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18th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic Breaks Records
AUSTIN – The results are in and organizers of the 18th annual Great Texas Birding Classic have something to squawk about.
The statewide birding tournament attracted a record-breaking 81 teams composed of more than 400 competitors who set an all-time record by recording 425 species of birds during the competition held from April 15 through May 15, according to tournament director Shelly Plante, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department nature tourism manager.
Plante says the birding tournament raised enough money through registration fees and sponsorships to award $18,000 in conservation grants, bringing the 18-year total for all grants awarded throughout Texas to $819,500.
“Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley was this year’s greatest beneficiary with $11,000 of this year’s total conservation grant funds going to the popular birding destination,” Plante says. “Three different winning teams selected a habitat restoration project to help fund removal of concrete debris and rubble from a former RV site in the middle of the state park, clearing the way for habitat restoration projects.”
Conservation grants awarded to the Friends of Estero Llano Grande State Park by winning teams were: $5,000 from the Gawking Geese, State Park Tournament winner, which counted 107 species during 24 hours at Goose Island State Park; $5,000 from Swarovski Optik Highway Hawks, repeat winner of the Statewide Weeklong Tournament, which tallied 356 species; and $1,000 from the Cayman Cowboys, the top team in the Adult Big Day – Lower Texas Coast Tournament, which recorded 178 species.
As the Statewide Weeklong winner, the Swarovski Optik Highway Hawks also were able to award an additional $5,000 to the Houston Audubon Society’s High Island Forested Habitat Restoration Project to help remove invasive plant species and replant native habitat. High Island’s coastal forests represent one of the state’s most important habitats for resident, wintering, breeding and migrating bird species.
The other $2,000 in conservation grant awards were split evenly between a project in El Paso, where the money will help establish, protect and nourish a desert willow tree garden at Parkland Elementary School and one to fund improvements to the Maddin Prairie Preserve Restoration Maintenance Project in Colorado City in Mitchell County.
Funds for the El Paso school project were awarded by the Free Falling Falcons, winner of the Adult Big Day – Upper Texas Coast Tournament. The Big O’Birders, competing in Lake Colorado City State Park’s Big Sit! tournament, saw a snowy plover, this year’s Lone Star Bird, giving the team the privilege of selecting a $1,000 project. They chose as their recipient the Native Prairies Association of Texas that oversees the Maddin Prairie Preserve.
For the second year in a row, since the Great Texas Birding Classic expanded competition from along the coast to encompass the entire state and lengthened the tourney from one week to one month, the Big Sit! regional tournaments attracted the most teams. Twenty teams confined to a 17-foot circle for 24 hours in a chosen locale tallied bird species heard or seen during one day of their choosing between April 15 and May 15. Leading the pack were 20 members of the Weslaco RedCrowns working in shifts, who counted 111 species from the deck just outside the park store at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco.
The Nuthatch Gang: Sit-a-day Soiree team topped the Prairies and Pineywoods West Regional Big Sit! category, recording 59 species, much to the delight of team member Rick Laughlin, who blogged about his experience.
“Well, what a great way to spend a Saturday!” Laughlin wrote. “The weather was great, the conversation was friendly and the birds kept us busy! The conservation grants program that comes out of funds raised from the Classic support worthy projects that benefit bird habitat, birding, conservation, education and outreach.”
Although her 3 Guys and a Gull team didn’t win the Sunrise to Noon Tournament, a perennial favorite for families, Lori Mullican applauded the birding contest.
“I know our numbers weren’t through the roof, but we had so much fun,” the mom said. “Even the kiddoes enjoyed it. We hope to make it an annual family event.”
Again this year, dozens of younger birders, many mentored by bird-savvy adults, competed in the Roughwings (13 years old and younger) and Gliders (teen) tournament categories. The Curlew Cousins racked up the most among 12 teams of youngsters — an impressive 136 species in the Roughwing Regional Tournament.
Brian Trusty of Audubon Texas sponsored and mentored three youth birding teams composed of Boy Scouts from a North Texas troop. They were the first of 55,000 boys in the Circle Ten Council to try their hand at birding competition.
“They were incredibly enthusiastic about the event and really enjoyed themselves,” Trusty said. They had no idea they were constantly surrounded by so many birds. They used the GTBC to count toward earning their Bird Study Merit Badge.”
To view a complete list of the results, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/events/great-texas-birding-classic/2014-final-results.
Download photos of some of the Great Texas Birding Classic winning teams by visiting: http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/news_images/?g=great_texas_birding_classic_2014
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