Race Day 2017

Barak Granit 19/04/2017 00:00

Arad Ben-david, the editor of the Israeli Birding Portal who participated the last Champions of the Flyways, said right after it ended: "this race leaves you defeated". This quote can apply to the winners too in some strange sort of way. Anyway, although only two weeks have passed, it seems like the race day was ages ago, so just before it forgotten, here are some memories from the race day as we experienced them, not by the right order:


Around 14:00 after we reported a Jackdaw at Nafcha and a Hooded Wheatear somewhere along road 40, I got a text message from Jonathan: "Seems like you are doing great, how's the pressure level?"

I replied: "we are completely calm as we know that we have already lost to the Arctic Redpolls". Although it was as far as it could get from the actual truth, this answer captured well our state of mind. We were happy, calm and in sharp and focus birding mode, did just great almost throughout the day with very little mistakes, but somehow felt that we have no chance to win the Redpolls.




Villpu and Jarkko - of The Zeiss Arctic Redpolls - Ben Gurion grave park


Why did we feel like that? When we left Nizzana in the morning we have had already 86 species. When I counted our list on our way to Sede Boker (Yerucham was still ahead of us) I knew that with such a number, in that early stage of the race, we were doing just fantastic. We already had some serious blockers or species that would be hard to find in our list, such as Northern Eagle Owl, Meadow PIpit, both BB and Spotted Sandgrouse at Nizzana, Turtle Dove and Corn Bunting near Kmehin sewage, all the other goodies that were there this morning seen (and missed) by others including Hen and Pallid harriers, Black-necked Grebe, Ferruginous duck, Water PIpits and the citrine Wagtail, the Bustards and about 10 CC Coursers, the Desert Wheatear spotted from 1 km or so, and above all - the first Hoopoe Lark in 30 years for Nizzana, which was heard only (but found later on at that spot breeding!).




Hoopoe Lark @ Nizzana. This image was taken on the 7.4.17

we herd that bird singing on the 28.3.17 - Race Day!



So why the hell with such a start we felt that there is no chance against the Redpolls?


Because of the f***ing Great Bittern that was never there, that's why. I will explain of course:

After we left Nizzana and the Hoopoe Lark, we drove to Sede Boker, a decision we regretted later on (we should have started at Yerucham before SB, as planned). The Redpolls drove to Yerucham first. While we were at Sede Boker a sequences of messages came to the Champions "what's up" from William Terminator Velmala from the Redpolls, starting with Jackdaw and a Merlin at Kmehin (A Merlin! a hell of a blocker), continued with Imperial Eagle above Yerucham at the time we were at Sede Boker (Bird must have passed in our sky before) and by the time we failed to find a Song Thrush at Kibbutz Sede Boker (they were so easy there the day before) and the Goldfinch I found there the day before, that could have been a hell of a blocker on its own, William reported a Great Bittern from Yerucham.


A Great Bittern wasn't reported from the 'champions playing field' neither from Yerucham through the scouting days before the race, nor from the entire winter month. The Redpolls must have been at their best and for sure better birders than us. It was proven through the race and especially with the Great Bittern find. Later on when we were at Yerucham the Terrminator reported a Song Thrush at Kibbutz Sede Boker, where we failed to find one earlier, and a Lanner on the regular cliff in front of the Ben Gurion Grave, where we failed to find them after ages on trying. We had no chance against the Redpolls and that was it, ignoring that while they had some serious blockers in their pocket, we had exactly the same number of our own blockers. We also didn't know that there was never a Great Bittern at Yerucham…




The Wallcreepers's Suzuki...


