Israel launches new bird race for conservation

Birders watch a Black Bush Robin in Eilat. Photo: Amir Ben Dov.
Birders watch a Black Bush Robin in Eilat. Photo: Amir Ben Dov.
The world-famous birding hot-spot of Eilat, southern Israel, is set to be the scene of a major 24-hour bird race entitled 'Champions of the Flyway'.

With the purpose of raising money for several conservation causes as part of Birdlife Internationals 'Flyways' program, competing international teams will try to log as many bird species as possible in a 24-hour period. The race will be based in Eilat, Israel, one of the best spring migration destinations in the world, and will begin at one minute past midnight on 1 April 2014 and will end at midnight 24 hours later, as part of the 2014 Eilat Birds Festival.

The event is a joint project of the Israel Ornithological Center (SPNI) and Birdlife International. The profits and funds raised will go towards the action plan against illegal hunting and trapping in south-east Europe, as part of the Birdlife 'Flyways' programme. The organisers say that even before launching the project, around US$30,000 has already been raised for the cause.

Eilat sits at a three-way migration crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa and is thus perhaps the venue in the western Palearctic to see the incredible migration north through the Great Rift Valley of the African continent in spring. In recent years, birders from Europe and America in particular have made the area a key birding destination because of this.

The race is open to 15 teams of three to four entrants, drawn from Birdlife International Partners, leading birding magazines and birding tour operators, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) hopes to encourage a 'sporting' partisan following for each of the international teams from their fellow citizens, allowing maximum media coverage. Each team will nominate its own conservation goals to raise money as sponsorship and for donations afterwards, mostly by nominating a standard fee per species logged.

The Israelis hope that the Champions of the Flyway bird race will become a traditional annual event, highlighting the ethics and community spirit of birding.