Tag Archives: Champions of the Flyway

Birding Israel with Leica V-Lux


One of the perks of a Leica sponsored trip to Israel for the “Champions of the Flyway” Bird Race is the use of Leica cameras and binoculars. I was given the Leica V-lux, a bridge camera to try out. A handy travel camera with a generous 20.1 megapixels and a large 1″ CMOS sensor, a combination of comparable high end cameras.  A fast F2.8 to f4, 25-400 mm zoom lens ( 16X zoom) that performs just as well shooting desert beetles to flying swifts and eagles. What impressed me was the surprising fast auto focus especially for flying birds. The best part is that once the camera locks on the subject, the image stays in view. The 12 frames per second made sure every action is captured. It is packed with all the must have features like manual focus assist, stabilizer and DIY function buttons for quick adjustments while shooting. The coolest feature for me is the wireless remote control with my smart phone, a feature that will be very useful for shooting nesting birds. It allows the photographer to be away from the nest and yet able to see the action and adjust zoom and other setting before clicking. 4K video is standard.

Sharing some of the photos taken by the V-Lux in Eilat. Still getting use to the camera.

Over looking to Jordan

The different hues of the desert landscape from buffy brown to dark grey are captured in this shot. Taken from the north south highway in southern Israel, Jordan is in the background.

Flying V Formation

Slender-billed Gulls flying in formation under a beautiful blue sky. 1/1800 F4 ISO 200

Alpine Swift

Swifts are small and fast flying. Capturing them in flight usually needs a high end DSRL camera. This elegant Alpine Swift was flying against strong head winds, just slow enough for me to get a respectable image. 1/4000 F5 ISO 640


Beetle mania in the desert. These are tough survivors in the barren desert landscape. Fights over food is common. The V-lux can focus up to 3 cm for marco shots.

Goat herd

I like the depth of field of this shot. Precious herd of goats will provide the required sustenance for the local people staying in the Kibbutz. 

Slender-billed Gulls

Slender-billed Gulls returning to their roost shot against a setting sun. 1/1800, F4 ISO 320.


This Bluethroat is shot under the shade so the colors are a little muted but still rich.


Steepe (Common) Buzzards are the most common raptor migrating through the Eilat Mountains during Spring. 45,000 were counted in one day alone on 25th March. Most were of intermediate and rufous morph. I was able to freeze this flying buzzard shooting at a slow 1/500 sec hand held. 


Blue skies contrasting with a grey hillside. A balance exposure is needed to show off both shades. This is one of the counting points for the migrating raptors at Eilat Mountains.

Hooded Whaetear

Getting the details of a black and white bird like this Hooded Wheatear needs almost prefect exposure. The blurred background helps to define the subject.


Race to stop the killing.


Steepe Buzzard

When I was ask to represent Leica Camera as their Birding Ambassador for South East Asia in the Eilat Bird Festival and Champions of the Flyway, I was half expecting the usual bird festival and race. How wrong I was.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, a Birdlife International Partner use the spectacle of the spring migration of raptors and songbirds from Africa back to Europe to attract birders from all over the world to come to Eilat to raise awareness and funds for Doga Dernegi to stop the killing of migrating birds across Turkey. A Bird Race truly for conservation!

Thousands of Steepe Buzzards passed                                                                                                  through the mountains of Eilat in a day.

Every year 25 millions birds were shot and trapped for game and food across the Middle East. Illegal killing is also happening across Asia and we can certainly sympathize with this.

COTF Group Photo Doga Network-001

The International and local teams taking part in the Champions of the Flyway 2017. Photo courtesy of the Doga Network.


This was how the Championships of the Flyway started four years ago. This year 18 teams from the US, Europe and Africa got their sponsors and friends to donate and support their participation. Leica Camera AG was one of the corporate sponsors answering the call by sponsoring three teams this year. They are the Leica Cape May Bird Observatory American Dippers, Leica Sampach Snowfinch and Victorious Bird Nerds.

