2nd Annual Champions of the Flyway Big Success

The Israel Ornithological Center presents Champions of the Flyway at the Biggest Week in American Birding

In spring 2014, SPNI launched a new and exciting project “Champions of the Flyway”. In Champions teams of birders from around the world gather in Eilat and Southern Israel to celebrate the wonders of migration. Starting at midnight, teams of 3 or 4 compete to spot the most bird species within 24 hours, and get back to the finishing line in time. What makes the Champions of the Flyway so special is that all participating teams raise money towards a designated conservation project. The ultimate goal of the Champions of the Flyway is to raise funds to tackle the illegal hunting and trapping of birds along the Flyways, one location at a time.


The second Champions of the Flyway race took place starting in Eilat on March 25th 2015. 135 birders took to the field for the 2nd Champions of the Flyway race. 31 teams from Israel and 13 from abroad participated. 15 teams raced in the International division and 16 teams of Israeli birders competed in the national race. The teams spent the 24 hours racing side by side, some of the world’s finest field birders shared their telescopes with 8 year old children, for the shared goal of raising money for conservation.


The 2015 Champions of the Flyway were the “Cape May Bird Observatory (Leica) American Dippers”. The Dippers employed a different approach to most teams, starting in Eilat and heading north to the Negev in the afternoon; they finished with an amazing 168 species and won 3 pairs of Swarovski Binoculars. The Dippers gallantly chose to donate the binoculars to a speechless Birdlife Cyprus team on the spot. The binoculars will be used to educate children in Cyprus to the value of birds in the field, through excellent binoculars and not through the barrel of a gun. 


In second place came the “Arctic Redpolls” from Finland. The young Finnish team sponsored by Zeiss Finland executed an incredible race day strategy and ended up only 1 species short of the overall winners. Team “Reservoir birds” from Spain and the Finnish “Northern Lights” team shared 3rd place with 163 species.


As the Israelis have the home field advantage they compete in a separate competition. The Israeli Champions of the Flyway race featured an incredibly diverse field with Israel’s top birdwatchers competed alongside amateurs including retired doctors, army generals and over 15 children. The winners of the Israeli Champions of the Flyway were the JBO Orioles from the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. The team led by Avner Rinot and Alen Kacal broke last year’s record and spotted an incredible 179 species within the allotted 24 hours. The JBO Orioles received 5,000 NIS to be invested in a conservation project of their choice. In close second the Pied Bushchats from the Yerucham center for creative ecology scored 176 species. The “Terns” from Ma’agan Michael took 3rd place with 170 species.


Besides the main award for the most birds spotted several more awards were handed out.


The Knights of the Flyway award for the team which shares the most information was given to the Next Generation Birders team that besides spotting a very good 157 species took the time to share valuable information before and during the race, put other teams on great birds (and mammals) and sacrificed their own time to help others. The team won a pair of Swarovski Optik SLC’s 10X50 that they will donate to a Birdlife project of their choice.


The Guardians of the Flyway award, for the team that raised the most money, was handed to the Birdwatch/Birdguides Roadrunners who raised over $7,500 for the cause. Honorable mentions go to Birding Ecotours team from South Africa and the Dutch Knights who both raised an incredible amount themselves.


The main winners of the 2015 Champions of the Flyway are the birds of Cyprus. Over $50,000 was raised so far and the fundraising continues. A team from Birdlife Cyprus competed, and went home with a check for $35,000 that will go towards birding education programs on the Island. Sadly, the picturesque island is a true death trap to millions of birds. The scale of illegal hunting on the island is horrific and the funds raised will help our colleagues at Birdlife Cyprus tackle the issue on the ground.