Following a 4.5-hour drive from Tel Aviv, I arrived in Eilat in the early hours of Sunday morning, 26th March. This left just two days to connect with my team mates, Dawn Balmer and Mark Pearson and spend two days scouting and strategising before embarking upon the 24-hour bird race around southern Israel on Tuesday 28th. Not enough time …
In previous years, the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners have elected to leave base camp – the Agamim Hotel in Eilat – around 02.30 hours and head to the furthest points north of the designated playing field (Nizzana and/or Yeruham Lake) for first light. This allowed time to ‘collect’ owls en route. We always ended up with 130 something species. This year we did it differently and started later, at 05.00, birding locally within 25 km of Eilat before heading north to arrive at Yeruham Lake just before dusk.
It was tight. We left KM20 salt-pans 1.5 hours later than planned, arriving at Yeruham a little too late for daytime species but managed to get Great White Egret, Cetti’s Warbler, Stone Curlew and Purple Swamphen before night fell. After dark, a calling Long-eared Owl was the last bird of the day before three attempts at Scops Owl went unfulfilled and we arrived back at the Agamim at midnight.
Our total for the day was 140 species – well short of the winning team, the Arctic Redpolls from Finland with a massive 181 species! More importantly, however, was the amount of money we raised through sponsorship and donations. Out of the 34 teams competing we came 3rd with a very respectable £4300 and, along with Dawn and Mark, I would like to express my gratitude and say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of you who contributed.
The overall result in terms of money raised by the event was in the region of $63,000, which will be going to Doğa Derneği to tackle the illegal killing of birds in Turkey.
The event is going from strength to strength annually and will, over the years, undoubtedly make a difference to conservation of migrant birds in the Mediterranean. Once again, many thanks to all of you who contributed to this worthy cause.
On 28th March 2017, Birdwatch magazine and BirdGuides’ team The Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners – of which I am a member – will take part in the third Champions of the Flyway bird race, a major international event which is now being staged annually in Eilat, Israel – home of one of the world’s most desirable birding destinations and famous migration spectacles.Last year, nearly thirty teams raced in the event 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’. While the racing might be light-hearted, the goal is 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. At least 25 million birds are illegally slaughtered in the Mediterranean every year and some estimates have put this figure much, much higher.
Although the event commences and finishes in Eilat, it covers 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.
Again, this is not just a bird race, but a massive fundraising campaign to support conservation work and the proceeds will be channelled this year into action to prevent the illegal annual slaughter of migrant birds in Greece
In 2015 The Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners (Josh Jones, Alan Tilmouth and myself) won the award ‘Guardians of the Flyway’ for raising the most funds – just over £4,700 – of all the teams entering and in 2016 the team (David Callahan, Mark Avery, Andy Clements and myself) raised a similar amount but we could not compete with the American team which raised $12,000! We would like to better the total in 2017 and the event hopes to raise $70,000 in total. This year the team (Dawn Balmer, Mark Pearson and myself) is looking for individuals and corporate sponsors/donors to support our fundraising efforts. We are nearly halfway toward our minimum target. 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. The link to the Champions site is http://www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/ (this gives all details of the scheme), our team’s page is at http://www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/birdwatch-birdguides-roadrunners from which there is a ‘Donate’ link to our fundraising page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/COTF17-BWBGroadrunners
More about Champions of the Flyway in my Birding Israel talk at the Northamptonshire Bird Club’s AGM, 1st March, Pitsford Res Fishing Lodge.