A team that finished last nine years ago stormed back to win the weeklong competition in this year’s 9th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic, which has announced a list of habitat conservation projects selected by winning teams.
This was the first year for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory to jointly sponsor and manage the world’s longest bird watching competition, which has been operated since 1997 by event cosponsor Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The event pairs teams from across the United States with corporate sponsors and involves local communities all along the Texas coast. All prize money goes to avian habitat conservation projects, benefitting millions of birds that move through Texas on their migrations between North, Central and South America.
Competition concluded at midnight April 23 and winners were announced at the awards brunch in Lake Jackson the next morning. A list of all of the team winners can be found on the birding classic Web site. Below are highlights from this year’s action.
The Environmental Partners, sponsored by Reliant Energy, finished first in the weeklong category with a checklist total of 332 bird species identified. Second place was claimed by the Swift WildBirders, sponsored by Swift Optics and WildBird magazine, which were only one species behind with a total of 331. The ConocoPhillips Cranes placed third with 317 species identified.
Amy Sugeno, TPWD Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area manager, has chaperoned a group of kids for the youth competition of the Birding Classic for the past few years, and this year her team aged up to the Gliders Tournament for 14-18 year olds. The Travis Audubon Towhees, sponsored by Travis Audubon Society, placed first in this year’s Gliders category with a total of 146 species seen in a 24-hour period on the Upper Texas Coast.
Gary Waggerman, a TPWD biologist retiree, competed on the Lower Texas Coast in the Senior Tournament. His team, the Three Rails and A Young Coot, spotted or heard 130 species, topping the winning total of the first place adult team in their section of the coast. By identifying more species than the other adult team in their region, Gary’s team won the privilege of selecting which habitat conservation project will receive $3,000 in Conservation Cash Grand Prize money.
The first bicycle birding team competed in this year’s Great Texas Birding Classic. The Zeiss Optics NOCA PIPL team led by Richard Gibbons covered more than 50 miles on bicycles during their competition. Although relying solely on bikes for transportation, this environmentally conscious team still managed to identify 149 species during their tournament day, putting them in a tie for third place in the Central Texas Coast section of the Adult Tournament with a team that traveled by car and was able to visit a larger area of the Coastal Bend.
Three teams from the Lower Rio Grande Valley once again competed in the Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament for blind and visually impaired birders. Team La Primavera del Valle (34 species), the Tweety Birds (32 species) and Team Hawk Eyes (31 species) took home the top three prizes for this event based on bird identification through bird songs only.
“Congratulations to all Birding Classic participants and thanks to all of our sponsors for another great year,” said Carol Jones of GCBO, this year’s tournament coordinator. “The new partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory has proven to be a great success for the Birding Classic, and ultimately for the birds as well. Winning teams from this year’s tournament will select habitat restoration, enhancement and acquisition projects to receive $51,000 in Conservation Cash Grand Prize money.”
Below is a list of conservation projects funded by this year’s birding classic. A complete list of all projects funded since the event began is on the event Web site.
- Galveston County — $20,000 donated by Environmental Partners/Reliant Energy: Bird Observation Tower and Education Platform Project (Scenic Galveston, Inc.) This project involves a 2500-acre wetland and coastal prairie complex on the I-45 Estuarial Corridor and Virginia Point Preserve. The spartina marsh, tidal flats and nesting islands are host to a large variety of birds year round. This project will contribute toward a roadside marsh viewing / wetlands interpretive / birding area.
- Brazoria County — $12,000 donated by Swift Wildbirders/Swift Optics and Wildbird magazine: Habitat Protection for Houston Audubon’s Carolyn Raizes Davis Bird Santuary (Houston Audubon Society) This project will help protect 63 acres of bottomland hardwood forest along Chocolate Bayou from intrusion and erosion caused by All-Terrain Vehicles.
- Cameron County — $9,000 donated by the ConocoPhillips Cranes/ConocoPhillips: South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (The Valley Land Trust) Further enhancements of this haven for neo-tropic migrants will include a drip fed shallow water feature, additional native vegetation, a viewing blind and a boardwalk.
- Hidalgo County — $3,000 Lower Coast Prize donated by Three Rails and a Young Coot/Independent: Estero Llano Grande State Park Wetland Habitat Restoration (Estero Llano Grande State Park) This project will provide funds for purchasing Montezuma Bald Cypress trees for planting as part of an ongoing 20-acre wetland restoration project to provide additional complexity and structure to the habitat.
- Nueces County — $3,000 Central Coast prize donated by Lovely Zorrillos /Independent: Fred Jones Sanctuary Enhancement (Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi) This Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi, Inc., project will provide funding for purchasing materials for constructing a viewing blind and repairs to existing structures.
- Brazoria County — $3,000 Upper Coast prize donated by Leica Lone-Starlings/Leica Sport Optics: Quintana Island Habitat Enhancement (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory) This will help fund the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s continuing project creating forested woodlots on this small island to provide additional habitat for trans-gulf migrants and also, expand public viewing areas.
- Nueces County — Lone Star Bird Award prize of $1,000 donated by Stewart Title Peepers/Stewart Title Co.: Packery Channel Sanctuary Habitat Restoration (Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi) Money is to be used for native plant purchases to enhance the habitat.