Trip Leaders

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Trip Leaders


David Benn begin birding in the 1970’s when a birder relative discovered a Yellow-green Vireo in my mother’s Brownsville yard (where later the first documented USA Golden-crowned Warbler was discovered) and I wondered what all the interest was. It turned out to be pretty compelling. As a Brownsville native my birding experience since has mostly been limited to South Texas and points south, including half a dozen trips to Central and South America and dozens of birding trips to Mexico. When I’m not thinking about going birding somewhere I’m probably thinking about going fishing somewhere.

Cindy Beckman is a retired public school teacher. Prior to founding Cheepers!, she organized and led trips for groups of students and parents, as well as for smaller groups of friends, family, and birders to destinations in the US and Central and South America. Cindy wrote about her experiences with young birders who she mentored during her 35 years as an educator, earning her WildBird Magazine’s 2007 “Birder of the Year” award. She is an avid photographer, eager to share images with fellow travelers. Cindy’s ABA life list tops 600, and her world list just went past the 3700 mark on a recent tour to southern Ecuador.
Jim Beckman is a retired Senior IT Project Manager who has been an avid birder for over 20 years. He has traveled extensively for most of his adult life, and loves to share birding experiences with others. He’s skilled at spotting birds and helping others find birds in the dense forest, although he frequently defers to expert local guides for positive identification. Always eager to help anyone who needs a bit of extra time or information to “get on” a bird, Jim is a valuable asset on any birding tour, regardless of the location. Jim’s ABA life list is just under 600, and his world list stands at 3644.

Carlos Bethancourt was born in Panama City in 1978 and raised in the small rural village of Huile, next to the Canal Zone. It was here where he learned many lessons of nature from his mother and grandmother, both of whom were deeply connected to nature and involved with conservation. After high school Carlos was awarded a scholarship to Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, where he studied natural resources and received his first formal training in ornithology. Carlos began his career at the Canopy Tower in October of 2000 and has since attended numerous birding conferences and conventions in the US and Great Britain, where he led tours, workshops and presented programs on Panama birds. Carlos is a very popular and a much-requested guide, a testament not only to his birding ability, but also to his sincere friendly demeanor. When not guiding, Carlos is busy at the office working on marketing and other projects for the Canopy Tower & Canopy Lodge.

John Brush
born in Iowa but raised in Texas, John’s early life is summed up perfectly by the saying “I wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as fast as I could.” Son of an ornithologist, John was out watching birds with his father at an early age. John got his B.S. from the University of Texas – Pan American (UTPA) in Fall 2013, and is back at UTPA to get his Master’s in Biology. One of his main interests is how we can make our urban areas better for bird diversity. His interest in conservation of birds in the Valley has seen him work at Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center (2008-2014), conduct research with UTPA, and appear as a guest speaker for local nature centers and organizations. Nothing makes John happier than enjoying the incredible biodiversity of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and he is thrilled to be able to share that beauty and excitement with others.

Chip Clouse is a tour guide and sales/marketing rep for The Partnership for International Birding (PIB). Originally enamored with tooth and claw predators, his fascination with birds started by volunteering with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to monitor Peregrine Falcon nest sites while an undergraduate and was cemented once he saw his first Western Tanager while working for the Peregrine Fund in Oregon. With bird research and project management experience in 9 states and the Caribbean nation of Grenada, a Masters in Conservation Biology from Colorado State, 5 years with the American Birding Association, 3 years as a rep with Opticron optics and Novagrade Digiscoping adapters and stints guiding at 15+ different US birding festivals, Chip is excited to return to the RGVBF for the 7th time.

Mark Conway is a bird-bander and teacher from Harlingen Texas. He teaches biology at Harlingen South High School and is an adjunct instructor at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen. He moved to the Lower Rio Grande Valley eighteen years ago and has been banding birds in many locations in the Valley since he arrived.

