Champions of the Flyway 2015

On 1st April last year I was fortunate to take part in the inaugural Champions of the Flyway bird race, a major new international event which will be staged annually in Eilat, Israel – home of one of the world’s most desirable birding destinations and famous migration spectacles.

Thirteen teams raced in the international section of the event, including The Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners, comprising Ian Lycett, Dominic Mitchell, Morten Bentzon Hansen and myself, attempting to find, identify and log as many species as possible in an intense 24 hour contest to win the coveted title ‘Champions of the Flyway’.

Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners 2014. Left to right: Mike Alibone, Dominic Mitchell, Morten Bentzon Hansen, Ian Lycett.

Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners 2014. Left to right: Mike Alibone, Dominic Mitchell, Morten Bentzon Hansen, Ian Lycett.

A quick bit of video lends the flavour of last year’s race.

While the racing might be light-hearted, our goal was serious – to raise conservation funding through sponsorship and donations that will help the BirdLife International Partnership tackle the illegal killing of birds in southern and eastern Europe.

Although the event commenced and finished in Eilat, it covered a well-defined ‘field of play’ extending north-west to Nizzana in the western Negev Desert on the Egyptian border and north-east along the Jordanian border in the Arava Valley.

Champions of the Flyway Playing Field

Champions of the Flyway Playing Field

While the habitat was principally desert, we were able to visit some arable and wetland areas to help boost the diversity and numbers of the species recorded on the day.

We accumulated a respectable 132 species between 03.00 and 20.00, the first of which was a pre-dawn Scops Owl and the last being three Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, which came in at dusk to drink at a small pool a few kilometres north of Eilat. As well as seeing most of the local desert species we caught up with some more unusual migrants, including Caspian Plover and Black Bush Robin.

Pied Stonechat, Neot Smadar, Israel (Mike Alibone). About 13th for Western Palearctic - conveniently disappeared the day before race day ...

Pied Stonechat, Neot Smadar, Israel (Mike Alibone). About 13th for Western Palearctic – conveniently disappeared the day before race day …

Despite our best efforts, hacking around in the searing heat, we did not win the title but we were one of the strongest performing fundraisers, achieving £2640 of our £3000 target. In all, the event raised some £36,000 for conservation and I would like to thank all who donated generously to the cause.

So, once again, I am delighted to be taking part in the Champions of the Flyway Bird Race which is being staged by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (BirdLife’s national Partner in Israel) and is a BirdLife International Migratory Birds & Flyways Programme initiative.

This year the race will take place on 25th March 2015, starting and ending in Eilat. Again, this is not just a bird race, but a massive fundraising campaign to support conservation work  and this year the proceeds will be channelled into action to prevent the illegal annual slaughter of some 3,000,000 migrant birds in Cyprus. These are trapped and sold and are likely to end up like this.

A plate of Ambelopoulia (grilled, pickled or boiled songbirds) served illegally in a Cypriot restaurant.

A plate of Ambelopoulia (grilled, pickled or boiled songbirds) served illegally in a Cypriot restaurant.

Once more I am a member of the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners team (Josh Jones, Alan Tilmouth and myself) and we are looking for sponsors/donors to support our fundraising efforts. Our team’s target is again to raise £3000 – more if we can! If you care about the perils which are faced by ‘our’ birds as they migrate to and from the UK and elsewhere in northern Europe then please consider visiting our donation page and pledging even a small amount. Many thanks for your kind support!

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One Response to Champions of the Flyway 2015

  1. Pingback: Something for the weekend #2 | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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