The Georgia Youth Birding Competition again showed its value this weekend, drawing a diverse crowd of young birders who learned about and enjoyed the outdoors as they ranged from the coast to metro Atlanta looking and listening for birds.
About 80 youth ages 4-18 took part in the 12th annual Department of Natural Resources birdathon, held from 5 p.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday. Teams used as much of the 24-hour period as members wanted to count native bird species. For 40 percent of participants, it was their first Youth Birding Competition.
The Chaotic Kestrels led all teams with 160 species. Patrick Maurice and Angus Pritchard of Atlanta, Sam Murray of Augusta, John Deitsch of Duluth and Josiah Lavender of Watkinsville birded from St. Simons Island to middle Georgia, finishing long after midnight Saturday and starting again before dawn Sunday.
For Maurice, who graduates this spring, Sunday ended his 10th and last Youth Birding Competition as a competitor.Why take part for 10 years? “It’s so fun!” Maurice said. “It gets other people interested in birds, and working with other birders has helped me become a better birder.”
Murray, the team’s other senior, credits the 2011 birding movie The Big Year with kindling into flame an interest his father had encouraged. “That movie showed me how competitive birding can be,” he said.
Murray plans to study ecology at the University of the South. Maurice will focus on ecology or wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. Both interests mirror the competition’s purpose: develop an appreciation of birds and have a positive impact on conservation, according to coordinator Tim Keyes.
The Youth Birding Competition “is giving (participants) a good, positive experience in the field,” said Keyes, a wildlife biologist with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
The event also featured a T-shirt art contest that drew 248 entries. Birders turning in their checklists Sunday were given shirts featuring a blue jay drawn and painted by Ava Wang, 16, a 10th-grader at SKA Academy of Art and Design in Duluth. As grand-prize winner, Wang received a $100 Michaels gift card.
In another part of the competition, teams raised $1,951 for conservation, a voluntary part of the event that pushed the 12-year total past $20,000. The Chaotic Kestrels led with $983.
Tom Painting, mentor of the Pi-ed-billed Grebes, was presented the 2017 mentor award.
Sponsors included The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, friends group of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section; Georgia Ornithological Society; Atlanta Audubon Society; Eagle Optics; and, Partners in Flight. The event's reach is being multiplied by Race4Birds (www.race4birds.org), a foundation that is helping spread the concept. The competition also was recognized last year by One Hundred Miles, a Georgia-coast conservation nonprofit.
As is traditional, this Youth Birding Competition ended with a birds of prey program and awards banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield. Four division winners in the T-shirt art contest were chosen beforehand and the art of native Georgia birds displayed at the banquet. Winning entries are posted in the “YBC T-shirt Art Contest” album at www.flickr.com/photos/wildliferesourcesdivision
The 2018 Youth Birding Competition is set for April 27-28.
DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve Georgia’s rare and other animal species 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 eagle and hummingbird license plates. Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation for details, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).
TERN (http://tern.homestead.com) also provides key support for nongame conservation in Georgia.
YOUTH BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
High school division
1. Chaotic Kestrels (160 species), and overall competition winner
2. Wood Thrushes (141 species)
3. Pi-ed-billed Grebes (127 species)
Middle school division
1. Ugly Ducklings (78 species)
2. Beautiful Bluebirds (67 species)
3. Redhawk 2 (62 species)
Elementary school division
1. Amazing Anhingas (71 species)
2. Bird Nerds (52 species)
3. Macaw (49 species)
Primary school division
1. Bufford Bluejays (48 species)
Fundraising (division leaders)
1. Chaotic Kestrels, high school division and overall top fundraiser, raising $983.
2. Bufford Bluebirds, $30 – elementary division
3. Bufford Bluejays, $30 – primary division
Fundraising for conservation is voluntary.
Top rookie teams (first-year teams)
Elementary – Macaw (49 species)
Middle school – Redhawk 2 (62)
High school – Pi-ed-billed Grebes (127)
Tom Painting, Pi-ed-billed Grebes
MORE ON THE NET
2017 T-shirt Art Contest results: www.georgiawildlife.com/node/4362