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April 7, 2008
Great Texas Birding Classic Returns April 27-May 4
Birding for conservation attracts the hard-core
AUSTIN, Texas — Spring is in the air, and so are birds migrating along the Texas coast. For 12 years, the Great Texas Birding Classic has capitalized on this natural phenomenon and turned it into a healthy competition to raise funds for avian habitat conservation projects.
For an entire week, people travel to Texas from across the U.S. to test their birding skills. Winning teams get to choose how prize money is spent, directing dollars to protect or restore coastal habitat that sustains birds and ecotourism. The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory partners with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and local communities to host the event.
"There is always something new and this year we added an ‘Energy Saver’ category," said Carol Jones with the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, tournament coordinator for the past four years. The new category rewards teams who can count the most bird species per mile, requiring they travel at least 50 miles.
The annual event involves adult and youth teams traveling through 41 Texas counties along the coast, spotting and recording as many bird species as they can. The winning teams in several tournament categories decide which pre-approved conservation projects will receive grant money. Last year, $73,000 was divided among seven projects for land acquisition, land restoration, or enhancements for birdwatchers.
"We attract hard-core birders, who travel extensively to see a single species, as well as casual birders who just want to have a good time with their friends while conserving nature," said Shelly Plante, TPWD nature tourism coordinator.
No expertise is required to compete in the various tournaments, and there are special events for children and teenagers, the "conservationists of the future." There is even an event called the "Big Sit," a kind of tailgating party for birders, where teams see who can count the most birds in one location.
Jones expects nearly 350 participants this year, coming from all across the United States and Canada. This makes sense as Texas has "four of the top birding sites in the nation, three of them along the coast," according to Plante.
To register for the 2008 Birding Classic, contact Jones at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory or visit the event Web site. Birding visitors can also visit the Great Texas Wildlife Trails map section for more information on the types of birds in Texas and where to see them.
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