Despite Pandemic, Great Texas Birding Classic Saw Record Participation in 2020

Despite Pandemic, Great Texas Birding Classic Saw Record Participation in 2020

AUSTIN — For the first time, the 24th annual Great Texas Birding Classic (GTBC) took place in fall instead of spring last year after having been postponed due to the public health crisis. The postponement allowed event organizers to further plan and implement health and safety measures. Despite postponement, the event garnered a record 138 teams registered, with a total of 650 participants across the state.

Money raised through 2020 team registrations and sponsorships made it possible for the GTBC to award $34,000 in Conservation Grants, bringing the 24-year tournament total to $1,027,000 in on-the-ground habitat acquisition, restoration and enhancement projects.

“It is truly remarkable and gratifying to top the $1 million mark after 24 years of work,” said Shelly Plante, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department nature tourism manager, who has been involved with the event since 1998. “From the beginning, we wanted a way to not only encourage birding in friendly competition, but to also raise money to restore and protect natural habitat for birds and people.”

Birding in October presented birders with different weather and challenges never experienced during the usual spring event. Participants were able to see birds as they migrate south and count different species not as often seen during the spring season. Unfortunately, birding during the fall also meant that participants had to contend with four different hurricane events on or near the Texas coast.

 “We spent several hours watching Bald Eagles work to rebuild their nest that was cut in half after Hurricane Delta,” said Christina Lokey, a member of the Upper Texas Coast Big Sit! team in Beaumont.

A total of 357 species were identified by all 138 teams. A complete list of final tournament results can be found on the GTBC website. The GTBC is made possible by sponsorship and registration fees and donations from event sponsors including Toyota, Texas Ornithological Society, Swarovski Optik, N.A., and awards ceremony sponsor, Audubon Texas.

For the first time, participants were able to compete in two new categories, the “Dispersed Flock” team and the “Intact Flock” team. “Dispersed Flock” teams consisted of team members located anywhere in Texas. Families and friends were able to team up and compete from wherever they are quarantining together through the “Intact Flock” category.

Teams could choose from a variety of tournament categories including the Expanded Big Sit!, the State Park Tournament or Sunrise to Noon Tournament, ideal for teams who wanted a laid back day without much traveling, the Regional and Statewide Big Day Tournaments, perfect for those who were unable to participate together and who wanted to bird for most or all of a 24-hour period in their area, and the Human-Powered Tournament, allowing participants to bird by bike, foot, kayak or other non-motorized form of transportation.

“Part of the fun was the text stream all day long, checking to see what folks had, making jokes, and sharing photos of the nice areas we birded,” said Lynn Thompson, a member of the Heart of Texas East Adult Regional Big Day and the Dispersed Flock team, the Masked Boobies.

Grants chosen by the winners to receive funding from the GTBC include:

$10,000 Dispersed Flock Statewide Big Day Conservation Grant – Selected by Socially Distanced Flycatchers, sponsored by Deep South Trucking

Project: Christmas Mountain Oasis: Improvement for Birds and Birders – Submitted by Trans-Pecos Bird Conservation, Inc.

Project Location: Christmas Mountains Oasis, Brewster County

$5,000 Intact Flock Prairies and Pineywoods West Big Day Conservation Grant– Selected by Wellborn Warblers; $1,000 Heart of Texas East Big Sit! Conservation Grant – Selected by Beau’s Birds

Project: The 6th Addition to the Coastal Heritage Preserve via Acquisition at Middle Tract Project – Submitted by Artist Boat, Inc.

Project Location: Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve, Galveston Island

$5,000 Toyota Conservation Grant for the Intact Flock Upper Texas Coast Big Day – Selected by Swarovski UTC RoadHawks, sponsored by Swarovski Optik North America

Project: Bleachers for Birders – Submitted by Texas Ornithological Society.

Project Location: Hooks Woods Sanctuary, High Island

$5,000 Lone Star Bird Award Conservation Grant – Selected by The Double Stuffed Orioles

Project: Bird Viewing Blind and Prairie Restoration – Submitted by Friends of Caddo Mounds, Inc.

Project Location: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Alto

$5,000 State Park Conservation Grant – Selected by Gawking Geese

Project: Bird Viewing Platform – Submitted by Fairfield Lake State Park.

Project Location: Fairfield Lake State Park, Fairfield

$1,000 Sunrise to Noon Conservation Grant – Selected by The SCENIC GALVESTON Sandhill Craniacs, sponsored by CenterPoint Energy

Project: Armand Bayou Nature Center Rookery Island Enhancement – Submitted by Armand Bayou Nature Center.

Project Location: Armand Bayou Nature Center, Houston

$1,000 Central Texas Coast Big Sit! Conservation Grant – Selected by Swarovski Optik Sitting Hawks, sponsored by Swarovski Optik North America

Project: Port Aransas Nature Perserve: Enhancing Paradise Pond Bird Habitat – Submitted by City of Port Aransas Nature Preserve.

Project Location: Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Port Aransas

$1,000 Upper Texas Coast Big Sit! Conservation Grant – Selected by CenterPoint Wirebirds, sponsored by CenterPoint Energy

Project: Hermann Park Invasive Species Removal and Bird Habitat Restoration – Submitted by Hermann Park Conservancy.

Project Location: Hermann Park, Houston

Registration for the 2021 event kicks off in late January, with the 25th annual Birding Classic taking place this spring. The deadline to register is April 1. Those interested in participating can sign up on the GTBC website.

Photos from the 2020 tournament and awards ceremony can be found on Facebook.