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Team South Africa Raced in Israel

…raising £4300 for bird conservation!

Last month, the first southern hemisphere team to participate in the spectacular “Champions of the Flyway” bird race for conservation, headed excitedly to the meeting point of three continents. The destination was Israel which, quite literally, links Africa to Asia, forming a land bridge over which an estimated 500 million birds migrate each year! Trevor Hardaker, Jason Boyce and Chris Lotz formed the Birding Ecotours team from South Africa, who would compete with over 30 Northern Hemisphere teams (both international and local Israeli/Palestinian ones) in a bird race with a difference. The specific goal of the 2015 “Champions of the Flyway” 24 hour bird race was to raise money to help reduce the massive-scale slaughter of birds as they try to migrate through the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

The BLOG describes this sobering story of bird massacre, which hopefully will be dealt with now that a rather large cheque has just been handed over to the capable folk at Birdlife Cyprus, thanks to cumulative generosity of the 2015 Champions of the Flyway teams’ sponsors.

None of the South African team members had been to Israel before, so they had to learn very fast during a few days of rabid scouting before the actual race day. The excitement of all this preparation, as well as the even greater excitement of the race day itself, is described in detail in the Trip Report

Importantly, a personal thank you is given to each and every team sponsor – we found that the South African birding public truly came to the party and showed their generosity in a huge way. We should also mention, however, that we got generous donations from all over the world – from Holland to California. One of the best things about this race is, in fact, the camaraderie between everyone – it’s an event in which stakeouts are freely shared among all the teams during the scouting days as well as during the race day itself. And, the rivalry is completely friendly – both in trying to get the title “the Champions of the Flyway” (which needs well over 160 bird species in a single day) and the title “the Guardians of the Flyway” (which goes to the team that raises the most money).

The South African team actually almost won the latter prize. But, the three top teams in this category were desperately forced to try and squeeze every last penny out of their fans by sending frenzied social media messages - and the title was sneakily taken out of the hands of the South African team right at the last minute by not one but both other of the “neck-and-neck” teams! The birds were the real winners, as they of course benefitted from this friendly rivalry and desperate attempt to take a trophy home to South Africa.

The bird highlights are too numerous to mention in this short news story. But, watching thousands of raptors, storks, cranes and more flying over the spectacular mountainous walls of the Jordan Rift Valley (which is the northern-most limit of the famous Great Rift Valley) must of course have been one of them. Another highlight was definitely encountering Desert Tawny Owl near the Dead Sea – there is recent evidence that this form should be split from Hume’s Tawny Owl. Twitching the spectacular Israeli vagrant Black Bush Robin a couple of days after the race, was also certainly an unforgettable memory.

All the highlights, and of course much more, is described in detail in the report.

Chris Lotz - Birding Ecotours

10th April 2015