Champions of the Flyway 2018

The tens of thousands of Steppe Buzzards, along with many other migratory bird species that crossed the skies of Eilat this March, probably noticed an unusually large gathering of people looking up at them. Perhaps that gave them a scare.

But it was us, the teams assembled for Champions of the Flyway, and we were there to protect them. Once a year, a very special family meeting is held in Eilat. Birdwatchers, scientists and nature conservationists from all over the world gather here to celebrate the area’s awesome spring migration, with a clear goal to protect the migratory flyway, from Africa into Europe and Asia.

The event is essentially a birding race; each team tries to see as many bird species as possible within 24 hours, while also competing to raise money from friends, family, and the general public in order to finance campaigns against illegal killing of birds on the flyway.

It is by far more like a gathering of sometimes lonely people, who fight with minimal resources, often against organized crime, powerful investors, and even their own government, to save birds from habitat destruction, illegal killing, and a myriad of other hazards.

The race is a very playful, cheerful and friendly family competition.

They come from all over the world, and tell similar stories of success against all the odds and frustration. But just like millions of tiny young warblers, who leave Europe overwhelmed with optimism in face of the many dangers and challenges of their epic migration, we too are always optimistic in out actions.

We are the family of hope. Patricia Zurita, the CEO of BirdLife International, our umbrella organization, is often quoted saying that “we are the power of many” that gives us our strength.

I would add, the power of many lonely people, who are used to fighting unspeakable challenges on their own, but now we are together.

I imagine this is a little how the migratory birds feel in Eilat. After the struggle of crossing the Sahara Desert, they find refuge and company, here at the Eilat Bird Sanctuary. Its gives us the extra drive we need to complete the journey, just when it looks impossible. We are not completely alone. ZEISS gives us a strong and strengthening shoulder.

It was ZEISS who made possible the inspiring opening ceremony of the Champions of the Flyway and they donated the fabulous spotting scopes and binoculars that we use to bring people closer to birds, nature, and their conservation. So like the best family gathering ever, we played and had fun.

The race day is a real treat. For once, all teams started the day (more like midnight…) with zero birds on their list. Every bird species we saw was a “Lifer” – a first timer, so excitement came with almost every bird. For a birder who knows the feeling – it’s awesome, and it was an awesome day.

With this kind of family and support, the flyway is safer than ever.

This year’s event saw our most impressive results to date, with the winning team racking up a record-breaking 186 species, and a whopping $100,000 raised towards saving the quails of Serbia and Croatia from illegal hunting.

So now, when the fest is over, I wander with my pair of ZEISS Victory SF 10X42 binoculars on the trails of the Bird Sanctuary in Eilat, and watch the bee-eaters pass by their migration, I know they are not alone on their journey, and neither are we.

Noam Weiss

Noam Weiss is the director of the IBRCE in Eilat. He is responsible for maintaining and improving the habitats of the bird sanctuary and for replenishing the food stocks for the migratory birds in Eilat and the southern Arava valley. He also raises awareness and runs seminars to encourage people to protect the birds and help out the birders.