Jim Danzenbaker
has been a nature enthusiast ever since the tender age of 6 growing up in southern New Jersey. His interest in birds led him from his local haunts in southern New Jersey to visits to every corner of the United States. He has an enthusiasm for sharing information about different locations which helped him to become a birding tour leader not only on boat trips in Monterey Bay, CA but also to neotropical destinations. He has led no less than 15 trips to various locations including Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador. He has been leading at the Rio Grande Valley bird festival for over 12 years. He is also a Naturalist on an annual Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica cruise for Cheesemans Ecology Safaris(CES) He currently lives in Battle Ground, Washington where he is the Polar Expeditions Director for CES.

Javier de Leon
was raised in Harlingen a few blocks from where the birding festival takes place every year. When he was a teenager, a group of birders from the birding festival pointed out some parrots in his neighborhood. This and a few other happy accidents led him to begin birding around the Rio Grande Valley and pursue a degree in Biology while attending the University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg. During and after college, he worked as a naturalist/interpreter at several Rio Grande Valley nature sites including the National Butterfly Center, the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center, Bentsen RGV State Park where his interests grew to learning local plants, butterflies, reptiles, and dragonflies. Javier is currently the Park Superintendent at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Mercedes, Texas.

Larry Ditto has been photographing nature subjects for over 40 years…full time for 15 years. His focus has been in the south Texas area, but he also photographs in several other states in the mid-west and west. Larry and Kathy Adams Clark provided photos for a new book from Far Country Press titled “Texas, a Photographic Journey”. Many of Larry’s images are in “Texas Wildlife Portfolio” and a lot of other books and magazines including Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas Highways magazines as well as Bird Watcher’s Digest and various other national periodicals and calendars. In 2000, Larry partnered with Greg Lasley to win the prestigious Valley Land Fund Wildlife Photo Contest. Larry holds a BS degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University and worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 29 years as a Refuge Manager in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Jennie Duberstein
has lived in southeastern Arizona since 2001, where she currently works as the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Sonoran Joint Venture, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program that works to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. She has worked with young birders through the American Birding Association and other organizations since the late 1990s, directing summer camps, leading field courses, organizing conferences, and editing and managing young birder publications. Jennie co-leads the ABA’s Camp Colorado and VENT’s Camp Chiricahua, serves on the Board of Directors for Tucson Audubon Society, and is a proud member of the Leica Birding Team. In her free time she competes in marathons, century rides, and triathlons as a member of Team In Training to help find a cure for blood cancers.

Tom Dunkerton
was a nature enthusiast as a kid growing up in NYC, he got his first birding field guide from his future wife when he was 18. Everything after that is all her fault!  Moving to Florida in 1995 allowed many of those wishful field guide images to come to life and he was hooked for good. Spending 4 years as a research technician studying the Florida Scrub-jay nurtured his intimate knowledge of Florida scrub habitat and it’s residents. Annually leading field trips for Florida Audubon chapters through Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as well as private birding adventures and photography workshops, Tom shares his passion with anyone who wants to tag along. Unending hours in the field inspired Tom to take up photography as well, to share what he saw with friends and family. That soon blossomed into photo presentations all over Florida and the southeast as well as a few contest accolades. It’s safe to say Tom is the walking definition of an OCD birder/nature photographer! He also is an Opticron Sport and Nature Optics prostaff, trying to help the world see Nature’s beauty a little clearer.

Jon Dunn
has been a tour leader for Wings since 1977 and leads tours widely in North America and Southeast Asia. He has written numerous articles on distribution and identification and has co-authored National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America and their Birding Essentials, Warblers, Gulls and Birds of Southern California, Status and Distribution. He is a member of the California Bird Records Committee, the American Birding Association’s Checklist Committee and the American Ornithologists’ Union Committee on Taxonomy and Nomenclature. He serves as a board member to Western Field Ornithologists’ and lives in Bishop, California.

Dudley Edmondson
has spent the last 25 years living in Duluth, Mn and working as a Professional Photographer, and Film Maker. He’s been a birder since his High School days too long ago to mention. During his time as a professional freelance Nature Photographer Dudley birded as he worked, traveling the nation gathering images for numerous flora and fauna field guides. Today most of his birding is done during the time he spends in the outdoors cycling, kayaking or fly-fishing. He’s been birding the Rio Grande Valley as a guide for over 5 years now. Dudley is also and author. His latest publication What’s That Flower? is a field guide to the common wildflowers of the Eastern U.S by DK Books of London, UK. In 2006 he wrote his ground breaking book “Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places” In 2010 Dudley’s book and conservation work landed him an invitation to the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors.

