The 22nd annual Great Texas Birding Classic (GTBC) has wrapped up another year and the winners of the largest and longest bird-watching competition in the United States have chosen seven conservation projects to award grant funds. Grants range in amount from $2,750 to $10,000.
“The Birding Classic continues to grow in popularity year after year and the different categories have really opened the event up to a wide variety of people,” shared Shelly Plante, Nature Tourism Manager at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “There really is something for everyone. Families and friends put together teams, bird clubs organize community events and birding hotspots promote their sites during the event.”
Growth of the GTBC has enabled thousands of dollars in habitat conservation grants to be awarded each year. This year, team registrations and sponsorships to the monthlong, 125-team tournament enabled the award of $35,500 in conservation grants to projects throughout the state. Over the past 22 years, the GTBC has awarded $954,000 in grants for on-the-ground habitat acquisition, restoration and enhancement projects.
In the field this year, 780 participants throughout the state identified 423 species of birds during spring migration. Among the competition were 21 youth teams, called Roughwings (ages 13 and younger) and Gliders (ages 14-18), many of which were sponsored by the Texas Ornithological Society.
The GTBC set records for highest species counts in eight tournament categories, including an all-time high of 380 species by the winning team in the statewide weeklong competition.
For many participants, the GTBC offers more than just a chance to check off birds on a list and win prizes, but also an opportunity to connect with nature and appreciate the diversity of birds around them.
“It was a great day for the seasoned birders and new birders alike,” said Michele Brooke, parent and mentor of the GTBC youth team, the Chatty Chickadees. “The kids were troopers and had so much fun. We explored all kinds of habitats: woods, marshes, coastal and the front lawn of my house. It was a great day!”
Grants chosen by the winners to receive funding from the GTBC include:
$10,000 Weeklong Conservation Grant- Selected by Swarovski Optik Highway Hawks/Swarovski Optik. N.A.
Project: Gator Lake Reclamation- Submitted by South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Inc. Funding will assist with the removal of invasive species such as salt cedar, giant cane, Chinese tallow, chinaberry, Brazilian pepper trees and guinea grass around Gator Lake and throughout the wetland and adjacent uplands.
Project Location: South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Corpus Christi
$5,000 Toyota Conservation Grant, Regional Big Day- Upper Texas Coast- Selected by Free Falling Falcons/Independent
Project: Holly Beach Acquisition- Submitted by the Conservation Fund. Funds will contribute directly to a multi-million dollar project to secure the 1,540-acre Holly Beach tract along four miles of the Laguna Madre frontage for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge.
Project Location: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Grande Valley
$5,000 State Park Conservation Grant- Selected by Mercedes Red Crowns/Mercedes Economic Development Corporation
Project: Llano (Grassland) Restoration- Submitted by Friends of Estero Llano Grande State Park. The grant will fund invasive species removal to enable the restoration of 10-acres worth of grassland habitat within the park using native grasses, forbs and shrubs.
Project Location: Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco
$5,000 Sunrise to Noon Conservation Grant- Selected by SCENIC GALVESTON Sandhill Craniacs/SCENIC GALVESTON, INC.
Project: Enhancement of Eagle Lake Municipal Park- Submitted by Revitalize Eagle Lake. The grant will help fund professional interpretive panels for installation on site to enhance the visitor’s experience. There is currently no interpretive signage to educate visitors on the diversity of birds, wildlife and natural vegetation at this site.
Project Location: Eagle Lake Municipal Park, Eagle Lake
$5,000 Lone Star Bird Award- Selected by Brazos Banditry/Moore Wild Birds and Thomas Moore Feed
Project: Port Aransas Nature Preserve, Enhancing Neotropical Migratory Bird Habitat- Submitted by City of Port Aransas Nature Preserve. Funding for this project will be used to remove invasive species such as KR Bluestem and guinea grass making room for the installation and care of 45 native trees such as live oaks, black willows and yaupon holly within the preserve.
Project Location: Port Aransas Nature Preserve (Clay’s Hill), Port Aransas
$2,750 Upper Texas Coast Big Sit! Conservation Grant- Selected by Courageous Conservationists/Artist Boat, Inc.
Project: Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and Viewing Area – Submitted by Artist Boat, Inc. Funding will be combined with donated design time from the University of Texas School of Architecture’s field-based program for advanced design students, as well as funding from other sources to create the first public viewing platform, bird blind and trail at the preserve for birders, cyclists, hikers, island visitors and residents.
Project Location: Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve, Galveston
$2,750 Heart of Texas East Big Sit! Conservation Grant- Selected by the Peli-cans!/Mitchell Lake Audubon Center
Project: Restore Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary- Submitted by Friends of Connie Hagar. This grant will fund the last piece of an $80,000 enhancement project for the sanctuary, the construction of a pavilion to use for a rest area, interpretive and education programs, and wildlife viewing.
Project Location: Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, Rockport
This event is made possible by sponsorship and registration fees, donations from event sponsors Toyota, Texas Ornithological Society, and awards ceremony sponsor Audubon Texas.