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The Twitchers Top the Inaugural Virginia Birding Classic

By Molly Kirk/DWR

Photos by Luca Pfeiffer/DWR

When Steve Myers saw the announcement of the inaugural Virginia Birding Classic (VBC), he got excited to form a team and get competitive with birding. “I really like the challenge of it,” said Myers, who captained The Twitchers—the winning team consisting of himself, his wife Amy Myers, Andrew Baldelli, and June McDaniels. The inaugural VBC, a statewide birding competition in which teams of birders search the public lands of Virginia for as many species as they can find in 24 hours, took place this year from April 15 through May 15. All VBC registration proceeds will benefit the Virginia Wildlife Grant Program, which awards annual grants to non-profit programs focused on connecting youth to the outdoors.

“My wife and I have competed against Andrew and June in the Virginia Beach Winter Wildlife Festival Birding Competition—sometimes they beat us, sometimes we beat them. So, it was fun to compete alongside them this time,” said Steve. “I personally like the challenge when someone else makes the rules, because it levels out the playing field. Just trying to be a better birder than someone else is really tough. If you give people the same timeframe and the same rules, then it becomes a good challenge.”

Both couples hail from Virginia Beach and focused their chosen 24 hours of birding in that area on May 10. They amassed a list of 132 species spotted for the win, 10 more than the second-placed team of The Birdbrains. “Honestly, I was expecting probably 110 to 115 species,” said Steve. “So, the 132 was a nice surprise. Ironically, we missed one of the easiest birds to find around here, the fish crow. They’re everywhere here, but we never saw or heard one.”

The Twitchers team had to juggle work schedules, travel schedules, and weather forecasts to pick their date to compete. “We’re all fairly experienced birders. We had multiple discussions of the best way to utilize the 24 hours given,” Steve said. “The defining trade-off, as always, is species versus commute time, because you can’t bird if you’re commuting. So, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge naturally became our go-to point first thing in the morning because of the number of species you and see there and the fact that you see a lot of flyovers as birds make their way up and down between Cape May and Cape Hatteras.

“Then we made a loop through [Virginia Beach], getting to First Landing State Park and a couple of city parks and natural areas. We were going to go either to Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or Princess Anne WMA in the evening, but a marine layer with fog rolled in. And that pretty much shut all the birds down at about six o’clock in the evening. But we had a good day and a lot of fun,” Steve explained of their strategy.

Each member of The Twitchers’ winning team will get to choose from a list of DWR Wildlife Experiences that includes opportunities such as accompanying our biologists as they band and survey raptors, waterfowl, woodpeckers, or seabirds; visiting important habitat conservation areas that are not open to the public; viewing wildlife on a tour with knowledgeable members of our staff; or another exciting experience only DWR can offer.

Each participating team in the VBC also selects an elementary school library in the Commonwealth to be the recipient of three Birding Backpacks that will be available for checkout by members of the community! Each backpack will include a pair of adult binoculars, a pair of children’s binoculars, a field guide to birds of eastern North America, a kid’s field guide to backyard birds, bird coloring sheets and crayons, a field journal to record sightings, maps and guides to area birding locations, and helpful tips to make the most of their birding adventures. The Twitchers have chosen Seatack Elementary School in Virginia Beach to be this year’s recipient of DWR Birding Backpacks, hoping that “birding might spark some interest as a diversion for a kid. Seatack is a school in a minority area of the city which often seems to be overlooked,” said Steve.

DWR would like to thank our partners in the Virginia Birding Classic: the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Society of Ornithology, and Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory.

*Note: Photo above is stock photo, not a photo of the winning VBC team.

  • June 17, 2024