When I met William at the ceremony on the next morning, I congratulated him for the Great Bittern. He was surprise to hear he had one...I was clearly surprised by his surprise, so I asked perhaps he meant Little Bittern but apparently we had another blocker, as the Redpolls didn't see a Little Bittern throughout the day. I went to check the original message on the "What's Up" list. There it was: "GBTern at Yerucham". Let's see, G for Great, BTern for Bitt...again - G for Gull, B for billed, T for Tern...aha! God…


That GBTERN really killed us, till the last moment of the race, even when we left Mitzpe Ramon with over 120 species as planned, and nearly 140 species before getting to the Arava. Even when we had crazy species adding moments like: the Raven at SB crossing the Zin valley far to our east; the Jackdow at Nafcha; The Hooded Wheatear spotted while driving franticly on road 40; the Hume's Warbler at Shizzafon that was heard and spotted after 10 sec of search but after 1 hour discussion in the car if it is worth spending 5 minutes to search for it or not; the Blue Rock Thrush at Mt Ait found while driving (not where it was reported); the Willow and Savi's Warbler at Yotvata; the Greater Sand Plovers at km 20 that were there for 1 minute and were gone; the Honey Buzzard that was spotted from 3 km or so south to km 19, being one of the earliest ever recorded;


the Little BTERN calling at the Anita lake at dusk with a Water Rail there too; the annual single Black Stork, that just like last year crossed in the evening above the bird park and made us shout with great voice, and the unbelievable Avocet that flew over our head at km19 in almost complete darkness. With all that, we were still sure that the Redpolls must have had 10 species more than we did, screeching the 190 from above or at least from below. Why? Just follow the logic - if they have found a Great Bittern under the nose of everyone surely they found every easier species there is to find…




The Israeli Champions of the Flyway - The Wallcreepers - 181 species


Anyway, with all that being said, it was the most emotionally balanced, sane and thus joyful COFT we had of the last 3 we participated. I think having James Smith on our team, had a great influence. James is not really a birding competitor by nature. His always relaxed birding style, always walking some meters behind the group had its positive impact. James was also responsible for sharp observation - remark that saved us from going into panic mood and that actually happened quite early in the morning at Sede Boker when we didn't find (yet) a Song Thrush. "we just need to do our birding instead of trying to bump into birds" and from that moment that was our policy.

Contrary the misleading competitive attitude reflecting through this article, it was actually non-competitive, superb birding day. Compared to the previous two races we also managed to completely avoid the notorious dead noon hours. Adding 5 new species to our birding list at wadi Nekarot at the hottest time of the day, namely Sinai and Trumpeter Finch, Sublapine (3 individuals!), Ruppell’s, and Sardinian Warbler, were a good example.




Vilppu is announcing The Zeiss Arctic Redpolls are Retiring...


And then there were the missing species: not only Tawny Pipit (like everyone missed) but also Sand Partridge and Booted Eagle and this time a Barn Owl too. And planning…give me a break. It was useless. I didn't know how right I was when I wrote that the only important decision is where to start. From here, all the talks about the Syrian Serins at Yahel; the Cyprus Warbler at the km 82; will uvda valley will supply 5 or only 3 species at the noon hours?...On the real game, who had time to any of that? We barley had time to Yotvata or to Anita Lake.





The Champions of the Flyway - The ZEISS Arctic Redpolls - with 181 species


The Guardians of the Flyway - The Birding Ecotours Youth Africa Birders


The “Green” Champions of the Flyway - The Spokes Folks - 122 species


The Israeli Champions of the Flyway - The Wallcreepers - 181 species




All in all, it was another great experience and fun. It was great to reutine with old friends like James with whom I share long birding experience intermittently during the last 25 years now. It was great to meet other old friends like Peter Knaus and William Velmela. It was great to have Nir Sapir once again, taking him out birding for almost the single day in a year that he does birding now days, and of course Eyal Shochat who suffered for an entire month my endless daily combined nagging, thoughts and worries, as part of the endless, sometimes useless planing.


It was once again a great event organized by the IOC and mainly by Jonathan and Dan, and if we managed to raise some nature conservation awareness - it was a bless too.

Will we do it again? hard to say right now. We thought of taking a break from the regular game next year as doing the green race on bicycles seems appeal to us. After finally breaking the 180 barrier we feel we can and should rest. Then again...there is always the 190 barrier out there, waiting....




The Wallcreepers. from left to right:  

  James Washington, Nir Jefferson, Eyal Roosevelt and me... Barak Lincoln



land marks