Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State Birding Contest Draws Flock of Young Birders

Georgia’s 24-hour Youth Birding Competition had a record crowd of children and teens looking and listening statewide for birds common and rare this weekend.

The results: more than 200 species seen or heard, more than $1,200 raised for conservation and about 140 young birders ages 4 to 18 better versed in the state’s diverse bird life. The turnout marked a new high for the annual competition, in its fourth year. The 2008 event fielded 126 participants.

Coordinator Tim Keyes, a Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologist, said it is encouraging to see the growth, as well as the return of some teams for their fourth year. “From all the feedback I’ve heard, the kids had a great time out there,” Keyes said Sunday night.

The 2009 search started at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 25, and ended with 34 teams bearing names like the Blairsville Birdbrains and Vomiting Vultures turning in their checklists by 5 p.m. Sunday, April 26, at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield.

Homeschool Hummers, a middle school team from Suwanee, led with 147 birds, the first time a middle school team has won the overall competition.

Division leaders also included:

** High school, Blazin’ Bluebirds from Macon (134 species).

** Elementary, Birds of a Feather from LaGrange (73 species).

** Pre-elementary, Love Bugs from McDonough (57 species).

Top teams in fundraising, a voluntary part of the competition:

** Birds of a Feather from LaGrange raised $500.

** Country Cuckoos from Bainbridge ($330).

** The Brown Thrashers from Decatur ($320).

The money goes to conservation groups chosen by the teams.

Winners of a new birding journal category were:

** High school, Levi Adkins from Bainbridge.

** Middle school, Stennes Austinson, Bainbridge.

** Elementary, Ben Hays, LaGrange.

** Pre-elementary, Brian Hays, LaGrange.

And the leading rookie teams:

** High school, G’Nats Too from Rome.

** Middle school, GS Night Owls from Monticello.

** Elementary, Red Wings from Loganville.

** Pre-elementary, Blairsville Birdbrains II from Blairsville.

The return of a youth birding T-shirt art contest, started last year, drew 89 entries. An osprey painting by 11th-grader Jess Milner of Darlington Upper School in Rome took top honors, which included being printed on 2009 Youth Birding Competition T-shirts. Milner also received a $100 gift card to Michaels. The three other division winners each received a $50 gift card for supplies at the arts and crafts outlet.

Coincidentally, another Darlington Upper School artist won the 2008 contest.

“I’m excited to see so many young people inspired to draw and paint birds,” said art contest coordinator Linda May, a wildlife interpretive specialist at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

She also said the T-shirt Art contest will return in 2010. “We’ll need good artwork again next year!”

The 2010 Youth Birding Competition will be held the last weekend in April.

This year’s contest was the second straight for 10-year-old Ahmad Gaither of The Brown Thrashers. Fellow team member James Cobb, 9, of Decatur was enjoying his first time. It was an education.

“At first, I didn’t know anything about the birds,” Cobb said. Now, he does. “The best bird I’ve seen so far was a great blue heron,” he added, grinning.

Awards for birding teams varied from binoculars to field guides donated by event supporters such as Eagle Optics, Atlanta Audubon Society, Georgia Ornithological Society, Identiflyer, Softscribe and The Environmental Resources Network.

The competition ended with a banquet Sunday evening at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. An animal program by wildlife center intern Kristi Doebler featured raptors such as a barred owl and red-tailed hawk.

Keyes and expert birder Giff Beaton served as judges. Keyes started the competition in 2006 with help from The Environmental Resources Network and a heart for engaging upcoming generations in birding and wildlife conservation. TERN is an advocate of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section and a consistent supporter of the birding event.

The competition blends fun, skill and education, reaching out to students of all bird-watching skills. Pre-registered teams are paired with mentors. Options such as programs and workshops are available, as is a free e-newsletter.

Buying a nongame wildlife license plate or making a donation via the Give Wildlife a Chance 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 Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funding.


Pre-elementary division

1. Love Bugs, McDonough – 57 species

2. Blairsville Birdbrains II (also top rookie team), Blairsville – 29 species

3. Bald Eagles, Braselton – 21 species

Elementary division

1. Birds of a Feather, LaGrange (also competition’s top fundraiser) – 73 species

2. The Wood Thrushes, Atlanta – 72 species

3. Chaotic Kestrels, Jackson – 65 species

Middle school division

1. Homeschool Hummers, Suwanee (also competition winner) – 147 species

2. The Thunderbirders, Watkinsville – 126 species

3. Vomiting Vultures, Macon – 71 species

High school division

1. Blazin’ Bluebirds, Macon – 134 species

2. Country Cuckoos, Bainbridge – 132 species

3. G’Nats One, Rome – 117 species


** Primary (preK-2nd grade): bluebird watercolor, Isabelle Cowart, Cowart Academy Homeschool, Buford

** Elementary (3rd-5th): bald eagle, Heidi Cashwell, fourth grade, Piedmont Academy, Monticello

** Middle school (6th-8th): Female cardinal, Marianne Lim, eighth grade, Duluth Middle School, Norcross

** High school and grand prize: Osprey, Jess Milner, 11th grade, Darlington Upper School, Rome

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