In March 2015, the Leica / Cape May Bird Observatory „American Dippers“ achieved the improbable, when we returned home from Eilat, Israel with the coveted Champions of the Flyway cup in hand. While less familiar with the Eastern birds, we carried the experience of well over 100 individual big days between us and we maximized daylight scouting hours, leaving the hotel pre-dawn and returning long after dark each day. More importantly though, we were among the top earners of conservation dollars among the COTF teams and added in kind by donating our top prize to Birdlife Cyprus to use in the fight against the persecution and illegal hunting of migratory birds! In 2016 Leica & Cape May (CMBO) are teaming up again, sponsoring another American Dippers team.
Returning for his second year is team leader, Doug Gochfeld. He’s an active member of the US-based Leica Birding crew, and a staple around Cape May, NJ in the fall helping to record the storied migrations here. He has also spent numerous, long seasons clinging to the edge of the American continent scouring the Bering Sea for seabirds & Siberian strays working with St. Paul Island Tours. Doug has traveled the globe pursuing his passion for birds, and I’d describe him as a „migration junkie“. I’d also defy you to find anyone more passionate about observing birds or with greater appreciation for the pageantry of the migration spectacle (read Doug’s fantastic account of the spectacular migration in Eilat here). I’m never surprised to see Doug appear wherever birds are, in the United States, Central America, Israel and wherever else there are hordes of birds to be seen across the globe!
In 2015, Doug volunteered at the Eilat hawk watch gaining invaluable experience with the birds and birding in and around Eilat prior to the race and will do the same in 2016. He carried the American Dippers team last year and his local knowledge was the foundation of the team’s success.
With Doug’s experience, expertise and passion at the helm, the Leica / CMBO American Dippers will once again be a team to look out for in 2016. As a competitor, it’s a certainty Doug will be looking to improve on last year’s 168 species mark, however, he admits his most important goal is to raise as many important conservation dollars as he possibly can.
The second 2016 team member is Tom Reed. Another regular in the Cape May birding scene in recent years, Tom is a professional guide and researcher. He’s a veritable birding machine with incredible powers of observation and has participated in the annual World Series of Birding (WSB) in Cape May, New Jersey 15 times. His most recent run was on the „SPNI Champions of the Flyway“ team in the 2015 World Series of Birding with some of Israel’s top birders. Now he will get his first opportunity to compete in Israel proper as the second member of the Leica / CMBO team. Tom is extremely excited to do his part as a Champion raising money for important bird conservation and we at Leica are proud to have him on board. In the image above Tom shows his passion (and height) at the end of a successful „Big Sit“ in Cape May. Happily, Tom, will not need his cold weather clothes during the champions event in sunny Eilat!
The third competitor on the 2016 American Dippers team is Ben Barkley. Like Doug, Ben will be volunteering as a counter on the ridges above Eilat, Israel tallying the dizzying array of raptors migrating through the area. The flights here are pure magic to behold and in 2015 myself and the other „American Dippers“ stood spellbound on race day, staring in awe as a constant stream of Steppe Buzzards, vultures, kites and eagles swept low across the valley near Yotvada near midmorning. We knew we had to keep up the pace of our route, but the stream of raptors held us transfixed as the spectacle of the river of birds streamed by overhead.
Ben has been an avid field researcher for many years and currently is working at Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology. He is a 7 time veteran of Cape May’s WSB, as well as other less-publicized big day runs. He will be a great asset aiding with Eilat area scouting in the weeks preceding the event.
The final member of the Leica / CMBO American Dippers is Don Freiday. Don is a long time south New Jersey resident and former CMBO employee who is just returning to the organization as the new Program Director after a stint with the local Fish & Wildlife agencies. Don is a 32 year veteran wildlife professional, with a resumé too extensive and impressive to begin to summarize here, and will come in as the Dipper’s senior member. Like Tom & Ben this will be Don’s first experience competing in COTF but he brings a wealth of big day experience from the World Series and other big days during his career.
When asked about participating in the Champions of the Flyway event, Don said, “This event addresses an incredibly important conservation need, that of stopping uncontrolled killing of songbirds in Greece. When I was teaching at Rutgers University, I had a colleague who worked in Cyprus, where the director of that country’s wildlife service had recently been MURDERED for attempting to stop the uncontrolled slaughter of wildlife. I am of course also thrilled to visit Israel, long on my short list of places to go next. This event should also be on everyone’s short list to donate to, again, incredibly important to migratory birds.”
To learn more about the 2016 Leica / CMBO American Dippers team or to make a donation to the 2016 conservation cause on their behalf, please visit their COTF page here.