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TPWD News Release — March 17, 2006

Great Texas Birding Classic Marks 10 Years of Conservation

LAKE JACKSON, Texas — The world’s longest bird watching competition turns 10 years old this April. In the past decade, the Great Texas Birding Classic has raised close to a half million dollars to conserve wildlife habitat on the Texas coast, protecting critical stopover spots for songbirds that migrate between the Americas.

In the first nine years, winning teams have donated $453,000 in prize money to “on the ground” conservation in Texas. When the 2006 awards brunch is held in late April, total prize money will top the half million mark.

Each spring, the Classic draws hundreds of birding competitors from across North America. Thousands of birding tourists also come to experience the phenomenon of spring migration at companion events held along the coast.

The event’s impact extends far beyond Texas, because the Lone Star coastline is important stopover habitat for birds that continue up the Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. These include many neotropical migratory songbirds, among the nation’s most colorful and popular species, which migrate huge distances between South and Central America (the neotropics) and North America. Many of these birds are believed to be declining, and many experts suspect habitat loss to human development is a key factor.

“There has been a long term, steady decline in many bird species that pass through or reside some part of the year in Texas” said John Arvin, research coordinator at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, which partners with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to run the Classic. “Anything that helps birds and slows that process is a good thing.”

The Classic illustrates the connection between wildlife and habitat.

“Most people correctly assume good birders can identify many different kinds of birds by their calls or physical attributes,” said Shelly Plante, TPWD nature tourism coordinator. “But to excel in a competition like this you have to know where to find them. Some birds are in coastal marshes, others on the beach, on prairies, in woods. Habitat diversity is the key to species diversity. Texas has a huge range of habitat types, and that’s why birders come here.”

The Classic pairs teams of birders with corporate sponsors to raise conservation money, and it has evolved over the years to become several different tournaments.

The continent’s most committed birders compete in the weeklong tournament for five days nonstop along the entire Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, running April 25–29 this year.

There are also three sectional tournaments where teams focus on one section of the Texas coast for 24 hours, starting this year on the central coast (April 22), then moving to the upper coast (April 26), before concluding on the lower coast (April 29). College Challenge teams (competing for a $1,000 prize for the first time this year), Roughwings (age 13 and younger) and Gliders (14-to-18 year olds) can compete alongside adult and senior teams in each sectional tournament.

The Big Sit! Tournament (April 23) was created to see who can count the most birds in one location, with each team choosing its preferred spot.

The Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament was created for blind and visually impaired birders to compete by identifying birds by birdsong. This can take place in any coastal section for 12 hours on April 23. Teams must have one sighted driver and record keeper, but they may not assist with bird location or identification.

The Migration Challenge was created especially for teams of people who live outside Texas, offering special prizes for the Weeklong Tournament and for the highest single day count for all Sectional Tournaments.

Team registration days (good places for news media to hook up with participants) are from 6–8 p.m. on three separate days: April 19 for the Upper Coast at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, April 20 for the central coast at the Quality Inn & Suites in Corpus Christi, and April 21 for the lower coast at La Plaza Hotel in McAllen.

Winners will be announced at the awards brunch, taking place from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. April 30 in McAllen at Quinta Mazatlán. The 1930’s Colonial Revival style mansion, with its 15 acres of lush birding grounds, is reopening this year as one of nine sites in the World Birding Center complex in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Several people who helped launch the Classic 10 years ago will be special guests at the awards brunch. Madge Lindsay, John Herron and Ted Eubanks were instrumental in creating the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail as well as the Classic.

Complete information about the Classic is on the Web sites of the two host organizations. Or, phone the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory at (979) 480-0999.

Below is a short summery of habitat projects funded in the past nine years through the Great Texas Birding Classic Conservation Cash Grand Prizes and the Lone Star Bird Award, with total dollar amounts shown for habitat acquisition, enhancement, restoration and monitoring categories.

Habitat Acquisition — $269,666

Habitat Enhancement — $98,666

Habitat Restoration — $58,000

Habitat Monitoring — $26,666


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