This week, I thought I would make a special post featuring something that needs to be known and needs your help. It isn't about bird, but it can't take off unless it gets help soon (who the heck wrote that pun?). I want to talk about a cause some of my friends are dedicated to called Champions of the Flyway and talk about what it is, why this is a totally awesome idea, and why you should totally support it. I've brought this race before, but I haven't had an in depth discussion about it and why I'm so excited for this year's race
For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Champions of the Flyway is an extraordinary bird race for conservation led by the Israel Ornithological Center and Birdlife International. The CotF race takes place annually in the unparalleled migration hotspot of Eilat, Israel. This is a bird race with a difference, where teams compete on the ground but collectively raise money and create awareness to a major global problem, the illegal killing of birds along the flyways. Jonathan Meyrav got the idea for this race a few years ago while at the World Series of Birding in New Jersey, where teams. This year, COTF is joining forces with BirdLife Croatia (Biom) and Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BirdLife Serbia) to protect critically important passages in the eastern and western Mediterranean Flyways as well as the Adriatic Flyway. More than 50,000 Common Quails have been illegally shot in the area, together with numerous waterbirds and the occasional raptors and other soaring birds. One of the most widespread issues, common for both countries, is the illegal use of tape lures during quail hunting. The problem is often ignored by law enforcement officers because it is practiced during night and on weekends.
Usually, Leica Sport Optics sends one American team to Eilat to compete in the race: The Cape May Bird Observatory American Dippers with Americans sometimes joining the international teams, but there has never been a team of American young birders (I say "American" because Birding Eco-tours sponsors the World Youth Birders, as well as several Israeli teams consisting of young birders are competing in the race this year). Enter The ABA-Leica Subadult Wheatears, the all American team sponsored by well, the American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics. The Subadult Wheatears hope that by participating in the race, they will not only be good representatives to the North American youth birder community, but will also demonstrate to others that young birders are a force to be reckoned with! In addition to the cause of young birders, The Wheatears are racing to promote bird conservation and end the bird slaughter in the Mediterranean Basin. This year's lineup consists of Marquette Mutchler, Johanna Beam, and Aidan Place; three young birders who I am fairly acquainted with in the online birding community. To add to their credibility, Aidan manages a blog called The Birding Place (link in sister sites), and Marky and Jo have been recognized as the ABA's Young Birder of the Year contest in 2015 and 2017 respectively (I plan to do a spotlight on past YBY recipients such as Avery Scott and Cayenne Sweeney eventually).
I conducted an interview with the team members, of which Johanna was kind enough to answer my questions. Here's what she had to say:
The Young Birder Odyssey: What influenced your decision to go to Israel for Champions of the Flyway?
Johanna Beam: It wasn't much of a decision, actually! I had to go through the financial aspect of it and see if it was feasible, but even then I had already made the decision to go.
The Young Birder Odyssey: Why did you pick this year as the year to go to CotF?
Johanna Beam: I didn't really pick this year, it just sort of came together. I always thought CotF was going to be a pipe dream. Then when my spring break lined up with the race, we had a few people together, and we got our sponsorships, it all just came together.
The Young Birder Odyssey: What has been the most challenging part of preparing for the race?
Johanna Beam: Definitely studying for all the new birds. They're all completely new to me, as I've never been out the the ABA area. And finding time to study! Being a college student who's frantically studying birds from a country half way around the world isn't easy!
The Young Birder Odyssey: What do you hope to gain by participating in CotF as well as what you hope to achieve for young birders as a demographic?
Johanna Beam: I really hope to network with a lot of the European birders and make some new friends! I'm really looking forward to gaining some solid international experience that I will be able to apply later in life as well. As for young birders, there's a fair about to be said. It's extremely important that we get out there and get our voices heard. We are the future and it's ultimately up to us to bring these conservation and climate change issues to light and figure out how to solve them. It's hard enough for young birders in the US to be recognized for their talent and knowledge, and to add networking to the scene makes it very difficult for them (us) to make their (our) way. I think that by showing up to CotF and being the first US young birders to do so shows that the United States is invested in conservation elsewhere in the world, which is incredibly important. Birds have wings after all, and most can fly. Who knows where they're going to end up! And so often millennials are condemned for not caring about the world and being lazy, so by traveling half way across the world to raise money for conservation really shows how invested we are in this.
The Young Birder Odyssey: The goal is to see as many species possible in 24 hours, but is there a specific species you want to see more than any other?
Johanna Beam: Oh man, I (obviously) want to see wheatears, but I'm really excited to see Little Green Bee-eaters. And owls. Too hard to pick one species!
Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer my questions!
You can donate to their campaign at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aba-leica-subadult-wheatears (they are currently at 50% of their fundraising goal). Oh yeah, if you mention the American Birding Podcast in the comments when you donate, Nate will publicly thank you in an upcoming episode! Also, the Wheatears have a spotlight in the most recent podcast episode: blog.aba.org/2018/02/american-birding-podcast-big-year-reflections-with-yve-morrell.html
The YB Odyssey Facebook Page
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crazed4birds (Drew Beamer)
Blue Ridge Birding (Max Nootbaar)
Whimbrel Birders Club
The Eyrie (ABA Young Birders)
The Birding Place (Aidan Place)
Lost In Nature (Jared Gorrell)
Bird Boy Canada (Ethan Denton)
Prairie Birder (Charlotte Wasylik)
Wing Tips (Tessa Rhinehart)
Soar Birding & Nature Tours (Noah Kuck)
Setophaga dominica (Oscar Wilhelmy)
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