Europe and Central Asia
31 Mar 2015

A Hot Race for Bird Conservation

Teams race to record the highest number of species © SPNI
By BirdLife Europe

 

Nearly 24 hours side by side, some of the world’s finest birders competed against each other in Israel, in a hot race to raise money for bird conservation.

By Jonathan Meyrav, Project Coordinator

On March 25th, 135 birders took to the field for the 2nd Champions of the Flyway Race. It was one of the most incredible events that any of us ever took part in. Altogether, 31 teams made up of birders from Israel and 13 other countries came together, 15 competing in the international and 16 in the national races. The “playing field” for this event is large and challenging, spanning from Eilat in the south all the way to the Negev highlands in the north. Each team spends a lot of time planning and strategizing to maximize their time in a mad scurry to find as many bird species as possible, often bumping into each other along the way.
 

To add to the excitement, at around 10:00am we started getting reports that teams were being escorted out of crucial areas at the Meishar plains because of military activity. The area was supposed to be clear for the dozens of birders running around, but to no avail, the security guards refused to allow teams to bird. But of course they didn’t give up so easily and kept going with a “hit and run” approach by stopping their cars, birding a few minutes, and then moving on.

In the afternoon, most of the teams funneled down to Eilat, first to the salt pools and then to the north beach. It was incredible to see how teams shot out of their cars in a mad dash to find and add seabird species to their lists. Near the end of the day it was very dramatic, some of the teams full of confidence while others sat on the sand realizing that their game plan was falling apart and that with only an hour of daylight left, their battle was almost over. At 19:00, the finish line opened and teams slowly started to trickle in to hand their checklists over to the judges. Most teams reached the finish line by 23:00, with a few determined stragglers handing in their checklists just before midnight.

This year’s International Champions of the Flyway winners were the “Cape May Bird Observatory (Leica) American Dippers”. They finished with an amazing 168 species and won 3 pairs of Swarovski Binoculars. On the spot, the Dippers gallantly donated these gifts to the speechless BirdLife Cyprus team. The binoculars will be used to educate children in Cyprus about the value of wild birds, through excellent binoculars and not through the barrel of a gun. Well done Dippers, a truly big gesture. But we must also say that the competition was really tight with the young “Arctic Redpolls” from Finland (sponsored by Zeiss) coming in 2nd place with 167 species, and “Reservoir birds” from Spain and “Northern Lights” from Finland sharing 3rd place with 163 species.

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The National (Israeli) Champions of the Flyway race was incredible too, with some of Israel’s top birdwatchers competing alongside amateurs, retired doctors, army generals and over 15 children. This year’s winners are the “JBO Orioles” from the Jerusalem Bird Observatory who finished with an impressive 179 species, the Champions of the Flyway Big Day record! They received 5000 NIS that they will invest in a conservation project of their choice. The “Pied Bushchats” came in close second with 176 species and the “Terns” took 3rd place with 170 species.

Besides the main awards for the highest number of species, the “Knights of the Flyway” title went to the “Next Generation Birders team” because they sacrificed their time to share valuable information before and during the race to help other teams. They won a pair of Swarovski Optik SLC’s 10X50 that they will donate to a BirdLife project of their choice. The “Guardians of the Flyway” award was handed to the “Birdwatch/Birdguides Roadrunners” because they raised the most money, $7500 out of the $50,000, for the anti-trapping campaign in Cyprus. The “Birding Ecotours” from South Africa and the “Dutch Knights” also raised considerable money.

The project, led by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Birdlife International, has been making waves worldwide as one of the most important fundraisers for avian conservation. It aims to tackle one of the biggest threats facing birds today, illegal killing and trapping along migratory Flyways. This year was a great event, but everyone agrees that the true winners of the 2015 Champions of the Flyway are the birds of Cyprus. The Birdlife Cyprus team has left Israel with a check for $35,000 that will go directly to education programs on the Island to help stop the illegal killing and trapping of birds. Altogether, over $50,000 has been raised so far, but the fundraising continues.

Stay tuned for more news about this year’s race: www.champions-of-the-flyway.com

And the Israel Birds Portal: www.birds.org.il

 

We hope to see you all next year!

 

Big thanks to: BirdLife International and especially Jim Lawrence, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the Eilat Municipality and Tourism board, the Hoopoe foundation, IBRCE Park and staff, Swarovski Optik, Zeiss, Leica, Yuval Dax, Guy Lavian, Yona, Itai Shanni, Noam Weiss, Meidad Goren, Nadav Israeli, and of course, Dan Alon. 

 


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.