Teams of birding experts from around the world will embark this Tuesday on a 24-hour contest to record the highest number of species migrating through southern Israel.

From 12:00 a.m. on Tuesday to 11:59 p.m. that evening, the teams will explore a triangular territory stretching from Eilat in the south to Arava junction and Nitzana in the northeast and northwest, identifying and documenting the birds that they encounter.

Called “Champions of the Flyway,” the contest is sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s (SPNI) Israel Ornithological Center and BirdLife International, the world’s largest birding organization. The goal of the competition is to raise money to combat illegal hunting in countries along the region’s migratory route, which claims the lives of millions of birds each year, according to SPNI.

“In recent years, we have become aware of the extent of the downward spiral of bird hunting in countries around us,” said Dan Alon, director of the Israel Ornithological Center.

“Millions of birds are hunted each year along the migration route. Countries like Egypt, Malta, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and Georgia are shutting their eyes to unrestrained hunting of birds that arrive on migration. Hunters do not distinguish among birds and are catching everything in sight, from small songbirds to raptors, storks, pelicans, and everything else.”

Participating in Tuesday’s competition will be 22 teams, including 14 international groups from nine different countries – full teams from Israel, the United States, England, and Georgia, as well as mixed nationality teams and one Israeli- Palestinian group.

These types of events have traditionally taken place extensively around the United States, most popularly in the World Series of Birding, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last May in New Jersey, SPNI explained. During last year’s World Series of Birding, SPNI birder Jonathan Meyrav led his team to place 14th of 52 groups.

Meyrav is acting as the host of Champions of the Flyway.

The teams will all receive official race checklists that conform to the Birds of Israel Official List, and each species logged must be seen or heard by at least three members of a team, the race rules say. In addition, teams are entitled to add up to five “writein” species not on the list, but are requested to provide photographic or video evidence as supportive evidence.

As of Sunday afternoon, more than £2,500 had been raised for this cause at BirdLife International, through the Champions of the Flyway website. Several international firms, such as Swarovski, have donated money in advance adding up to about $25,000, SPNI said.

“The race is first and foremost a fundraising event for awareness about the preservation of migrating birds and combating illegal hunting of the birds along the migration route,” Alon said. “In Israel every year hundreds of millions of migration birds pass by, for periods ranging from days to several weeks, during which they eat, rest, and renew their energy to continue migration. Therefore, for Israel and its strict nature preservation laws, there is a great importance and responsibility to preserve large populations of birds.”

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