From Staff Reports
AUSTIN—The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Great Texas Birding Classic, an all ages statewide event, has generated $844,500 for 95 on-the-ground habitat acquisition, restoration and enhancement projects during the last 19 years.
This year’s tournament, which saw a record 530 participants representing 100 teams, contributed $25,000 from registration fees and sponsorships to fund conservation grants.
“All of the teams identified a total of 413 species of birds during the competition, which is more bird species than can be seen in most states year-round,” said Shelly Plante, tournament director and TPWD nature tourism manager. “This year was also special because, for the first time ever, the tournament saw teams participate from all nine regions of the state.”
The Birding Classic features several categories: one for any skill level, region of the state, age, or number of team members.
In addition to having fun with friends, teams in some categories are vying for the privilege of selecting which projects will receive conservation grant funding. Four teams won the honor of selecting project grant recipients this year:
The NRG Eco-eagles, sponsored by NRG Energy, have been competing since the beginning of the Great Texas Birding Classic and won this year’s Statewide Weeklong tournament with an all-time record of 358 species recorded. They awarded the $10,000 Weeklong Conservation Grant to a project for prairie brush management and control at Scenic Galveston’s Virginia Point Preserve near Galveston Island.
An independent team, the Gawking Geese, took home the top spot for the State Park All Ages tournament with 110 species recorded during their day in the field. The group birded at Goose Island State Park and will be dedicating their $5,000 grant towards the creation of a new bird viewing center at the park.
The Big Sit!, an all ages tournament category where teams record birds from within a 17-foot diameter circle during the course of a day, saw 33 teams participate.
The Painted Bunting Bunch, an independent team that did their sit at South Llano River State Park, won the Lone Star Bird Award for spotting the yellow-throated warbler. They tallied 42 birds, winning the Heart of Texas West Big Sit! category as well.
Winning the Lone Star Bird Award gave them the chance to select a $5,000 project, which they chose to award to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge from the Conservation Fund toward land acquisition for the refuge.
The $5,000 Lower Texas Coast Regional Big Day Conservation Grant was awarded by the independent team Trogan Men, who won with 179 species recorded in a single day of birding. The team chose to dedicate their grant towards the construction of an accessible path at the Salineño Bird Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley for Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.
This walking path will improve access for birding and wildlife viewing while protecting critical habitat for birds.
In addition to the adult teams, dozens of younger birders, many mentored by bird-savvy adults, participated in specialty youth categories.
“This year’s Birding Classic was the best I’ve participated in. I really enjoyed all the many birds we were able to see,” said Naomi Flores, a member of the Texas Ornithological Society – San Antonio Youth Birding Club Senior Chickadees team. “My favorite bird that we saw was the bobwhite. We’d heard the call, but we hadn’t actually seen it. Then all of a sudden, BOOM! The bobwhite came fluttering up from the tall grass, scaring us half to death!”
Flores’ team won the Heart of Texas East Gliders (teen tournament) Regional Big Day category this year.
This year’s team sponsors, independent team registrations, event sponsors Toyota and Swarovski Optik, and awards ceremony sponsor Audubon Texas, supported the event and helped make this year’s conservation grants possible.
To view a complete list of the results for all tournament categories, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/events/great-texas-birding-classic/2015finalresults.pdf