Laurie Foss
started birding at the urging of her high school science teacher in Wisconsin. Since moving to Austin in 2003 she has discovered the joys of Texas birds and birding. A member of Travis Audubon, Friends of Balcones Canyonlands NWR, as well as other local, state and national birding organizations, Laurie is active leading field trips, teaching birding classes, and working for habitat conservation. Laurie leads group birding tours to the tropics for JB Journeys, a woman-owned ecotourism company, and works at Shield Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

Richard Fray
is a lifelong birder from England, who moved to Arizona in 2002. He has been a professional birding guide since 2010, leading tours to the UK, Belize, and Guatemala, but mainly in SE Arizona, for his own business, Fun Birding Tours, as well as other tour companies. Richard has served on the board of directors of Tucson Audubon Society and now administers the Arizona Birding Facebook group. He loves his adopted home of southeast Arizona, and is interested in all aspects of the natural world. A keen wildlife photographer, Richard’s photos have been published in various books and magazines in North America and Europe.

Stephanie Galla
is the Habitat Biologist at Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, and Resaca de la Palma State Parks. Stephanie started her birding adventures in western Kentucky, where she received her bachelors of science in wildlife biology from Murray State University. Since then, Stephanie has worked on several avian conservation projects, including work with Piping Plovers, Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, Ruffed Grouse, and Attwater’s Prairie-chickens. When she moved to Texas in 2010 to pursue a graduate degree at the University of North Texas, Stephanie began making regular birding trips west Texas, High Island, and the Rio Grande Valley. This is Stephanie’s second year leading tours at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and she looks forward to helping people sight the beautiful birds that can only be found in south Texas.

Doug Gochfeld
, a native Brooklynite, spent his early formative years scouring the urban landscape of New York City for birds with his father. Over the last decade he has put his BS in Economics to good use, via bird work in a number of locations. He was the swing counter for Cape May Bird Observatory (counting the Hawkwatch, the Seawatch, and the songbird Morning Flight) in Cape May, NJ for two fall seasons, and he has done hands-on ecology work in places as varied as subarctic Alaska, the northern coast of South America, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. For the last four years he has worked as a guide for St. Paul Island Tours, in the Bering Sea’s Pribilof Islands, guiding birders and other tourists around “The Galapagos of the North.” His writing and photographs have been published in several venues. Doug is on the New York State Avian Records Committee, and on Leica’s Pro Staff.

Ashli Gorbet grew up in the forests of northern Ohio and received her B.S. in Wildlife Management from The Ohio State University. In 2006, she relocated to New Mexico to explore the birds and mountains of the Land of Enchantment. Currently she studies the breeding biology of Black-throated Gray Warblers and dispersal and seasonal movement in White-breasted Nuthatch, works as a wildlife biologist, bands birds and serves on the board of directors of Rio Grande Bird Research, Inc., and acts as secretary of the New Mexico Ornithological Society. Ashli loves to travel; she loves to immerse herself in the birds and culture of both new and familiar places.

Jeffrey A. Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association, now headquartered in Delaware City, Delaware. Jeff is also a well-known writer, photographer, tour leader, and naturalist. He is a frequent speaker at various birding and nature festivals. For more information on the ABA and on Jeff, visit

Mary Gustafson is one of those rare lucky people where vocation and avocation overlap. For the last ten years she has worked as the Coordinator for the Rio Grande Joint Venture for the American Bird Conservancy. The RGJV is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-funded bird and bird habitat conservation partnership in south and west Texas and northeastern Mexico. Mary has been watching birds since she was about 6 years old, her interest spurred by her grandfather. She got serious about actively seeking birds out at age 14 when Robert Segedi of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History got her interested in the more scientific side of birding. A(n overly) competitive birder, Mary is “very slowly” closing in on 800 birds in the ABA area. She was part of a team that won the World Series of Birding “a long time ago” and has been part of the team that won the “Big Sit!” of the Great Texas Birding Classic at Estero Llano Grande – twice. Mary has served on the Maryland/DC and Texas Bird Records Committee. An avid pelagic birder, she’s usually to be found on a boat whenever possible. Mary volunteers as an eBird editor for a few dozen counties in south Texas, works as one of the eBird state portal editors for Texas, runs the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert, and formerly volunteered working with leaders and field trips for the RGVBF.

