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May 8, 2006
Reliant Team Reclaims Birding Classic Weeklong Win
McALLEN, Texas — A team of veteran birders from Texas and Pennsylvania persevered through lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and constant fretting about the whereabouts of a much younger opposing team to win the coveted weeklong competition category in the 2006 Great Texas Birding Classic.
The 10th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic concluded April 29 at midnight on the lower Texas coast in McAllen, and winners were announced for all categories April 30. (See complete results below.)
The weeklong winners were the Reliant Energy Environmental Partners, comprised of Bill Baker of League City with Reliant Energy, Cecilia Riley of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson and Tom Roberts of Pennsylvania, who also works for Reliant Energy. This team successfully defended their weeklong win from last year, but there’s a tale of perseverance overcoming adversity here that goes back to the Classic’s origins.
You see, Baker’s the only person to compete in the Birding Classic weeklong tournament all 10 years. And while he’s on top now, he knows how it feels to be on the bottom.
“In 1997, we weren’t just last, we were embarrassingly last, we set the standard for last place,” Baker said. “So we began to work on our birding skills, evaluating the coastal birding trail maps and learning all the sites, and each year we improved our total. The first year we identified 198 species, and this year we finished with a record 340, beating the contest record we set last year at 332.”
Two weeks before this year’s Classic, Baker’s team member Lalise Mason of Houston went into knee surgery that was supposed to be a simple outpatient procedure, but she developed life threatening blood clots in her lungs and ended up in intensive care for days. Her husband Greg was going to go with the team, but finally decided he needed to stay with her. Lalise has since recovered for the most part, and hopes to bird the Classic next year. But on April 23, Baker had to find another competitor, fast.
“I called Cecilia on Sunday evening and she agreed to do it, and we started the tournament Monday just after midnight,” Baker said.
All this to chase birds for 120 hours straight? It begs the question, why do they do it?
“There are two main reasons,” Baker said. “First, my company continues to sponsor the tournament for habitat conservation reasons, and we’ve been doing habitat protection and restoration for 10 years now. Personally, I do it because I enjoy it, it’s fun, it’s a learning experience, and you meet some of the neatest people from all over the world as you go through the week—not just tournament participants, but people from Germany, Japan, England, Canada, Mexico.”
Throughout the week, the Reliant team kept looking over their shoulders for another team, the Nikon Wildbirders, who were decades younger and hungry to reclaim the top title, having won it back to back in 1998 and 1999.
“The Wildbirders are incredible birders,” Baker said. “They’re young and have a lot of stamina. And at our age, it’s like okay, the only way we can beat these guys is to try to work smarter. I will admit that team set the standard for the coastwide Classic several years ago, and they have really pushed everyone else to be better. My hat’s off to those guys, they come from out of state to do this—I live here.”
In a decade of birding the Texas coast, what’s changed?
“You do see things lost through development,” Baker said. “But you turn around and also see things preserved, which gives you encouragement. Several sites with grant funding from Classic are now places we visit during the tournament. I think we may be making some gains in wetlands, particularly coastal marsh, but in upland habitats, particularly prairies, we’re losing the battle. We’ve probably lost more than 98 percent of the original Texas coastal prairie, and that’s continuing.”
The 11th annual Great Texas Birding Classic will take place Saturday, April 21 through Sunday, April 29, 2007. For more information on the Classic and on general birding opportunities along the Texas coast, see the Web sites for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.
Adult Team Competition
- 1st Place, Reliant Energy Environmental Partners, 340 species
- 2nd Place, Nikon Wildbirders, 325 species
- 3rd Place, ConocoPhillips Cranes, 306 species
Upper Texas Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, The Grey Feathers, 139 species
Central Texas Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, Texas A&M Wildlifers, 190 species
- 2nd Place, Aplomado Falcons, 146 species
Lower Texas Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, Swarovski Roadside Hawks, 215 species
- 2nd Place, EagleOptics Holy Order of Loggerhead Shrikes, 194 species
- 3rd Place, Darwin's Finches, 163 species
- 1st Place, Four Rails & a Young Coot, 172 species
- 1st Place, Ziess LSU Tiger-Herons, 201 species
- 2nd Place, UT Tyler Hamerkops, 181 species
- 3rd Place, TX A&M Galveston Whopping Sea Aggies, 167 species
Outta-sight Songbirder Tournament
- 1st Place, Conroe’s Palomas, 39 species
- 2nd Place, The Tweety Birds, 37 species
- 3rd Place, Caracaras Face to Face with Nature, 35 species
The Big Sit
- 1st Place, Team McRee Ford (Lone Star Bird Award), 111 species
- 2nd Place, BASF Bitterns, 108 species
- 3rd Place, Port Aransas Spoonbills, 105 species
- 1st Place, Leica/ABA Tropicbirds, 212 species
- 2nd Place, Nikon Noddies, 200 species
- 3rd Place, Travis Audubon Towhees, 148 species
Upper TX Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, Houston Audubon Accipiters, 109 species
- 2nd Place, GCBO Snowy Owls, 29 species
- 3rd Place, MD Anderson Mighty Blue Jays, 26 species
Central TX Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, Port Aransas Laughing Gals, 119 species
- 2nd Place, Ravishing Raptors, 92 species
- 3rd Place, Gregarious Green Jays, 91 species
Lower TX Coast Sectional
- 1st Place, Edinburg Kingfishers, 87 species
- 2nd Place, Brownsville Red-crowned Parrots, 70 species
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