The Mediterranean is a danger zone for millions of migratory birds that pass the region on their travels to and from Africa — twice every year. Malta is an infamous example of the hazards these birds face by hunters and poachers, but the island of Cyprus is a hotspot for those illegal activities too. The magnitude of illegal hunting on this Mediterranean Island is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of birds from all groups and families are killed there every migration season.

BirdLife Cyprus staff are currently working hard to bring about lasting change but with illegal killing still increasing and conservation resources ever-more stretched, the challenge is daunting. Current estimates suggest as many as 2,500,000 birds are now illegally hunted, trapped and killed there every year.

The Event

BirdLife International stepped up to the plate and decided to help out their colleagues in Cyprus by raising money and awareness through the Champions of the Flyway. This event takes place in another hotspot for migratory birds, but this time a safe one: Eilat in Israel. Together with the Israeli BirdLife-partner (SPNI) this will be the second edition of this international happening.

From midnight to midnight on March 25th, international teams of birders will try to see (or hear) as many species of birds as possible, all the while trying to find as many donors as they possibly can to enable BirdLife Cyprus to take the action needed to give the people of Cyprus the opportunity to turn the tide on criminality, stop illegal hunting and change the situation there once and for all.

Many of the teams will arrive on the 21st and will join mass scouting trips and openly share sightings in the spirit of fun and camaraderie. But, come midnight on the 25th and all bets are off! The competition will be fierce, battling for team pride and bragging rights. On the 26th, the teams will return to good friends brought together through a passion for birding. The final awards ceremony is held at brunch and participants can share fun anecdotes from their intense day of birding (over much coffee undoubtedly)!

This is the second time the event will be organised, after a highly successful first edition in 2014 that raised significant amounts of money for bird conservation projects in the Caucasus and Malta.

The Teams

A team of Dutch birders called The Dutch Knights, will participate as well. In 2014 they shared the 3rd spot, as well as winning the coveted title ‘Knights of the Flyway’ for being the most cooperative team (it is a friendly competition) and for securing the most donations (100!). And this year Leica will support the Dutch Knights with a donation as well.

This team consists of:

  • Marc Guyt: Active birder, photographer and director/joint owner of AGAMI, an image library specializing in high quality images of birds and wildlife worldwide. Besides, Marc is tour leader and ambassador for BirdingBreaks, Dutch leading Bird & Wildlife tour operator.
  • Gert Ottens: Active birder (and lifelong fan of Leica birding optics) who works for BirdLife in The Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland). He is also on the editorial staff of Dutch Birding magazine and Limosa (Journal of the Netherlands’ Ornithologists Union).
  • Martijn Verdoes: Active birder, photographer and scientist at Department of Tumor Immunology in Nijmegen (NL). Also, Martijn’s team “The Dippers” won the Golden Gate Audubon Birdathon in California in 2012.

Another team of note is the Cape May Bird Observatory American Dippers.

This team consists of:

  • Michael O’Brien: Michael O’Brien is an author, artist, and VENT tour leader living in Cape May, New Jersey. His travels have taken him throughout North and Central America, and beyond.
  • Doug Gochfeld: Doug Gochfeld, a native Brooklynite, spent his early formative years scouring the urban landscape of New York City for birds with his father, before a teenage sabbatical, during which his time was allotted towards baseball, among other pursuits.
  • Glen Davis: Glen grew up birding in Brooklyn and spent the youth of his naturalist career alongside teammate Doug Gochfeld. His birding trajectory took him out of New York City and on to the famous location of Cape May, New Jersey where he was captivated by both the phenomenal bird migrations and its fantastic community.
  • Jeff Bouton: Jeff Bouton began his birding career as a volunteer bird bander as a teenager in Rochester, NY and spent the following decade plus wandering around the country as “binoculars for hire” working for nearly any agency or not-for-profit organization that would pay him to do what he loved more than anything in the world: being in the field birding.

Here’s what Jeff has to say about participating in this exciting event: “We are thrilled to be going to the Champions of the Flyway, to see the magical marvel of migration that occurs over Israel, and to be with some of the best birders from around the globe. We, of course, hope to represent well and make Leica and CMBO proud, but most importantly are humbled to help spotlight this most important conservation cause along with these fine birding friends from so many geographic regions! The indiscriminate poaching of all types of song birds occurring in Cypress is wholly unregulated and many threatened and endangered species are affected as well. Only education and enforcement can help to protect these birds, and the Champions of the Flyway event will not only cast a global spotlight on this illegal poaching, but is earning valuable dollars to help the important efforts by Birdlife to protect these migrant birds.“

Every team pays for their own expenses, such as flights and hotels, and is asked to raise money so that every Euro or Dollar raised will go straight to BirdLife Cyprus. Besides, every participant is paying a so-called conservation fee (which will also directly go to Cyprus). This way a total amount of $60.000 was raised last year which was put to good use immediately.

To learn more about Champions of the Flyway, check out their website and cause page, or connect with the Dutch Knights on Facebook or Twitter

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *