Birdwatchers in the Arava.
(photo credit: DOV GREENBLAT/SPNI)
For 24 hours this Wednesday, 140 ornithology enthusiasts from around the world will compete to identify the largest amount of bird species present in the Eilat and southern Arava regions.
The second annual “Champions of the Flyway” event, set to run from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, will allow birding teams to explore a triangular territory stretching from Eilat in the south to the Arava junction and Nitzana in the northeast and northwest – documenting the birds they encounter along the way.
Administered by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s (SPNI) Israel Ornithological Center, the contest is jointly sponsored by the world’s largest birding organization, BirdLife International. As was the case during last year’s inaugural competition, the goal of the event is to raise money for the conservation and protection of birds all over the world, as well as heighten awareness about the poaching of birds along migratory routes, SPNI said.
Participants in this year’s contest range from professional ornithologists to birdwatching hobbyists, and include both adults and children, according to SPNI. They will be competing in two parallel tracks – an Israeli track and an international one. This year’s event involves 140 participants, including 17 Israeli teams and 16 international groups from 12 countries, from the United States, Spain, Cyprus, South Africa, Holland, Finland and others.
“In recent years, we have been witnessing the shocking extent 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 turn a blind eye to unrestrained hunting of all the birds arriving on migration.”
The hunters do not distinguish between birds and hunt everything in sight, from small songbirds to birds of prey, storks, pelicans and more.
The scope of hunting is shocking and many species are hurt in an irreversible manner, he said.
Over the weekend, President Reuven Rivlin’s wife, Nechama, hosted a delegation from SPNI at their home in honor of this week’s contest. During the meeting, she told the visitors that she studied ornithology in her youth, and stressed the importance of conserving the bird populations that are still left.
With the money raised from the competition, the organizations are able to contribute to eliminating this phenomenon and curbing hazards along the popular flight route, SPNI stressed. In 2014’s Champions of the Flyway competition, close to $60,000 was raised for projects fighting poaching of migratory birds, the organization said. Meanwhile, by hosting the competition, Eilat and the southern Arava are able to achieve global recognition as a “magnet for birdwatchers worldwide,” SPNI added.
“Israel can make its mark as a country through which hundreds of millions of migratory birds cross over each year – many of which park in Israel for periods between a day and several weeks, during which time they are eating, resting and recharging their strength for continued migration,” Alon said. “Therefore, Israel and its strict nature conservation laws bear great importance and responsibility for the preservation of large bird populations.”