3rd Youth Birding Competition Rates “Awesome”

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 Brad and April Brown dared go where few parents of five children 7 and younger would: to a two-day birding event, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Youth Birding Competition May 2-3.
 But after a full day of birding Saturday, May 3, the McDonough family had logged about 30 species and as many memories. “It has been a really awesome experience,” said Brad as the Browns relaxed during the evening banquet and awards ceremony at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
 The third annual statewide bird count sported plenty of highlights, including the most ever:
 Participants – 126, ages 3-18.
 Bird species spotted or heard – approximately 200.
 Money raised for conservation in Georgia – $3,642.
 Flyboys member Luke Simmons, 15, listed a black-bellied whistling duck and a roseate spoonbill as unexpected finds for the Watkinsville team. Another highlight: The Flyboys’ four teens searched out birds from Jekyll Island to Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield to compile a competition-record 133 species and win the high school division.
 Other division leaders included in middle school, the Thunderbirders from Watkinsville (129 species); elementary, Home School Hummers from Suwannee (112); and, pre-elementary, Birds of a Feather from LaGrange (82 species).
 Birds of a Feather and the Thunderbirders won their divisions in fundraising, collecting $523 and $1,419, respectively. Brown Thrasher Boys & Girls from Decatur topped the elementary category at $135. Nutty Nuthatches from Bainbridge led among high-schoolers with $367. The money will go to a variety of conservation groups, including American Bird Conservancy, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center and the Jekyll Island Banding Station.
 There were also 195 entries for a first-time T-shirt art contest. Grand prize went to Kelly Redford O’Mara, a senior at Darlington School in Rome. The night of the banquet, some 200 people were wearing sky-blue shirts printed with O’Mara’s painting of a blue-gray gnatcatcher.
 Art winners took home gift certificates to Michael’s. Awards for the birding teams ranged 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, or T.E.R.N.
 Earlier in the evening, participants enjoyed a bald eagle program by Charlie Elliott wildlife interpretive specialist Pete Griffin as judges Tim Keyes, the competition organizer and a Wildlife Resources Division biologist, and expert birder Giff Beaton pored over teams’ species checklists.
 Jasper County High School science teacher Elizabeth Proctor sat with some of her students she had convinced to take part. The team, dubbed Birdzilla, counted 46 species from Friday night through Saturday, learning “a lot” in process, Proctor said.
 Members Megan Studdard, 16, and Ashley Stowe, 15, recalled hearing an owl and calling in a Chuck-will’s-widow the night before at Charlie Elliott. “I liked trying to find the owls at night,” Studdard said.
 Owls also figured into a Youth Birding Competition highlight for Tim Keyes. He heard 3-year-old Delaney Matthews of the Blairsville Bird Brains assure her mother that “hoo hoo ho-hoo is an owl,” a barred owl to be exact.
 “It was fantastic!” Keyes said.
 The 2009 Youth Birding Competition is scheduled for April 25-26. 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

 Birds of a Feather from LaGrange – 82 species; $523.20 raised
 Love Bugs from McDonough – 33 species; $125 raised
 Marshbay Bluebirds from Braselton – 16 species
 Song Birds from Shady Dale – 24 species
 Elementary division
 Blairsville Bird Brains from Blairsville – 41 species
 Brown Thrasher Boys & Girls from Decatur – 38 species; $135 raised
 Chaotic Kestrels from Jackson – 58 species
 Coot Club from Mansfield – 54 species
 Hatchet Hawks from Demorest – 27 species
 High Fliers from Braselton – 42 species
 Home School Hummers from Suwannee – 112 species
 Wood Thrushes from Atlanta – 63 species
 Middle school division
 Dragon loons from Flintstone – 44 species
 Eagle Eyes Girls from Augusta – 60 species
 Golden Eagles from Flowery Branch – 25 species
 Gross-beaks from Macon – 62 species; $118 raised
 Thunderbirders from Watkinsville – 129 species; $1,419.72 raised
 Victorious Vireos from Athens – 68 species; $440 raised
 High school division
 Birdbusters from Clarksville – 34 species
 Birdzilla from Monticello – 46 species
 Cardinals from Marietta – 53 species; $100 raised
 Eagle Eyes Boys from Augusta – 81 species
 Flyboys from Watkinsville – 133 species
 Free Birds from Lakemont – 79 species
 Magnificent Frigatebirds from Stone Mountain and Macon – 121 species; $279.19 raised
 Nutty Nuthatches from Bainbridge – 105 species; $367.25 raised
 Potato Chips from Rome – 113 species
 T-shirt art contest winners
 Pre-elementary: turkey vulture by Clareese Spahn, kindergarten, Albany
 Elementary: barn swallow by Emily Butler, fifth grade, Milton
 Middle school: belted kingfisher by Jackson Pittard, eighth grade, Savannah
 High school (and grand prize): blue-gray gnatcatcher by Kelly Redford O’Mara, 12th grade, Rome