The Blacktip Island Pro-Am bird watching competition kicks off Saturday morning, with professional and amateur birders from around the world competing for the coveted Booby Prize. The week long event is one of the Birding Grand Slam’s five tournaments.
“We expect quite a robust competition this year,” Blacktip Island Audubon Society president Sula Beakins said. “Blacktip’s place as a waypoint on the flyways between North and South America make it a hot spot for resident and transient feathered friends alike.”
The tournament will pair international birding superstars such as Martin Grebe, Zenaida Dove and Elaenia Kestrel with local avian aficionados including Bob White, Noddy Bolin and Reg Gurnard.
The Audubon Society implemented several rule changes this year to avoid the altercations that detracted from past Pro-Ams.
“All sightings must be confirmed first hand by Society judges,” Beakins said. “There was so much sniping, and fisticuffs, last tournament when two competitors were caught photographing handmade bird likenesses. This year’s judges won’t be so gullible.
“We’ve also banned water drips for attracting birds,” Beakins added. “Competitors can grouse all they want, but those drips were sushi bars for the feral cats. We’ll not have a repeat of last year’s carnage.”
Scores are derived from algorithms factoring in total birds sighted, total species sighted and the rarity of species sighted by each team.
“That old coot Clete Horn was a distant third last year before he spotted that band-rumped storm petrel,” competitor Bob White said. “One bird gave him and Zenaida Dove the win.”
“The Blacktip ham hawk is the Holy Grail, of course,” local bird guru Reg Gurnard said. “They were hunted nearly to extinction decades ago. Island old timers just loved them with butter beans and greens.”
Local restaurants and bars are hungry for the economic uptick the tournament brings.
“These birdwatchers are crazy as loons,” Sand Spit bartender Cory Anders said, “But they’re big drinkers, they tip well and they don’t tear the place up too bad until post-tourney.”
International birding stars are eager for the tournament to begin.
“It’s lovely to see so many titmice this year,” said professional birder Jay Grackle. “And Caribbean tits. Boobies are a given on Blacktip, but these tits are an unexpected surprise.
“The absence of egrets is also nice, for me, anyway,” Grackle said. “I try to live my life with no egrets.”