Martin Hagne was born and raised on the Swedish west coast, where his grandfather instilled a love for nature and birds at an early age. He moved to the United States, and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, in 1979. He served as the Executive Director of the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco from 2000 to 2013, and recently moved to Bandera, Texas, in the Hill Country. He also works as a Field Biologist for ecological survey companies doing avian, mammal, herp, and habitat baseline studies.

Homer Hansen grew up in Willcox, Arizona surrounded by Sandhill Cranes in winter and Cassin’s Sparrows in summer. Homer has a passion for sharing bird watching with others and is a regular field trip leader for several festivals and served as chairman of the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival for 17 years. Homer is also co-founder of the Sulphur Springs Valley Young Birders Club and the annual Arizona Young Birders Camp. He instructs workshops on sparrows, raptors, flycatchers, warblers, birding by ear, and bird ecology, including: the Lifelong Learning courses for the Tucson Audubon Society, the Southwestern Sparrows IFO for the American Birding Association, and educational workshops for the Western Field Ornithologists (WFO) conferences. Homer is a life member of the WFO, Cooper Ornithological Society (COS), and Wilson Ornithological Society (WOS), and currently serves on the WFO board as chairman of the Youth Programs Committee.

Michael Hilchey’s interest in nature was sparked by the wintering Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR. One morning watching thousands of Cranes take flight over the chilly New Mexico sunrise was all it took to push him towards a life outdoors. Today, Michael still resides in New Mexico where he is an avid conservationist, researcher, birder, and owner of BRANT (Birding Research And Nature Tours), a birding and eco-tourism company committed to supporting local conservation in all the places they tour.Michael has been guiding in the United States and Latin America for most of his life and this will be his 6th year guiding at the RGVBF. When asked what he likes about guiding he says, “To me, the thrill of sharing the natural world with others is the most addictive things about birding. I can’t help but feed off the excitement, energy and wonder of my participant’s experiences!”

Lee Hopwood grew up in Washington DC and birded much of the east coast from Maine to Florida until moving to Albuquerque NM in 1992. She opened a Wild Bird Center franchise in Albuquerque which she ran for 9 years before separating into an independent store in 2009. Lee continues to own and operate her independent store in NM as an online store. She serves on the Board of the Central NM Audubon Society and has been a volunteer bird bander with the Rio Grande Bird Research Inc. She is a major supporter of the Rosy-Finch Project, providing all of the seed to feed and maintain the flock throughout the winter; a Donor member of the Rio Grande Nature Center. Lee is a founding member and co-owner of BRANT, Birding Research and Nature Tours in Albuqueraque, NM.

Julian Hough is originally from England, where he spent all his time birding around the British Isles in the pursuit of rare birds. His focus on field identification led to extensive travel to India, Nepal, China, Australia, Europe, and Central and South America. He has worked as a research biologist for both Long Point (Canada) and Cape May Bird Observatory (USA) and was part of a team that documented ‘morning flight’ at Cape May in the late 80s. In the early 90s he worked as a journalist on Britain’s top-selling bird magazine Birdwatching and his work has been published in many books and periodicals, notably the recently award-winning “Rare Birds Where and When” that he produced and was written by the late Russell Slack. He has served as member of the CT Avian Rare Records Committee for more two decades and currently resides in New Haven, Connecticut with his young son Alex.

Huck Hutchens grew up at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where he spent most of his time in the outdoors enjoying hunting and fishing and wildlife in general. Upon retirement from Dupont in 1993, he and his wife, sold their home and began traveling the U.S. in a motorhome and birding along the way. He is now park host and naturalist at Estero Llano Grande SP/WBC for the past seven years. He has birded the RGV extensively and is always ready to go looking for birds. He gets excited showing the RGV birds to newcomers to the valley.

