Teams in Georgia's Youth Birding Competition set high marks for bird species seen or heard and conservation funds raised last weekend as the 10th annual event continued to spread its wings, and expand its impact for wildlife.
Youth from primary to high school ages searched the state for birds during the 24-hour contest held Saturday through Sunday evening by the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, part of the Department of Natural Resources. The Florida Scrub-jays, two teens from Gainesville, Fla., were the overall winner with 167 species, an event record.
But Steven Goodman, 16, and Sam Ewing, 14, both experienced birders, also represented another competition highlight: 13 of the 27 teams were competing in the event for the first time.
Coordinator and founder Tim Keyes said he's encouraged by the number of new teams, from first-time to veteran birders, and by participants' growing skills. During the first Youth Birding Competition a decade ago, the winning team had 100 species.
“It keeps ramping up every year,” said Keyes, a wildlife biologist with the DNR's Nongame Conservation Section, which works to conserve wildlife not legally fished for or hunted.
This year's teams raised nearly $2,900 for conservation, a voluntary part of the competition that pushed the 10-year total past $20,000. The Wood Thrushes, a middle school team, led with $1,282.
The Youth Birding Competition is aimed at cultivating an interest in birds and conservation. Sponsors include The Environmental Resources Network Inc., or TERN – friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section – the Georgia Ornithological Society and the Atlanta and Albany Audubon Societies.
The event's reach is being multiplied by Race4Birds (www.race4birds.org), a foundation started last year to spread the Youth Birding Competition concept. Similar events are scheduled or in the works for seven other states, from Florida to Minnesota. The Wood Thrushes' raised money this year to help Race4Birds. And The Scrub-jays competed in part because their mentor, Adam Kent, is interested in holding a youth birding contest near Gainesville, Florida.
Foundation President Constance Campanella surprised Keyes, a Race4Birds board member, during the Youth Birding Competition banquet Sunday night by announcing that other directors had, in his absence, created the Tim Keyes Visionary Award. The award will be given to youth birding leaders who exhibit “extreme leadership, vision and dedication,” Campanella said.
The Scrub-jays' Steven Goodman is already sold on birding. From aspects such as searching for species to seeing wild places, “It like has every element of awesomeness in it!” he said.
The competition, which ran from 5 p.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday, ended with a wildlife program and awards banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. Teams used as much of the 24-hour period as they wanted to count bird species in Georgia.
T-shirts worn by birders and team leaders at the ceremony featured a great blue heron drawn and painted by Ivey Smith, 17, an 11th-grader at Carrollton High School. The flying heron, flanked by a red-winged blackbird, was the grand-prize winner in the competition’s T-shirt Contest.
Four division winners were chosen from among the 254 drawings and paintings of native Georgia birds. Ivey’s entry led the high school category. Photos of the winning artwork are posted in the “2015 YBC T-shirt Art Contest Winners” album at www.flickr.com/photos/wildliferesourcesdivision. Winners were announced in March (www.georgiawildlife.com/node/3853).
The Youth Birding Competition and T-shirt Art Contest are free. The 2016 event is set for April 22-23.
DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve Georgia’s rare and endangered wildlife, as well as other animals not legally hunted or fished for, plus native plants and natural habitats. The agency depends largely on grants, direct contributions and fundraisers such as sales and renewals of the bald eagle and hummingbird license plates.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).
The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, is a nonprofit advocacy group that supports nongame conservation in Georgia. Details at http://tern.homestead.com.
YOUTH BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
High school division
1. Florida Scrub-jays (167 species), and overall competition winner
2. The Fellowship of the Wing (161 species)
3. Chaotic Kestrels (157 species)
Middle school division
1. Wood Thrushes (146 species)
2. The Furry Robins (62 species)
3. Awesome Osprey (38 species)
Elementary school division
1. Beautiful Bluebirds (58 species)
2. Prancing Peacocks 1 (56 species)
3. Kingsley Cardinals (53 species)
Primary school division
1. 007's (56 species)
2. Jekyll Jays (48 species)
3. Girl Scouts Troop 60201 (47 species)
FUNDRAISING (division leaders)
1. Wood Thrushes, middle school division and overall top fundraiser, raising $1,282.
2. Chaotic Kestrels, $675 – high school division
3. Wild Redbirds, $108 – primary division
Fundraising for conservation is voluntary. Teams this year supported efforts such as Race4Birds and the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund, which funds DNR's Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section.
TOP ROOKIE TEAMS (first-year teams)
- Primary – Rock Star Red-tailed Hawks (34 species)
- Elementary – Kinglsey Cardinals (53 species)
- Middle school – The Furry Robins (62)
- High school – Florida Scrub-jays (167 species)
- Jess Searcy mentored the Rock Star Red-tailed Hawks (primary division) and Adam Kent mentored the Florida Scrub-jays (high school division).
T-SHIRT ART CONTEST
- Primary division: summer tanager artwork by Colleen Cao of Norcross, 6, first-grader at SKA Academy of Art & Design in Duluth.
- Elementary: sanderling artwork by Yucheng Jonah Wu of Peachtree Corners, 9, fourth-grader at SKA Academy of Art & Design in Duluth.
- Middle school: cedar waxwing painting by Alina Svirida, 14, eighth-grader at Veterans Memorial Middle School in Covington.
- High school and Grand Prize: great blue heron artwork by Ivey Smith, 17, 11th-grader at Carrollton High School in Carrollton.
Art contest division winners received $50 gift cards to Michael's. The grand-prize winner received a $100 gift card to Michael’s, and the artwork was featured on the 2015 Youth Birding Competition T-shirt.
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