A big event is coming closer! Champions of the Flyway 2017 will take place place on Tuesday March 28th.. All birding teams are also competing to raise the most conservation funding to help stop the illegal killing of birds in Turkey. The donated money goes directly to this cause and the winning team will be crowned Guardians of the Flyway 2017. Leica Sport Optics is proud to sponsor the Victorious Bird Nerds (VBN) this year. We interviewed Gert Ottens of VBN about the upcoming event.

Gert, you have visited Israel nearly 50 times over the last 25 years. Why is this such an important country for bird watching?
Well, despite being a relatively small country, Israel has a very diverse set of different natural habitats, from alpine habitats through wetlands and steppes to the driest of deserts. Apart from this: it is situated where three continents (Africa, Europe and Asia) meet, so it gets the best of three worlds. And because of this, Israel is very strategically positioned on a major flyway of migratory birds.

So twice a year many millions of birds pass through Israel on their way to and from their breeding and wintering grounds. Therefore it is one of the best places in the world to witness the spectacular wonders of bird migration. So I will definitely keep coming back for the amazing birding experiences Israel has to offer. Although it also helps that my wife is from Israel, so we visit the country regularly.

You participated at the last three „Champions of the Flyway“ races in Israel. What is the event’s main purpose and why are you participating?
The „Champions of the Flyway“ is basically an event that attempts to raise awareness and funds for a bird conservation organisation in the eastern Mediterranean to help them combat the illegal killing and taking of birds in their country. Every year many millions of birds just disappear in the region, and to some of those species this is major threat tot heir very existence. This year we aim to support Dega Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey) in their efforts to bring more awareness about the plight of (migratory) birds in Turkey.

The event itself is a so-called Big Day, where several (in this case: international) teams try to see as many species of birds in 24 hours, in southern Israel. All of the participating teams pay their own costs and try to raise funds for the cause, so that the money raised will go to Doga Dernegi. Just to give you an example of previous results: last year about € 80.000 was collected to help HOS (BirdLife in Greece) in the battle against the poaching of birds on several islands. Also the benefactors in 2014 and 2015 have made a difference in bird conservation, in Georgia and Cyprus respectively. So clearly this concept works!

Your team at this years „Champions of the Flyway“ are the Victorious Bird Nerds. Who will join you in the team and what connects you all beside your participation at Champion of the Flyway?
First of all, there’s Jip Louwe Kooijmans: he is a birder for as long as he can remember and has travelled from New-Zealand to Svalbard and from Japan to Panama, in pursuit of our feathered friends. But it will be his first visit to Israel and he’s really looking forward to it!

Also joining us is Bernd de Bruijn. He’s an ecologist and has worked at Vogelbescherming Nederland for 13 years. Bernd is a keen birder; although this will be only his second visit to Israel, he knows most species from his work in northern and eastern Africa. The three of us are connected by our shared love for birds and we have been colleagues for more than a decade. All of us have been involved in (mostly) local Big Days before, but it will be the first time we will doing this as a team. We can’t wait to get out there and battle for conservation!

Tell us more about Vogelbescherming Nederland.
Vogelbescherming Nederland is the Dutch Partner of BirdLife International, a worldwide Partnership of non-governmental conservation organisations that togethers seeks to conserve all wild bird species and the priority sites (Important Bird Areas) and habitats on which they depend.

Vogelbescherming Nederland aims, through birds, to help conserve biodiversity and maintain the quality of life on Earth. Vogelbescherming is internationally active for birds and nature in general. Worldwide thousands of bird species and their habitats are threatened. Together with our BirdLife partners from other countries, Vogelbescherming Nederland works on an international level towards structural solutions that are good for both birds and people.

Vogelbescherming supports important bird areas in Nederland. We focus on the protection of important bird areas such as Waddensea, IJsselmeer, Delta and several smaller nature reserves that are crucial for the long-term survival of birds. The protection, restoration and management of these areas are a top priority to Vogelbescherming. Vogelbescherming speaks out for threatened bird species. Vogelbescherming develops special programmes focussed on bird species that are in serious trouble. We focus on the protection of bird populations within their natural distribution. For migratory birds this is the entire migratory route: from breeding areas to wintering grounds.

What has been an extraordinary experience you had during „Champions of the Flyway“in the past years?
To be honest, the most extraordinary experience to me is to be fighting for conservation with a whole bunch of likeminded people from around the globe. To be able to share our passion and to contribute to a cause feels really good.

But just to be out there, especially in the magnificent deserts of Israel, is a major highlight everytime I’m there. And then there are the awesome birds of course, and the sheer numbers of them! It’s really hard for me to pick a favourite, but the Black Bush Robin ranks highly. Not because its rarity, but because they are real characters.

Where can we follow you during „Champions of the Flyway“ online?
First of all, we have a Facebook page by the name of ‘Victorious Bird Nerds’. So we invite everyone to have look, and to like and share our page. We will be posting regular updates on our fund raising efforts, our preparations for the Big Day and updates on the day itself. We also hope to be posting on www.dutchbirding.nl, so keep an eye on that website as well. And lastly, we will be back on the Leica Birding Blog with more news and the final results!

P.S. Join the good cause and become a Flyway Champion by donating whatever you can to fund direct action by our friends – the expert conservationists at DOĞA DERNEĞI (BIRDLIFE TURKEY) – who are acting to stop the unacceptable illegal killing and trapping of migratory birds.

Learn more:
COTF 2017

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