Dave Irons started birding in Indiana at age six. After his family moved to Oregon his affliction became progressively more “serious.” At age 17 he discovered that there were other Oregon birders close to his own age and birding became a focal point in his life. He skipped his high school commencement (mom retrieved the diploma later) to go birding in southeastern Oregon, and by age 21 he was elected a member of Oregon’s Bird Records Committee (OBRC).

Dan Jones a retired high school math teacher and longtime guide at the Festival, Dan Jones has been birding for 38 years with the past twenty as a resident of the Rio Grande Valley. Dan particularly enjoys scouring the local backwoods roads and trails for unusual Valley birds and butterflies. His avian finds include North America’s and ABA’s first White-crested Elaenia, ABA’s first chaseable Crescent-chested Warbler and Arizona’s first Pine Warbler. Dan’s adventures in the field are chronicled in his blogs, and

Tiffany Kersten first became hooked on birds at age 12, after witnessing a flock of thousands of dancing sandhill cranes in a Wisconsin cornfield. After earning a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology at Northland College, she has interpreted migration with the Cape May Bird Observatory, conducted honeycreeper research in Hawaii, monitored shorebirds with Massachusetts Audubon Society, and surveyed waterfowl in Wisconsin and marsh birds in New Jersey with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. She currently manages the McAllen Nature Center, is a field technician with Swarovski Optik, and also works as a private bird guide in the Rio Grande Valley. In her spare time, she can be found practicing, social dancing, and performing as a member of a local Latin dance team.

John Kaye has been birding with his wife since 1992 when they visited Alaska for the first time and both fell in love with it. Over the course of the last 23 years they have gotten a lot better and as a result have been to all 7 continents in pursuit of their passion. Five years ago John was introduced to Hawk Watch at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, TX where he lives for 10 months a year. He has been volunteering at Hawk Watch ever since, and has come to appreciate just how magnificent their migrations can be. He and his fellow watchers have been privileged to see as many as 32,000 raptors in a single 4-hour watch! As a retiree John thinks this is the greatest hobby of them all.

Rich Kostecke as spent the last 15 years birding and conducting ornithological research in Texas. He earned his PhD in Wildlife Science from Texas Tech University in 2002, where his research focused on wetland management and migratory waterbirds. Rich’s first job after completing his PhD was with The Nature Conservancy’s Fort Hood Program, a cooperative effort with the Army to monitor and manage endangered species (Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers) and their habitats. In 2011, Rich assumed his current state-wide role as Associate Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Texas. His current research projects include assessing the status of Black-capped Vireos in the Devils River Basin and southern Edwards Plateau, assessing the impacts of large-scale wildfires on the birdlife of the Davis Mountains, and the winter ecology of Sprague’s Pipits on the middle to upper Texas Gulf Coast.

Tom Langschied s the coordinator of the King Ranch Nature Tour program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Tom started the King Ranch Nature Tour program back in the fall of 1994. Originally from Fort Wayne, IN, Tom came down to South Texas in January of 1991 to get his Master’s degree from Texas A&M University- Kingsville and his thesis work looked at how bird communities changed from fall through early summer on King Ranch. While Tom has worked for King Ranch since 1994, he left his full time position in the summer of 2005 to work as a Research Associate for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute coordinating a South Texas wintering bird program. Then in November 2013 he returned to the King Ranch full time to once again coordinate the King Ranch Nature Tour program. Besides his passion for birds and birding, he also has a strong interest in butterflies and dragonflies. Tom is married and has two kids.

J. Drew Lanham, a native of Edgefield S.C., is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and holds a B.A. and M.S. in Zoology and a PhD in Forest Resources (wildlife ecology) from Clemson University where he is currently a Master Teacher and Alumni Distinguished Professor teaching and conducting research in the area of wildlife management, land and conservation ethics, hunting ethics/philosophy and field and conservation ornithology. Drew is the co-host of the popular Your Day “Birding and Nature” radio show which airs internationally as live-streaming audio/video and on the South Carolina ETV radio network. Drew’s recent contribution to Orion Magazine’s “9 Rules for the Black Bird Watcher” was also featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition of All Things Considered.

