Saturday’s rains did not dampen the spirit or skill of about 130 children and teens who took part in the 2010 Youth Birding Competition.
The Chaotic Kestrels, a team of 12-year-olds Ethan Hatchett of Jackson and C.J. Armour and Daven Hayes of Griffin, opened the 24-hour birdathon at Jekyll Island Friday evening, waited out a downpour at middle Georgia’s Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area early Saturday and finished at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield by the 5 p.m. deadline.
Their highlights included a grasshopper sparrow, a painted bunting and 100 species in all. “We did much better than last year!” Ethan said, grinning.
Better indeed. The team led the middle school division, one of four in the annual event. Fantastic Flycatchers of Macon, a high school team, won the overall competition with 148 species.
The fifth annual Youth Birding Competition, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and The Environmental Resources Network Inc., fielded some 130 participants ages 6-18, plus team leaders. The birders, from newcomers to veterans, saw or heard 184 species and raised $2,300 for conservation groups. The maximum number of bird species in Georgia at this time of year is about 200.
The statewide competition is focused on cultivating a deep interest in wildlife and conservation. Teams count as many bird species as possible from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday. The event closes with a banquet and awards ceremony at the DNR Wildlife Resources Division’s Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
Organizer Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist with the DNR Nongame Conservation Section, said considering the rain the number of species documented was remarkable. “It’s remarkable in perfect weather,” Keyes added.
The list included a whimbrel spotted – and photographed – at West Point Lake, only the fourth or fifth known sighting of the shorebird inland in Georgia, Keyes said.
Other division winners were:
- Elementary – Eagle Maniacs from Alpharetta (101 species).
- Pre-elementary – Cute Chicks from Blairsville (56 species).
The leading teams in fundraising, a voluntary part of the competition, included:
- Fantastic Flycatchers, raising $517.
- Country Cuckoos from Bainbridge ($505).
- Birding Brothers from LaGrange ($491).
The money goes to conservation groups chosen by the teams.
The leading rookie, or first-year, teams were:
- High school – G-Gnat II from Rome.
- Middle school – Mobbing Mockingbirds from Duluth.
- Elementary – Eagle Maniacs from Alpharetta.
- Pre-elementary – Cowbirds from Monticello.
The Country Cuckoos won the birding journal category.
The Youth Birding Competition T-shirt art contest fielded 90 entries. Jess Milner’s detailed painting of a great blue heron in a wetland with two red-winged blackbirds took the blue ribbon. Milner, a senior from Darlington Upper School in Rome, also won last year.
The winning artwork was printed on event T-shirts and earned Milner a $100 gift card to Michaels. Milner told art contest organizer Linda May, the Nongame Conservation Section’s environmental outreach coordinator, that the painting took “about a week” – his spring break. He also said he will probably pursue art interests at his next school: the University of Georgia.
The three other art division winners – second-grader Gracie Black and third-grader Kirkley Holifield of Piedmont Academy and home-schooled eighth-grader Anna Hamilton of Clarkesville – each received a $50 gift card for supplies at Michaels, an arts and crafts outlet.
Keyes said next year’s Youth Birding Competition will again be in late April.
The Flying Penguins will be there. The five-member team from Covington – siblings Peter, Andrew, Anne and Daniel Collart and family friend Anna Gowsack – counted fewer birds than in 2009 but had a wonderful, if wet, time.
“It’s a great family thing,” said the Collarts’ father, Dave.
Awards for the teams varied from binoculars to field guides donated by event supporters such as Eagle Optics, Atlanta Audubon Society, Wild Bird Centers, Georgia Ornithological Society and TERN.
Keyes and expert birders Giff Beaton, Bob Sargent of the Georgia Ornithological Society, Charlie Muise of the Important Bird Areas Program served as judges. Keyes started the competition in 2006 with help from TERN and a desire to engage upcoming generations in birding and wildlife conservation. TERN is the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section.
Buying a nongame wildlife license plate or making a donation via the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund state income tax checkoff supports this and other conservation education efforts in Georgia. Sales of the bald eagle/American flag and ruby-throated hummingbird license plates provide vital funding for the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funding.
2010 YOUTH BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
Pre-elementary division (pre-K-2nd grade)
1. Cute Chicks, Blairsville – 56 species
2. Cowbirds, Monticello (also division-best rookie team) – 15 species
Elementary division (3rd-5th)
1. Eagle Maniacs, Alpharetta (also division-best rookie team) – 101 species
2. Team Swift, Temple – 93 species
3. The Wood Thrushes, Atlanta– 80 species
4. Willing Whip-poor-wills, LaGrange – 66 species
Middle school division (6th-8th)
1. Chaotic Kestrels, Jackson – 100 species
2. Night Owls, Monticello – 71 species
3. Mobbing Mockingbirds, Duluth (also division-best rookie team) – 67 species
High school division
1. Fantastic Flycatchers, Macon – 148 species
2. Country Cuckoos, Bainbridge – 144 species
3. Homeschool Hummers, Suwanee – 140 species
(Division-best rookie team: G-Gnat II.)
T-SHIRT ART CONTEST WINNERS
- Primary (pre-K-2nd grade): painted bunting, Gracie Black of Hillsboro, Piedmont Academy.
- Elementary (3rd-5th): barn owl Kirkley Holifield of Mansfield, Piedmont Academy.
- Middle school (6th-8th): brown-headed nuthatch of Clarkesville, Anna Hamilton, homeschool.
- High school and grand prize: great blue heron, Jess Milner of Rome, Darlington Upper School.