Taking place on Tuesday 26 March, The Champions of the Flyway, the most exciting international birding race of the year returns and this year we’re joining the competition with Team VCF again.
The Champions of the Flyway
Running since 2014 The Champions of the Flyway is an annual real-time bird spotting race, organised by BirdLife partner, The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), as part of the Eilat Bird Festival. The race pitches small teams of world class birdwatchers against each other in a ‘race’ to spot the highest number of birds within a 24 hour period.
The race takes place at the end of March during the annual spring migration at Eilat in Israel at the southern tip of the Red Sea where migratory birds stopover to and from their northern breeding grounds. The Eilat Mountains create a natural bottleneck for millions birds with nearly two hundred species including two dozen species of raptors including the migratory Egyptian Vulture, waders and passerines migrating northwards creating one of nature’s most spectacular sights.
A race for vultures
To date the race has raised over €300,000 for bird conservation projects mainly for work tackling the illegal killing of birds migrating along the flyways. For the 2019 race The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is partnering with Nature Kenya to raise funds and awareness for vulture conservation in the Great Rift Valley. The vultures of the Great Rift Valley and across Africa are currently in crisis as a result of poisoning and illegal killing, with seven of the 11 species on the continent are currently on the brink of extinction such as the Cape and Lappet-Faced Vultures.
The 2018 race was the most successful so far, raising nearly €100,000 alone and the 2019 promises to beat that total. With the funds raised Nature Kenya will create a Rapid Response Team to identify poisoned carcasses and dispose of them as well as development of several educational programs with the local people of the Mara area and Narok province in Kenya about the risks of poisoning and illegal killing.
If you would like to support Team VCF you can donate via the Just Giving Page, any funds you donate will help protect vultures.
Introducing Team VCF
This year we are entering a team into The Champions of the Flyway and will be supporting the campaign to raise awareness about the plight of Africa’s vultures. Team VCF is led this year by Vulture Conservation Foundation Management Board member Hans Pohlmann who is joined by David Uit de Weerd and Lennaert Steen.
Team VCF Captain Hans Pohlmann
As team captain for the second time, I'm really looking forward to participating in The Champions of the Flyway again this year! And this time with a really fitting cause! This is the second time we've participated as Team VCF in the race since first particiapting in 2017 once before. Later that year, I became a member of the Management Board of the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), so Team VCF is now even more special to me! Becoming a board member has changed birding for me. I still like to go out and try to find rarities or join a Birdrace, but most of my bird-related time is going into conservation. And it’s necessary…..Fortunately, the vultures are doing quite good in some parts of Europe, but there is still a lot of work to be done! And with my position as a board member, I am trying to help as much as I can. The Vulture Conservation Foundation mainly works in Europe and the adjacent areas, but supports colleagues working tireless to protect vultures in Africa and Asia.
Even in my day job (working at Boskalis, a major contractor), I am working on conservation of birds with the creation of 1,000 hectares of new breeding islands in Lake Markermeer in the Netherlands. This has been a brilliant project, combining work and hobby! Living in the big city of Wijhe (Netherlands), with my wife Ellen and my kids Stijn and Lize.
David Uit de Weerd
I started birdwatching at the age of 12. Pretty soon, I knew all the common birds and got interested in rare birds. When I was 14, I joined Dutch Birding. Between 1992-2003 I almost quit birding as visiting football matches and going out attracted me more….. But the birds were never out of my mind: in 2003 I started birding again. In 2004/2005 I met my current teammates.
With Lennaert and Hans I did several bird spotting Big Days in my hometown of Zwolle and the province of Overijssel, Netherlands. The feeling of doing a Big Day is indescribable. I like to prepare Big Days as a military operation, planning every 5-10 minutes in the 24 hours. Targetting on birds and time schedule is great: using all positive and unique talents of every team member. Participating in The Champions of the Flyway in 2017 felt like a dream, it was fantastic with people from all over the world having one shared goal: protecting our birds.
I have been interested in birds for most of my whole life. In the early days, I wandered with my brother through the woods and riverbanks in my home county. Growing up in the eastern part of the Netherlands made me familiar with most of the breeding birds in the Netherlands. Later on, I expanded my birding trips to all over Europe and the rest of the world. I have traveled to over 45 countries and this will be my fourth time in Israel and my second participation in the race of the Champions of the Flyway!
All my birding observations are online at the sighting portals waarneming.nl and observation.org. Since the start of both websites I am an admin for bird sightings. In my spare-time I love to visit the Wadden-islands in the north of the Netherlands. Counting waders on the remote island Rottumerplaat or trying to find rarities with friends on the island Vlieland (Deception Tours) are the most wonderfull days of the year. I have been doing the bird spotting Big Days for 15 years now. The passion and the thrill to find as much as possible different birding species in 24 hours has always been the highlights of birding.
Keep up to date with Team VCF by following us on Twitter and Facebook using #GoVultures and the latest news from The Champions of the Flyway on #COTF2019