Ben Lizdas first fell in love with birds and birding while doing vegetation studies on the prairies and oak savannahs of Southern Wisconsin while working as a restoration ecologist. He’s been an avid birder for 15 years and continues to pursue this interest through his current position as Sales Manager for Eagle Optics, which takes him to many birding and nature festivals across the country.Having witnessed and appreciated much of the avian diversity of North America while on the road, he still maintains a fondness for those grassland birds that first piqued his interest 15 years ago.

Michael Marsden has been an avid birder since childhood in England but decided, for reasons that now escape him, on a career in law. Meeting Donna Knox on a birding trip, however, changed all that and in 1996 he gave up his work as solicitor general to the Cayman Islands Government to start a second career as a birding guide. Michael and Donna initially moved to Cayman House in Rockport, then to the San Pedro River Inn and Paton Birders’ Haven in SE Arizona and are now happily back in Texas: this time in San Benito, an ideal base for Michael’s interest in the wildlife and history of the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend. Michael offers customized birding tours for both individuals and groups. He has guided for Road Scholars, many birding clubs and festivals and has led tours to Belize, Costa Rica, Panama and Cuba.

Eric Martinez was born in a Zapotec Village in Oaxaca, Mexico. and started birding at the age of 8. He has birded all over Mexico in the last 19 years, in 2008 he did some bird banding for the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada, and since then has been doing bird banding in many parts of Mexico, Eric is owner of Mexico-Birding Tours; the only Mexican owned company of birding tours in Mexico.

Brad McKinney is a long-time resident of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and has been actively birding the region for the past 25 years. He works as a high-school administrator at a medical magnet campus in Cameron County. He has co-authored A Birder’s Guide to the Rio Grande Valley and contributed to Checklist of Lower Grande Valley Birds. Brad, who has served on the Texas Bird Records Committee, especially enjoys pelagic birding and traveling in the Neotropics with his wife Janette and son Will.

Michael O’Brien is a naturalist, author, artist, and leader for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field identification, and a serious addiction to migration and nocturnal birding. His travels have taken him throughout North and Central America and beyond. At home in Cape May, Michael serves as an Associate Naturalist with Cape May Bird Observatory for whom he conducts numerous workshops, and, for many years, conducted a fall songbird migration count. He is co-author of The Shorebird Guide, Flight Calls of Migratory Birds, and America’s 100 Most Wanted Birds, and is primary author of, an online and handheld application for learning bird sounds. His illustrations have been widely published including in National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the new Peterson field guides. Michael also has an intense interest in butterflies and leads several “Birds & Butterflies” tours with his wife, Louise Zemaitis

Kyle O’Haver grew up in Missouri spending much of my time in the woods and ponds of my grandparent’s farm. I grew up loving hunting, fishing, and catching all kinds of critters, but birds have always got my attention. Attending the University of Missouri-Columbia I found an amazing class called ornithology and loved it. Working with Missouri Department of Conservation in Fisheries and then an internship and seasonal interpretation job with Missouri State Parks, I finally landed a job with Estero Llano Grande State Park and World Birding Center. Three years as a park interpreter and three years as the Natural Resource Specialist created the obsessed birder you get today. Now running my own park and spreading the good word on birding, I hope my passion for birds pours into others like my children Sibley (not a coincidence) and Kaleb.

Glenn Olsen leads natural history and birding tours with GOBirding Ecotours and teaches bird identification, gardening for birds and butterflies, and nature related classes through Rice University’s Continuing Studies Department, Houston Audubon, Katy Prairie Conservancy, and the Texas Master Naturalist program. He has served on the Houston Audubon Board as Vice President of Education and also served as an Audubon Warden monitoring colonial nesting birds along the Texas Gulf Coast. Two of his many other efforts towards conservation include monitoring endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chickens at the Nature Conservancy’s Texas City Preserve and co-founding the Wildscapes Workshop through the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) where he served as president of both the Houston Chapter and the State NPSOT. He has led field trips and given programs for meetings of the Texas Ornithological Society, Houston Audubon, Houston Arboretum, the Native Plant Society of Texas, Rockport Hummer/Bird Festival, Galveston FeatherFest, the Bastrop Christmas Bird Count, and other groups and festivals. Glenn has led trips to such exotic locales as Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Amazon Rainforest, Costa Rica and the hottest birding locations in the U.S.

