Monday, February 8, 2016

Champions of the Flyway Bird Race: March 29, 2016

Bird Race for Conservation in Israel


Champions of the Flyway Bird Race (CFBR), staged during the Eilat (Israel) Birds Festival, is an extraordinary and unique annual event that has attracted teams of birders from all over the world since its inception in 2014. Coming together to raise funds for bird conservation, these teams, comprised of some of the most notable birders around, vie for top honors in this Big Day type of competition. The stakes: funds raised by these teams will help BirdLife International tackle the widespread illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Eurasian Wryneck photo by Jonathan Meyrav
In the U.S., we often think of conservation funding as money that will create, restore, or protect bird habitat, or to fund education and research. In the case of (CFBR), funding is instrumental in preserving the miracle of migration in critical flyways in Eurasia. 
Photo of soaring raptors by Christian Gelpke
In 2014, Eagle Optics Sales Manager, Ben Lizdas, competed as a member of The Way Off Coursers team. That year, the Society for Nature Protection in Georgia (SABUKO) was the designated recipient of $30K (!) raised from the race. Its mission, which seems almost insurmountable, is to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds of prey as they migrate through the Batumi Bottleneck each autumn. This type of conservation involves strategies which are perhaps much more delicate and less tangible: changing the hearts, minds and traditions of those people who have been hunting these migrating raptors for decades. As a result of that funding, SABUKO has begun a successful collaboration with the hunters and falconers in that areaRead more about this incredible ongoing effort here.

2014 Bird Race, Way Off Coursers team

By 2015, Champions of the Flyway's fundraising prowess strengthened, and race donations increased to $35K. That year, Bird Life Cypress was the recipient. In Cypress, widespread trapping of birds is fueled by demand for a local dish of small passerines made in restaurants and considered a delicacy. One example of the effort to raise public awareness is this video, made by Bird Life Cypress to reach out to Cypress school children:

In 2016, at the end of March, the Way Off Coursers team returns, sponsored by Zeiss and Bird Watcher's Digest. The 2016 team is comprised of two Americans (Ben Lizdas and Bill Thompson, III), one Englishman (Mark Cocker), and one Canadian-Chilean-American (Alvaro Jaramillo). 

To say that Ben is excited to be going back to Israel for the race is an understatement!  "It's a chance to collectively take a stance against the illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Mediterranean flyway," Ben shares. "Teams have the opportunity to bird together, build community, raise essential resources, and awareness to ensure that birds and bird habitat will be there for future generations to enjoy. Participating in the Champions of the Flyway is hard work, it’s fun, and it’s an essential project for the future of birds."  Eagle Optics is proud to have an active role in Champions of the Flyway Bird Race!
Turtle Dove photo by Jonathan Meyrav
As I mentioned, the objective of the race is to raise funds for a selected Conservation Action. So what cause will our donations be funding this year? According to the Champions of the Flyway website,"This year, the spotlight is on Greece, where more than one million songbirds are illegally killed every year."  In Greece, there is a desperate challenge to save Turtle Doves from widespread trapping and poaching. In fact, they are being killed in such great numbers, that it's possible the Turtle Dove could become extinct in our lifetime. In addition, hundreds of thousands of songbirds are being illegally captured and sold on the caged bird black market. This initiative is so pressing, and so important. Let's all pitch in and help Champions of the Flyway set a new record for donations this year!  
White-eared Bulbul, photo property of HOS
There will be funds raised, and a winning team chosen--but in the spirit of doing the most good, the race rules are akin to all for one and one for all. Because according to the organizers, the ultimate goal of this competition is to celebrate the extraordinary miracle of bird migration.

Follow the race on its Facebook page or Twitter--but most of all, just get in on the action, however you can. Choose a team, make a donation, then cheer your team on! And please watch this official video for the 2016 Champions of the Flyway, which features stunning footage from these migration flyways, and an original song by written by Bill Thompson III and performed by The Rain Crows:

Here at home, a half-world away, we learn, we understand, and we support this effort. Will you?  Please give today, as generously as you can. No amount is too small. Thank you!

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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