Our 24 Hour Adventure: The Great Texas Birding Classic

At 11:45 in the evening Saturday night, five Houston Zoo bird keepers and one interactive marketing guru met in the zoo’s employee parking lot and began packing a minivan full of food, pillows, cameras, binoculars, bug spray and bird identification guides. While playing car storage Tetris, everyone simultaneously snapped their heads up to look into the sky, as the comical calls of wild Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flying into our Duck Lake exhibit rang out.  I checked my phone; it was three minutes after midnight. Our start time had silently crept by as we worried over how many bottles of water we could fit in the cooler.

“Black-bellied’s at twelve oh three! It counts!”

With that, team Jiminy Frigates started a whirlwind 24 hour Great Texas Birding Classic competition-a quest to identify by sight or sound as many different bird species as possible from midnight to midnight. Our team had never been bird watching as a group before, and no members had ever participated in competitive birding.  After studying the totals of teams from previous years, we set our goals at a respectable number, 150 species. Twenty four hours and 387 miles of driving later, the final total was 178 species. How’s that for coming out of the gate strong?

We began our birding odyssey on Houston Zoo grounds and visited 13 different sites, drove within throwing distance of Louisiana, rode a ferry, and found a new bird in a Beaumont Church’s Chicken. We saw snakes, wildflowers, alligators, frogs, dolphins, lizards, one very sleepy raccoon, not to mention a few birds.

On average, we saw 8 new species of bird every hour, or every 2 miles traveled. Armed with iPhones, we tweeted, uploaded photos, posted blogs, updated Facebook statuses, and may have even involved Tumblr at some point. We were all so happy to see Houston Zoo supporters following along on our adventure, offering advice and encouragement! When you skip a night of sleep, have soggy muddy feet, a mosquito bite on your right eyelid, and only fast food in your stomach, that kind of support really helps.

Many hours of sleep and one scalding shower later, I realize that bird watching isn’t just about staring at some eagles or sparrows through binoculars; it’s about being outdoors and everything else that entails. As soon as you begin to look around you for birds, you notice everything else you’ve been missing; the armadillo by the pond, the beautiful oak tree in your yard, the butterflies flitting around and those flowers everyone says you’re supposed to stop and smell.

Bird watching is something you can do alone, with children, your mother, with a group of friends, or on a romantic date. No matter what, it’s always a fun adventure, and you’ll see something that will amaze you.  As another Earth Day comes and goes, we encourage you to get out and look for birds. You’ll find everything else on the way.

  •  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  •  Fulvous Whistling-Duck
  •  Wood Duck
  •  Mottled Duck
  •  Blue-winged Teal
  •  Northern Shoveler
  •  Northern Pintail
  •  Green-winged Teal
  •  Canvasback
  •  Redhead
  •  Pied-billed Grebe
  •  Neotropic Cormorant
  •  Double-crested Cormorant
  •  American White Pelican
  •  Brown Pelican
  •  American Bittern
  •  Great Blue Heron
  •  Great Egret
  •  Snowy Egret
  •  Little Blue Heron
  •  Tricolored Heron
  •  Reddish Egret
  •  Cattle Egret
  •  Green Heron
  •  Black-crowned Night-Heron
  •  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  •  White Ibis
  •  Glossy Ibis
  •  White-faced Ibis
  •  Roseate Spoonbill
  •  Black Vulture
  •  Turkey Vulture
  •  Osprey
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Notherthern Harrier
  •  Swainson’s Hawk
  •  Red-tailed Hawk
  •  Clapper Rail
  •  Purple Gallinule
  •  Common Gallinule
  •  American Coot
  •  Black-bellied Plover
  •  American Golden-Plover
  •  Snowy Plover
  •  Wilson’s Plover
  •  Semipalmated Plover
  •  Killdeer
  •  American Oystercatcher
  •  Black-necked Stilt
  •  American Avocet
  •  Solitary Sandpiper
  •  Greater Yellowlegs
  •  Willet
  •  Lesser Yellowlegs
  •  Whimbrel
  •  Long-billed Curlew
  •  Marbled Godwit
  •  Ruddy Turnstone
  •  Sanderling
  •  Western Sandpiper
  •  Baird’s Sandpiper
  •  Dunlin
  •  Stilt Sandpiper
  •  Ruff
  •  Short-billed Dowitcher
  •  Long-billed Dowitcher
  •  Wilson’s Phalarope
  •  Bonaparte’s Gull
  •  Laughing Gull
  •  Ring-billed Gull
  •  Herring Gull
  •  Least Tern
  •  Gull-billed Tern
  •  Caspian Tern
  •  Black Tern
  •  Common Tern
  •  Forster’s Tern
  •  Royal Tern
  •  Sandwich Tern
  •  Black Skimmer
  •  Rock Pigeon
  •  Eurasian Collared-Dove
  •  White-winged Dove
  •  Mourning Dove
  •  Inca Dove
  •  Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  •  Black-billed Cuckoo
  •  Great Horned Owl
  •  Barred Owl
  •  Common Nighthawk
  •  Chimney Swift
  •  Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  •  Belted Kingfisher
  •  Red-headed Woodpecker
  •  Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  •  Red-bellied Woodpecker
  •  Downy Woodpecker
  •  Northern Flicker
  •  Peregrine Falcon
  •  Monk Parakeet
  •  Eastern Wood-Pewee
  •  Acadian Flycatcher
  •  Eastern Phoebe
  •  Eastern Kingbird
  •  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  •  Loggerhead Shrike
  •  White-eyed Vireo
  •  Blue-headed Vireo
  •  Warbling Vireo
  •  Red-eyed Vireo
  •  Blue Jay
  •  American Crow
  •  Fish Crow
  •  Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  •  Purple Martin
  •  Tree Swallow
  •  Barn Swallow
  •  Cliff Swallow
  •  Carolina Chickadee
  •  Tufted Titmouse
  •  Red-breasted Nuthatch
  •  Sedge Wren
  •  Marsh Wren
  •  Carolina Wren
  •  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  •  Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  •  Swainson’s Thrush
  •  Wood Thrush
  •  American Robin
  •  Gray Catbird
  •  Northern Mockingbird
  •  Brown Thrasher
  •  European Starling
  •  Worm-eating Warbler
  •  Louisiana Waterthrush
  •  Northern Waterthrush
  •  Black-and-white Warbler
  •  Prothonotary Warbler
  •  Swainson’s Warbler
  •  Tennessee Warbler
  •  Orange-crowned Warbler
  •  Kentucky Warbler
  •  Common Yellowthroat
  •  Hooded Warbler
  •  American Redstart
  •  Northern Parula
  •  Blackburnian Warbler
  •  Yellow Warbler
  •  Blackpoll Warbler
  •  Palm Warbler
  •  Yellow-rumped Warbler
  •  Yellow-throated Warbler
  •  Black-throated Green Warbler
  •  Wilson’s Warbler
  •  Savannah Sparrow
  •  Seaside Sparrow
  •  Swamp Sparrow
  •  White-throated Sparrow
  •  White-crowned Sparrow
  •  Summer Tanager
  •  Scarlet Tanager
  •  Western Tanager
  • Northern Cardinal
  •  Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  •  Indigo Bunting
  •  Painted Bunting
  •  Red-winged Blackbird
  •  Eastern Meadowlark
  •  Brewer’s Blackbird
  •  Common Grackle
  •  Boat-tailed Grackle
  •  Great-tailed Grackle
  •  Brown-headed Cowbird
  •  Orchard Oriole
  •  Baltimore Oriole
  •  American Goldfinch
  •  House Sparrow


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