If you’re a birder, you almost certainly won’t need an introduction to the Champions Of The Flyway. For those of you who don’t know COTF, as it is known, it’s an annual birding festival in Eilat, Israel, to raise money for conservation, the centrepiece of which is a 24-hr bird race involving teams from all over the world.
This year I am delighted to announce that a team from China will participate for the first time. I am honoured to be one of the “The Golden Pheasants” alongside my teammates, one of China’s top birders, Tong Menxiu, and travel writer and birder, Chen Ting.
The event, in which teams from all over the world are trying to see the largest possible number of birds in one day – 28 March – will support efforts to combat illegal hunting in Turkey.
Conservation is the driving force for COTF and each team will be raising funds for BirdLife International’s partner in Turkey, Doğa Derneği (DD). DD works to ensure safe passage of migrants through the country, especially the Anatolia region, an important bottleneck for migrating birds. The projects that COTF will support include youth activities to train the younger generation to become birdwatchers instead of hunters, and education of newly arrived Syrian refugees on Anatolia’s nature and conservation. I am sure everyone will agree these are worthy causes.
Illegal hunting is a big threat to wild birds in many countries, from raptor persecution in the UK that still persists today to the cagebird trade in East Asia, and everywhere in between. As well as celebrating the miracle of migration, COTF is designed to raise awareness of the illegal hunting threat, to put pressure on the criminals and to raise much-needed funds to support local groups on the ground trying to combat this illegal activity.
As readers of Birding Beijing will know, illegal hunting is a big problem in China, in particular along the east coast during spring and autumn migration, driven by the demand for exotic food and, to a lesser extent, the cagebird trade. By engaging China in the COTF, we hope to help raise awareness about illegal hunting and the international conservation efforts to try to tackle it. And, by linking COTF to China, maybe we can persuade the organisers to support conservation efforts in China in the future!
Each team has a dedicated page on the COTF website. The Golden Pheasants’ is here. It includes a link to the JustGiving site which is accepting donations.
It’s important that I make something very clear, to avoid any suspicion or misunderstanding. The participants themselves, and/or corporate and government sponsors, are paying the costs of travelling to Israel and hotel accommodation. So absolutely ALL the money collected will be donated to BirdLife, and will make a big difference to the preservation of many individual birds and species. Every donation, whether it’s GBP 1, CNY 100 or USD 10,000, is hugely appreciated.
We’ll be using social media in China and overseas to promote the event, provide real-time updates of our progress and to generate support. Follow @BirdingBeijing on Twitter for team updates, @FlywayChampions for official event tweets and use the hashtag #COTF17 to see all relevant updates and discussions. If you’re on WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, add “birdingbeijing” to keep up to date.