Great Texas Birding Classic raises $18,000 for conservation projects

6/27/2014 | 0

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Shelly Plante, director of the Great Texas Birding Classic, stands with Mark Scheuerman and Clay Taylor, two of the three members of the Swarovski Optik Highway Hawks. The team won the statewide weeklong tournament during the 2014 Great Texas Birding Classic with 356 species. Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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 high by recording 425 bird species during the competition.

The event, which was held from April 15 through May 15, awarded $18,000 in conservation grants. The funds were raised through registration fees and sponsorships. In its history, the tournament has raised $819,500 for conservation work in Texas.

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,” says tournament director Shelly Plante, Texas Parks and Wildlife’s nature tourism manager. “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.

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The Curlew Cousins — Jordan Jardina, Lauren Copeland, and Ryan Baker — recorded 136 species on May 3 during the Great Texas Birding Classic. Their total was highest among the 12 teams of youth birders. Photo by Lea Baker

As the Statewide Weeklong winner, the Swarovski Optik Highway Hawks also were able to award an additional $5,000; that money went to 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.

An additional $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.

For the second year in a row, since the Great Texas Birding Classic expanded the competition 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 the 20 members of the Weslaco RedCrowns; they counted 111 species from the deck just outside the park store at Estero Llano Grande State Park. The Nuthatch Gang: Sit-a-day Soiree team topped the Prairies and Pineywoods West Regional Big Sit! category, recording 59 species.

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 birds 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 a 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.”

Attention, young birders and adults who encourage young birders! You have only a few more days to win a Leica Trinovid 42 binocular. Our essay contest ends on Monday, June 30. Don’t miss your chance to enter! Tell us your story. Send us a short essay: If you’re an adult birder, describe a memorable birding experience that you had mentoring one or more young birders. If you’re a young birder, tell us about a memorable birding experience you had with an adult mentor. Complete details here.