A near-record group of young birders counted scores of birds from sandpipers to woodpeckers during the annual Youth Birding Competition Saturday and Sunday.
Twenty-eight teams totaling 128 members signed up. Participation during the weekend ranked the second-highest since the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division began the event eight years ago.
Contestants from preschool-ages to teens saw or heard some 200 species. They also raised more than $1,100 for wildlife conservation. A birds of prey program and awards banquet at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center near Mansfield on Sunday night capped the fun, 24-hour birdathon.
The Chaotic Kestrels, a five-teen team from middle Georgia and metro Atlanta, counted 136 species to win the competition and the high school division. The Kestrels started on the coast Friday and worked their way north.
Angus Pritchard of Decatur said the group - including Ethan Hatchett of Griffin, Rosemary Kramer of The Rock, Patrick Maurice of Atlanta and Evan Schneider of Macon - missed some species at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge near Juliette Saturday afternoon because it was raining and few birds were singing. He and Schneider estimated the team identified a sixth or more of their birds by sound alone.
Increasing skills and a growing commitment to birding is something Tim Keyes has seen as coordinator of the Youth Birding Competition.
"We had a number of kids that this was their seventh competition," said Keyes, a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division's Nongame Conservation Section. "We had a lot of repeats, and a lot of newcomers this year!"
The event goal is to cultivate an interest in birds and wildlife conservation. Sponsors include The Environmental Resources Network Inc., the Audubon Society, the Georgia Ornithological Society and others.
T-shirts worn by birders and team leaders at the banquet and awards ceremony featured a Carolina chickadee landing on a branch. Drawn by Anna Hamilton, a homeschooled 11th-grader from Clarkesville, the stunning pen-and-ink stipple was the grand-prize winner in the competition's T-shirt Contest.
Four division winners were chosen from among the 132 drawings and paintings of native Georgia birds. Hamilton's entry led the high school category. Noting the number and quality of entries, art contest coordinator Linda May of the Nongame Conservation Section said that judges had "a difficult time picking winners - so much amazing talent from kids across Georgia!"
May also noted that Hamilton had won the middle school division in the T-shirt Art Contest a few years ago, and participated on a team in this year's birding competition.
The 2014 event is tentatively set for April 25-26. The competition and art contest are free. Groups use as much of the 24-hour period as they want to count bird species throughout the state.
Like many other teams, the Chaotic Kestrels birded late Saturday and started early Sunday. Although some members have changed - Ethan Hatchett has been the mainstay - over the years the team has also led the elementary and middle school divisions.
Member Patrick Maurice enjoyed the competition. But asked as he sat with teammates at the banquet what his favorite part of weekend was, he said with a smile, "I really like getting together at this event."
The Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve Georgia's rare and endangered wildlife, as well as other animals not legally hunted or fished for, plus native plants and natural habitats. The agency receives no state appropriations. Instead, it depends on grants, direct contributions and fundraisers such as sales and renewals of the bald eagle and hummingbird license plates.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).
The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, is a nonprofit advocacy group that supports nongame conservation in Georgia. Details at http://tern.homestead.com.
YOUTH BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
High school division
1. Chaotic Kestrels (136 species), and overall competition winner
2. Sharp-eyed Shrikes (121 species)
3. Georgia Kites (110 species)
Middle school division
1. Eagle Maniacs (128 species)
2. Lady Birders (122 species)
3. Funky Ducks (71 species)
Elementary school division
1. Wood Thrushes (105 species)
2. Beautiful Bluebirds (40 species)
3. Daisy Ducks II (38 species)
Primary school division
1. Tie between Daisy Ducks I and the Double 0 7s (27 species each)
2. Fantastic Falcons (23 species)
3. Amazing Eagles (15 species)
1. Chaotic Kestrels, raising $595 - high school division
2. Birding Brothers ($410) - middle school
3. Fantastic Falcons ($153) - primary
Fundraising for conservation groups is a voluntary component of the event. Teams this year supported efforts such as the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund, which funds the DNR Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section's work.
TOP ROOKIE TEAMS (first-year teams)
High school - G'Nats Lite (40 species)
Middle - Funky Ducks (71 species)
Elementary - Sparrow Spectators (31)
Primary - Double 0 7s (27 species)
T-SHIRT ART CONTEST
Primary division (20 entries): Nathanael Creamer, 6, of Tunnel Hill, first grade, homeschool (wood duck)
Elementary division (74 entries): Madison Wilson, 10, of Carrollton, fifth grade, Blue Heron Art Studio (Carolina chickadee).
Middle school division (nine entries): Hailey Beth Greene, 14, of Gainesville, eighth grade, homeschool (eastern bluebirds).
High school division (29 entries): Anna Hamilton, 17, of Clarkesville, 11th grade, homeschool (Carolina chickadee). Hamilton was also the grand-prize winner.
Art contest division winners received $50 gift cards to Michael's. The grand-prize winner received a $100 gift card to Michael's, and her artwork was featured on the 2013 Youth Birding Competition T-shirt.