS EL KHOURY & HEATHER ASSED, AUB STUDENTS