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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 Mazatlan. 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
- Columbia Bottomlands Forest Acquisition Project (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Trust For Public Land) — $15,000 in 2001 and $12,000 in 2002 toward purchase of the only significant expanse of forest in Texas adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.
- Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary Addition (Houston Audubon Society) — $22,500 in 1998 and $25,000 in 2000 toward the purchase of 178-acre tract adjacent to Bolivar Flats Shorebird sanctuary.
- Harlingen Bird Sanctuary (RGV Birding Festival, Valley Land Fund, USFWS, City of Harlingen, Harlingen Chamber of Commerce) — $5,000 in 1998 towards the purchase of 40 acre, native thornbrush and riparian habitat along the Arroyo Colorado in downtown Harlingen.
- The John M. O’Quinn I-45 Estuarial Corridor Acquisition & Restoration (Scenic Galveston, Inc.) — $16,666 toward the purchase of 900 acres of intertidal, emergent coastal wetland and the restoration of 40 badly degraded acres in 1997.
- Packery Channel Sanctuary Acquisition (Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi in partnership with Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi) — $10,000 in 2000, $25,000 in 2001, $23,000 in 2002, $3,000 in 2003 and $20,000 in 2004 used to purchase undeveloped lots and create an island of green through this residential area on Padre Island.
- Paradise Pond Sanctuary Acquisition (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Audubon Outdoor Club, City of Port Aransas, Central and South West Services, Inc.) — $25,000 in 1999 to purchase 7.83 acre tract, including a two acre freshwater depressional wetland, the only on the island.
- Port Bolivar Wetlands Restoration Project (Houston Audubon Society) — $20,000 in 2003 towards the purchase of a 650-acre wetland complex on the Bolivar Peninsula known as the Horseshoe Marsh which will protect the entire drainage system of lagoon, salt water marsh, fresh water wetlands and coastal prairie.
- Quintana Island Habitat Acquisition and Restoration (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in partnership with the Brazosport Birders and Naturalists) — $15,000 in 2000 and $10,000 in 2001 to be used for site survey, appraisal and acquisition of native habitat on Quintana Island, as well as restoration and revegetation of purchased property.
- South Padre Island Habitat Protection and Restoration (Valley Land Fund, Rio Grande Valley Bird Observatory, Valley Nature Center, South Padre Island Nature Center) — $22,500 in 1998 to purchase undeveloped woodlots on South Padre Island, important stop over sites for trans-gulf migrants.
Habitat Enhancement — $98,666
- Created Wetland at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory) — $15,000 in 2003 to help fund the creation of a bog pond providing habitat for high-priority species and construct public viewing spaces so that the public may enjoy seeing these species.
- Fred Jones Sanctuary Enhancement (Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi) — $3,000 in 2005 for constructing a viewing blind and repairing existing structures.
- Habitat Protection for Carolyn Raizes Davis Bird Sanctuary (Houston Audubon) — $12,000 in 2005 for fence to protect 63 acres of bottomland hardwood forest along Chocolate Bayou.
- Hugh Ramsey Nature Park Habitat Enhancement Project (Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society) — $3,000 in 2002 and $3,000 in 2003 to be used for plants and signage in the habitat restoration of 5 acres of the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen.
- The John M. O’Quinn I-45 Estuarial Corridor Acquisition & Restoration (Scenic Galveston, Inc.) — $20,000 in 2005 toward the Bird Observation Tower and Education Platform Project.
- Photogenic Water Features at Estero Llano Grande State Park (World Birding Center) — $3,000 in 2004 to be used in the building of photogenic water features.
- Quintana Island Habitat Enhancement (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory) — $9,000 in 2004 to revegetate previous land acquisitions with mature native trees and understory vegetation as well as create one or more freshwater ponds. $3,000 in 2005 for continuation of woodlot restoration project.
- South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary Enhancement (The Valley Land Fund) — $9,000 in 2005 and $1,000 in 2004 for a drip fed shallow water feature, additional native vegetation, a viewing blind, and a boardwalk.
- Valley Nature Center Wetlands Restoration Project (Valley Nature Center) — $1,000 in 2003 to be used for site enhancements (signage) at the center.
- Wings over Weslaco (Frontera Audubon Society) — $16,666 in 1997 for construction of a viewing blind on the Fontera Audubon society sanctuary.
Habitat Restoration — $58,000
- Blucher Audubon Center Migrant Songbird Habitat Restoration (Audubon Texas) — $3,000 in 2004 used for the purchase of pond supplies, native plants and interpretive signs and plant labels.
- Dickinson Bay Bird Island Restoration (Galveston Bay Foundation) — $12,000 in 2004 to replace one of three islands that has eroded from Dickinson Bay and restore the habitat associated with it.
- Dickinson Bay Seawall Prairie Restoration Project (The Nature Conservancy) — $9,000 in 2002 to restore approximately 50 acres of native coastal tallgrass prairie through removal/control of Chinese Tallow.
- Estero Llano Grande State Park Wetland Habitat Restoration (Estero Llano Grande State Park) — $3,000 in 2005 for purchasing Montezuma Bald Cypress trees for planting as part of a 20-acre wetland restoration project.
- Invasive Exotic Removal from High Island Sanctuaries (Houston Audubon Society) — $3,000 in 2002 for the removal of Chinese Tallow trees from coastal prairie habitats in Boy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks.
- Native Coastal Prairie Restoration at Anahuac NWR (USFWS/Anahuac NWR) — $15,000 in 1999 and $9,000 in 2003 to remove and control exotic plants such as Chinese Tallow, and to restore the ecological function of the area as coastal tall grass prairie through the reintroduction of native prairie grass seed on abandoned rice fields.
- Packery Channel Sanctuary Restoration (Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi) — $1,000 in 2005 to be used for native plant purchases for habitat restoration.
- Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge Woodlot Restoration (McFaddin and Texas Point Refuge Alliance, Inc.) — $3,000 in 2004 which includes the planting of quickgrowing and longterm native tree seedlings for a bird food source.
Habitat Monitoring — $26,666
- Colonial Waterbird Sanctuaries Project (Texas Audubon Society) — $16,666 in 1997 for long term avian monitoring project conducted by Texas Audubon on 31 barrier islands.
- Partners in Flight Migration Monitoring Program: Tracking Landbird Migration in Texas and Beyond (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, Southeast Partners in Flight, Department of Defense, USFWS) — $10,000 in 1999 for ongoing monitoring of high priority migratory birds.
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