The American Dippers brought along the latest interactive tracking CCT Live technology where everyone can follow their race in real time. 



The Golden Pheasants from China taking part for the first time. Chen Ting, Terry Townsend and Tong Menxiu did a great job for first timers. Photo courtesy of the Golden Pheasants.

The first team from China, The Golden Pheasants flew over from Beijing to take part in this year’s race. They came in the top ten with a credible 143 species in 24 hours. I was amazed that a team from Palestine The Palestine Sunbirders came and took part too. Just shows that nature conservation is above politics and beyond borders. For me the heart warming moment was when they came on stage to accept the pennant of participation. For the all ladies team “Orioles Team” presenting EU Partnership for Peace, this is their fourth year. Great advocate for women power! Three teams, walked and cycled 30-40 km bringing a green message to the race. I got tired out just driving around the arid habitat, so hats off the these guys.

The Palestine Birders

The Palestine Sunbirders participation in the Bird Race shows that Nature Conservation is above politics and beyond borders. 

During the briefing that night before the race, Jonathan Meyrav our host, MC and mastermind actually went through the checklist and locations where to find some of the difficult species. I thought that was brilliant, something we can adopt. All the teams get up to date news on what rare species were seen on whats app. The American Dippers went one step further with the live broadcast of what they saw during the whole race. Now that is what I call sharing and having fun.

Youth Africa Birders from South Africa winer of the Guardians of the Flyway for raising 8,900 Euros for the COTF.

The Youth Africa Birders from South Africa winner of the Guardians of the Flyway. Photo from Jessleena Suri facebook page.

The Arctic Redpolls came in first with a record of 181 species. Congratulations!. The Guardians for the Flyway went to the Youth Africa Birders from South Africa for raising the highest amount 8,900 Euros. Well done guys! In total a cheque of US$62,000 was presented to Doga Dernegi of Turkey who will use it to implement projects to stop the illegal killing.

I am really amazed at how Jonathan Meyrav, Dan Alon and a few members were able to pull off such a big international event all by themselves. I don’t think they remembered when they last slept. Many thanks for your hospitality. My thanks also to Leica Camera Asia Pacific for sponsoring my trip to Eilat to experience the wonderful work that they are doing in that part of the world. It was truly an eye opener for me!



Champions of the Flyway 2017

In 2015 Birdlife International published a shocking report that 25 millions birds were illegally kill across the Mediterranean in a year. Now with its partners across the region Birdlife International is working tirelessly to stop this killing. One of these partners is Doga Dernagi of Turkey.


The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, another Birdlife Partner, will be organising a 24 hours bird race called the Champions of the Flyway in conjunction with the Eilat Birds Festival 2017 to raise funds for the many projects that Doga Dernagi will be implementing towards the stopping of the illegal killing of migratory birds in Turkey.


Nineteen teams from all over the world will gather in Eilat this coming week to prepare for the race which starts at midnight on 28th March. Leica Camera AG Sports Optics Division will be sponsoring three teams from the USA and Europe to this year’s race.

Eilat Mountains

The Flyway Rushhour. Photo from the COTF website.

I am most grateful to Leica Camera Asia Pacific for sponsoring me to take part in this race. Honored to be their birding ambassador for South East Asia at the Bird Festival and Race. I have taken part in many bird races at home and abroad but this will be a totally new experience. For one thing the experienced teams can clock over 150 species in the 24 hours. Really looking forward to the race and making new birding friends.



Thousand of raptors and storks will be funneling through the mountains of Eilat on their way north to Europe in Spring. It is one of the spectacles of the birding world.


Spring migration of raptors over Israel.  Photo from COTF website.



The “Playing Field” for the Bird Race (left)

Joining me from Asia will be a team from China, The Golden Phoenix. This is the first time a team from China is taking part. I am looking forward to meet up with Menxiu Tong, one of the members. He took us birding around SE China last year.

You can follow the race on twitter and Facebook at #COTF. More about the race on this link:  COTF

You can also donate to the cause by clicking on this link. Donate