28/03/2017 - 28/03/2017 - The Champions of the Flyway

“The Champions of the Flyway” - Racing for conservation



The “Champions of the Flyway” is a new and exciting bird race based on the American “big day” concept. 12 Teams of top birders will attempt to see (and hear) as many bird species as possible during a 24 hour period, midnight to midnight. Competing teams will have their hands (and bins) full, as the race is taking place at one of the busiest and birdiest migration hotspots in the WP, Eilat.

The race will take place on April 1st, which is the peak of the awesome spring migration through southern Israel and the winning checklist will most likely top the 200 species mark!


The Champions of the Flyway is an initiative of the Israel Ornithological Center, SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel) and will take place immediately following the now well-known Eilat Birds Festival.

The competing teams will enjoy the fact that dozens of birders will comb the desert in the days preceding the race, finding good birds and the most productive sites. At the peak of spring in Eilat just about anything could turn up and early April is a notorious period for crazy vagrants, just adding to the spice of things.



“The Champions of the Flyway” is not just a fun race for avid birders having a good time; it carries with it a strong message that appeals to bird lovers and naturalists everywhere.

While most of us enjoy wild birds in beautiful calm settings, millions of migrant birds are slaughtered every year as they migrate to and from the breeding grounds. The numbers of birds killed by illegal hunting and trapping is staggering and truly worrying.


The Eastern Mediterranean Flyway is the second largest migration corridor in the world. Complete populations of birds that breed in the Eurasian landmass migrate east of the Mediterranean Sea on their way to their African wintering grounds.


Unfortunately significant portions of the migration route are through countries where hunting is widespread and out of control. Georgia, Cyprus, Malta, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are wonderful countries for migration but are also notorious for the widespread killing and trapping of birds.

The reasons for such widespread hunting are diverse and range from cultural reasons, hunting for food, trade, falconry and plain sport.

In recent years Facebook and other social Medias have helped to shed light on the magnitude of the massacre. Lebanese hunters proudly activate several graphic pages devoted to the slaughter of birds. The most horrible thing is that in many places no species are spared and hunters shoot everything from Robins, Buntings and Tits through Hoopoes, Orioles, Bee-eaters, Rollers, Doves and Waders.



The real trophies are of course large birds and sadly, the bigger the better. During migration seasons hundreds of soaring birds are shot daily. These include Storks, Cranes, Pelicans, Geese, and Bustards but most desired are Birds of Prey. In many Arabic Cultures Eagles and Flacons are signs of power and manhood and “you are not a man” if you don’t have a large stuffed Raptor on display in your home.

The real problem is the fact that in many of these countries hunting is so widespread and so deeply embedded in people’s lives that nothing is done to address the issue, heck in many of these places the country leaders themselves go on fancy hunting parties where the traditional methods of bows and shotguns on horseback are now replaced by Monster Land Rovers and gold plated AK 47s which are of course a lot more efficient and take a larger toll.


This is where the “Champions of the Flyway” comes in.

The birders of the Israel Ornithological Center spend countless hours in the field working on numerous projects revolving around migrants. We spend large amounts of energy and money working to secure the airspace and to research and maintain stop over sites all over the country.


Imagine how frustrating it is to sit in front of the computer at the end of a long day in the field and to understand that we are only a tiny part in the Flyway, that we can only do so much and that sadly we are almost alone trying to protect birds in the crazy neighborhood that is the Middle East.

So we decided to stage the race and through it to try and raise awareness and money for international projects along the Eastern Med Flyway. The project was quickly embraced by Birdlife International and together we were on the way.




Watch James Currie in A special chapter of "Birding Adventures"

- about the Champions of the flyway race  




Adventures from the Champions of the Flyway






About the Event

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