By Sharon Udasin March 29, 2017
Under moonlight, some 200 ornithology enthusiasts headed to the Arava Desert for a 24-hour charitable competition to identify as many bird species as possible.

From 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Tuesday, the bird-watching teams from Israel and around the world partook in the fourth annual “Champions of the Flyway” event, exploring a triangular territory stretching from Eilat in the south to the Arava junction and Nitzana in the northeast and northwest.

Through their participation, teams from 14 countries ultimately raised NIS 254,000 to save black storks and combat illegal bird-hunting in Turkey.

“Unfortunately, all kinds of species are hunted there – birds of prey, storks and other gliders – in the name of sport,” said Jonathan Meirav, the competition’s organizer and a senior ornithologist for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, before the event.

Administered by SPNI’s Israel Ornithological Center, the contest is jointly sponsored by the world’s largest birding organization, BirdLife International.

The goal of the annual event is to raise money for the conservation and protection of birds all over the world, as well as heighten awareness about the poaching of birds along migratory routes, according to SPNI.

“The project focuses on, among other things, the protection of four species of vultures hunted in Turkey – the griffon vulture, the Egyptian vulture, the bearded vulture and the Eurasian black vulture – all of which are very rare species and are endangered,” Meirav said.

All in all, about 30 teams from Israel and 16 teams from abroad participated in the event this year. Among the 14 nationalities were teams from two countries that never participated before, Italy and China, the SPNI said.

The top three Israeli teams – the second of which was a children’s group – identified 181, 171 and 153 species, respectively.

Meanwhile, the top three international teams – a Finnish group, an Israeli-Palestinian group and a Turkish group – identified 181, 176 and 170 species, respectively. A “green” team, whose members traveled around the Arava without a car, using only their feet and bicycles, was able to identify 119 species.