May 28—SOCIAL CIRCLE — Georgia's recent first Youth Birding Competition to blend in-person and virtual participation featured about 120 children and teens scouring the state for birds in a nine-day contest capped by an awards ceremony.
The 16th annual birdathon organized by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources ran April 15-23. During that time, teams of kindergarteners through high-schoolers picked a 24-hour stretch and competed by age group to find the most bird species.
After being canceled in 2020 and changed to virtual last fall, the popular event returned to spring and in person this year. But DNR kept the virtual option to address COVID concerns and ease the need for teams to submit their bird checklist at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, a long drive for some.
The hybrid approach led to 38 teams registering and a large, excited group showing at the Charlie Elliott banquet hall for the awards ceremony. Members from about 10 teams joined the livestreamed event.
Competition coordinator Tim Keyes said it was great to return to in-person participation while also connecting with students online.
"This was an experiment year, and we learned some things we can do better," Keyes, a DNR wildlife biologist, said. "But hopefully it gave a broader range of kids an opportunity to participate."
That participation led to robust bird counts. The high school team Amazing Anhingas finished as the overall winner with 128 species. Four other teams — including the top elementary and middle school division teams — Birding with Baby Yoda and Pi-billed Grebes, respectively — listed 90 or more.
The Elementary School Division's Lil Birdie Rascals raised $735 for wildlife conservation, the most of any team. Fundraising for conservation is a voluntary part of the event. Teams raised $2,638 total this year.
Maegan Donnell and Grace Campbell of Decatur shared the Mentor Award for spending almost 15 hours helping lead and coordinate two teams, The McLendon Chickadees in the Primary Division and The McLendon Bluehawks in the Elementary Division.
The event also included a T-shirt art contest that drew 132 entries. Birding participants received T-shirts with an American kestrel drawn by Arvin Guo, a Suwanee ninth-grader and student at SKA Academy of Art and Design in Duluth. Guo received a $100 Amazon gift card as the art contest grand-prize winner.
Although DNR announced most T-shirt division winners earlier this month, art contest coordinator Linda May saved news of the top entry from a student who took part in the birding competition until Saturday. That honor went to Adairsville's Abigail Moeller for her drawing of a hooded merganser. The 10th-grade homeschool student, who also won the award last year, birded with the Moeller Myrtle Warblers team.
Winning art entries from 2022 are posted at https://bit.ly/3KfQi6N.
The Youth Birding Competition and T-shirt Art Contest are sponsored by DNR's Wildlife Conservation Section, The Environmental Resources Network Inc. or TERN — friends group of the Wildlife Conservation Section — and others including Georgia Ornithological Society and the Georgia and Albany Audubon societies. Visit georgiawildlife.com/YBC for more details.
The Wildlife Conservation Section conserves Georgia wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions. Learn more at georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates and georgiawildlife.com/donations.
YOUTH BIRDING COMPETITION RESULTS
High School Division
Amazing Anhingas (128 species), and overall competition winner
Grebes (121 species)
Bird Nerds (93 species)
Middle School Division
Pi-billed Grebes (90 species)
Awesome Anhingas (86 species)
The Bold Eagles and Blue Jays (tied at 85 species each)
Elementary School Division
Birding with Baby Yoda (90 species)
Kestrels (51 species)
The Falcons (35 species)
Primary School Division
Eagle Eyes (62 species)
Pileated Pair (29)
Best Friend Bird Watchers (19 species)
Fundraising (division leaders)
Lil Birdie Rascals, Elementary Division and overall top fundraiser, raising $735
Best Friend Bird Watchers, $150: Primary
Pi-billed Grebes, $616.50: Middle
Moeller Myrtle Warblers, $100; High
Fundraising for conservation is voluntary.
Top Rookie teams (first-year teams)
Primary: Pileated Pair (29 species)
Elementary: Lil Birdie Rascals (33 species)
Middle: Blue Jays (85 species)
High: Bird Team (22 species)
Maegan Donnell and Grace Campbell, mentoring The McLendon Chickadees (Primary Division) and The McLendon Bluehawks (Elementary Division)