Birders flock to Israel for bird-watching race

Israel Bird WatchingA new one-day contest has attracted birding experts from around the world to southern Israel where they compete to record the highest number of species migrating through the Great Rift Valley along the Africa Eurasia Flyway.

Called “Champions of the Flyway“, the competition also raised money to combat illegal hunting in countries along the migratory route, which kills millions of birds annually.

Millions of birds are hunted each year along the route. Countries like Egypt, Malta, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and Georgia are shutting their eyes to unrestrained hunting of birds that arrive on migration,” Dan Alon, director of the Israel Ornithological Center, told the Jerusalem Post, “Hunters do not distinguish among birds and are catching everything in sight, from small songbirds to raptors, storks, pelicans, and everything else.”

hunted wild birds in Lebanon

Poached and hunted wild birds in Lebanon

Twenty-two teams participated in Tuesday’s competition, including 14 international groups from nine different countries – full teams from Israel, the United States, England, and Georgia, as well as mixed nationality teams and one Israeli- Palestinian group. The event was sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), BirdLife International, and the Israel Ornithological Center.

For 24 hours, the bird watching teams searched an area extending from Eilat in the south to Arava junction and Nitzana in the northeast and northwest, identifying and documenting all birds spotted.

Events like these are increasing in popularity. Best known is the World Series of Birding, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last May in America. SPNI birder Jonathan Meyrav, host of the Israeli contest, had led his team to place 14th of 52 groups in last year’s World Series of Birding.

Southern Israel is considered one of the world’s most spectacular paths of migration. Hundreds of millions of birds fly past, stopping in the area from a few days to weeks. But millions of birds also fall prey to hunting.

It’s not easy being a bird.  If you manage to not be eaten as part of a fetish dish, you could be cooked by solar farms, shredded by wind turbines, or be hunted to improve an Egyptian’s libido. There’s also the risk smash-up against the world’s increasingly sky-scraping towers.

Race rules required teams to log species onto official race checklists; each species must be seen or heard by at least three team members. In addition, teams could add up to five “write-in” species not on the checklist if they provide photographic or video evidence of the sightings.

The winning team – which has yet to be announced as of this posting – will be awarded the title “Champions of the Flyway”.

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