Every year, migrating birds fly across Lebanon on their way to winter in the warm South. Hundreds of thousands are caught by hunters, but a handful are caught by the lens of Dr. Antoine Faissal, a facial reconstructive and plastic surgeon whose hobby is photographing migrating birds. “I got my first camera at the same time as my first gun”, he says, “though I was a champion hunter, eventually I put the gun away. The camera replaced it permanently.” Dr. Antoine is based in the North of Lebanon, and has a particular spot on mountainside in Ehden, where you can find him if he is not at the clinic, or at home with his wife and two babies.
To take the time to sit and wait for migrating birds to fly across the sky. What a treat. What a spectacular way to spend a Sunday — ignoring, of course, the sound of crackling bullets and the booms of the hunters’ guns. In any case, they stop hunting at around 10am, and since we start at 8, we can have peace and quiet for the rest of the day. So can the birds.
At least here we count three less guns pointed at the sky, replaced by camera lenses: Antoine’s, Jimmy’s and Victor’s. Dr. Antoine organised this day of bird watching at the day of change of the weather, the best time to see migrating birds. Jimmy, Dr. Antoine’s friend and partner in setting up the Lebanese Wildlife Association Facebook page, is “trying to make up for all the killing he’s done”. He donated his small camera to Victor when he upgraded to a Nikon, so Victor in turn put down his gun and discovered the joys of photography.
Dr. Antoine’s camera has by far the biggest lens — though next to his sharp hawk eyes, the lens barely competes. “There it is, coming straight at us, it’s a short toed eagle, it’s amazing”. I can see nothing. To me, it’s all blue sky. Yet, I am excited.
Filming migrating birds is not easy. By the time I have found the creature in my viewfinder, by the time I have focused the image, the bird has flown away. Especially on that day, when the birds were passing almost one by one, not in a huge flock. But it doesn’t matter. It is an amazing thing to witness, and that is how it goes, that is how the birds go. They fly across, one second they are there and then they are gone, they move on. What is this engine that makes them move? What is this drive, this built in plan, this inherent trajectory? This path that does not alter, that does not shift. No matter the shotguns, no matter the killing, still they take this path. Why?
Perhaps one day they will not. Such is evolution, theoretically.
Until then, for four months every year, we are treated to a wonder, a mystery, a perpetual cycle of flight. So see you in the Spring, avian explorers, country-mates for a day. May we greet you with a thousand lenses next time round.