10/04/2017
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Champions of the Flyway: Race day 2017 and results

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The fourth annual Champions of the Flyway international bird race for conservation took place in southern Israel on 28 March and, once again, BirdGuides and Birdwatch magazine were proud to enter a team.

The Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners this year comprised Dawn Balmer, Mark Pearson and myself, with the aim of the race not only to record as many species as possible, but to seek sponsorship and donations to help BirdLife International stop the illegal killing of migrant birds in the Mediterranean region (see here for further details of the aims and objectives of the event).

The Roadrunners team had been campaigning for support since January. Suddenly, the time for the event had arrived and, after only a couple of days' scouting and strategising in Israel, Tuesday 28th saw the team hit the road for some seriously intensive birding.


The 2017 Roadrunners just before departure from the hotel on race day (Photo: Jonathan Meyrav)

In previous years, the Birdwatch-BirdGuides Roadrunners have elected to leave base camp (the Agamim Hotel in Eilat) at around 02:30 and head to the most northerly points 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.

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This strategy allowed us to connect with many of the desert-inhabiting species that are active early in the day and difficult to find after mid-morning. Temminck's Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Mourning, Hooded and Desert Wheatears were all 'in the bag' early, enabling us to spend time collecting an easy Little Bittern and Collared Flycatcher in Eilat and numerous wildfowl and waders at the KM 19/20 wetlands before we headed north.


A particularly smart male Collared Flycatcher in Eilat (Photo: Mark James Pearson)

It was tight. We left KM 20 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 African Swamphen before night fell. After dark, a calling Long-eared Owl was the last bird of the day before three attempts at Eurasian 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, who managed 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 third, with almost £4,500 raised (and contributions are still coming in)! 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 Doga Dernegi to tackle the illegal killing of birds in Turkey. There is still time to donate, too, if you wish — you can do so at our Just Giving page.

Written by: Mike Alibone

Mike Alibone is Birdwatch's Optics Editor and a keen Northamptonshire birder, where he previously served as County Recorder. He has been testing binoculars and scopes for 15 years. Follow him on Twitter: @bonxie