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Champions of the Flyway race puts spotlight on illegal trapping in Cyprus

Black-winged Stilts migrate in spring 2014 in Eilat, Israel. Photo by Marc Guyt
Black-winged Stilts migrate in spring 2014 in Eilat, Israel. Photo by Marc Guyt

Writing of his beloved western forests, the great conservationist John Muir once wrote, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools.”

If he were writing about saving birds today, I suspect the fools at the top of his list would be the people who illegally trap birds in the Mediterranean region, especially on the island of Cyprus.

The numbers are staggering: More than 2 million birds were killed in autumn 2014, and over a full year, 2.5 million birds are estimated to have died after being trapped in mist nests and on sticky lime sticks. Nearly half of last fall’s toll — 900,000 birds — died on a single British military base on the island, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. BirdLife Cypress says that since 2002, 152 species have been found trapped, including 78 threatened species. (See the full list.)

Conservationists with BirdLife International and other groups have worked for years to protect the birds of Cyprus and other places in the Mediterranean region where trapping songbirds is common. The latest effort promises to turn up the heat on the trappers, and it’s also sure to be a lot of fun.

On March 25, the second annual Champions of the Flyway birding race will be held in Eilat, Israel. More than a dozen teams from around the world will compete to find as many bird species as possible in 24 hours. Their playing fields will be the salt pools, reservoirs, valleys, and agricultural areas in and around Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, and one of the world’s most spectacular migration hotspots.


Watch a video about the 2014 race

Each year, the funds raised by Champions of the Flyway sponsors, participants, and supporters are used to support a different non-governmental organization’s work to prevent the illegal killing of birds. Last year, the race raised nearly $60,000 for a raptor-protection project led by Bird Conservation Georgia. This year’s race will benefit BirdLife Cyprus. It intends to use the proceeds toward an awareness-raising campaign about illegal trapping, and to create a bird-banding, or ringing, station on the island.

We at BirdWatching are happy to be supporting the Dutch Knights team. The team includes Marc Guyt, director of the AGAMI image library; Gert Ottens, a staffer for BirdLife in the Netherlands and the journal Dutch Birding; and Martijn Verdoes, a birder from the Netherlands who was on the winning team at the Golden Gate Audubon Birdathon in 2012. The Dutch Knights tallied 151 species last year.

Birders scan for birds in Yotvata, Israel, during the 2014 Champions of the Flyway race. Photo by Marc Guyt
Birders scan the landscape in Yotvata, Israel, during the 2014 Champions of the Flyway race. Photo by Marc Guyt

After the 2014 Champions of the Flyway event, the team (then known as the Knights of the Flyway) was given an award for “enabling others to see the most species, enjoy the event, and promote the cause.”


In fact, sharing information throughout the race day is encouraged during Champions of the Flyway. Teams tweet their sightings as they go, which enables other teams to try to see as many birds as possible. And it allows those of us who cannot join the fun in person to follow the race live on Twitter. The camaraderie between teams from distant corners of the world also demonstrates a unified dedication to supporting an important conservation issue.

You can donate to the Dutch Knights or any of the other teams by following the links to their team pages. Please be generous. We must put an end to the foolish and senseless destruction of birds on Cyprus. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

Follow Champions of the Flyway on Facebook and Twitter.


Look for a recap of the race, including photos, in our August 2015 issue.

Photos and video of the slaughter

Watch a 26-minute Munchies Channel video about songbird killing on Cyprus.

Read Jonathan Franzen’s 2013 article “Last Song for Migrating Birds” (National Geographic).

See photos from Cyprus, Italy, Egypt, and Albania, and read an interview with the photographer.


Originally Published

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