Randy Pinkston’s life has been defined by birds & birding since 1972. His focus is Texas and North American birds, although he enjoys neotropical birding and has traveled widely in Mexico and Central America. Randy has a wildlife science degree from Aggieland (Texas A&M) and at one time hoped to make some sort of living in birds. Instead, he took the easy way out and became a surgeon so that he could afford a comfortable life of birds & birding. He and wife Patricia have four sons and reside in Temple, about an hour NE. of Austin. Randy has led numerous birding tours in Texas & Arizona over the past 30+ years, including several central Texas winter sparrow workshops for TOS. He has done piney woods breeding warbler trips for TOS, is a Life Member of TOS, and has served on its Bird Records Committee since 2002. He has co-authored the Texas column for North American Birds since 2004. Recently Randy has taken an interest in birding with a digital camera and telephoto lens.

Bob Powell RGV resident bird watcher for 25 yrs. Worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a Ranger at Laguna Atascosa NWR. Worked as a Naturalist for Frontera Audubon Weslaco Texas. Currently am Site Coordinator and Naturalist for The University of Texas for their “Deep South Texas” birding programs. Photo was take while leading a group in search of Canyon Wrens and Water Ouzels (whoops, showing my age- I mean American Dippers. Yes we found them both.

Tom Reed is a birding guide and field researcher who lives in Reed’s Beach, New Jersey. He picked up birding at the age of 10, and has always been especially fascinated by migration. TR currently works for the Cape May Bird Observatory, where he is the field coordinator of Cape May’s legendary migration counts. Tom has traveled through much of North America, with assignments ranging from Piping Plover surveys in the Bahamas, to the waterbird migration count at Whitefish Point, Michigan, to tour leading in Alaska. He is a Regional Editor for the journal North American Birds, a member of the New Jersey Bird Records Committee, and a leader on See Life Paulagics trips out of the Mid-Atlantic. Tom is heavily involved in youth birding initiatives and currently serves as the Communications Manager for the Race 4 Birds Foundation, which aids in establishing youth birding competitions throughout the country.

Michael Retter is the editor of the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Guide magazine. A former full-time birding tour leader, he has traveled extensively in the Americas (from Alaska to Ecuador), and he still leads private tours (especially to Middle America) part-time. When at home, Michael currently spends most of his time writing a field guide to the birds of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. He is the Chair of the Indiana Bird Records Committee and volunteers as an eBird reviewer for Illinois and Indiana. Michael just moved from Indiana to Fort Worth, Texas, with his fiancé, two indoor cats, and about 150 orchids. He has led friend trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival for thirteen years and looks forward to returning for many years to come. Regular festival-goers may know him as “the parrot trip guy”.

Justin Rink has been birding since the age of 15. He currently resides in Omaha, NE where he has been for the past seven years. He has birded extensively in the US, Costa Rica, and Mexico. He leads local freelance birding field trips and has established a meetup group called YBLO or Young Birding Locals of Omaha. Justin has been guiding at the festival since 2002.

Rob Ripma is the owner and creator of, “the place to go to find birds”. He also is the co-owner of Sabrewing Nature Tours, leading birding and photography trips in the US and Central and South America. Rob currently sits on the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s (Ohio) Board of Directors as Secretary. He is co-founder of the Indiana Young Birders Club and speaks at a variety of organizations and schools about birds and birding to share his knowledge and experiences in the field. Most recently, he has become the primary bird blogger for Birds & Blooms Magazine. When he’s not birding or travelling, Rob works part-time at Wild Birds Unlimited. Rob graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 2008 with a degree in Marketing and lives with his wife Stephanie in Carmel, Indiana.

Paul Riss got started birding at a young age when his dad was looking for a little more of a connection with his son. He took Paul to a local conservation area with some bird seed. That day, a Black-capped Chickadee landed on Paul’s hand and he was instantly hooked on birds. He has continued to watch and paint birds since then. Everything Paul does within the birding world is to bring birding and bird conservation to a wider audience and show people that birders aren’t always what everyone stereotypes them as.

Roy Rodriquez is a Natural Resource Interpreter, professional birding guide and a regular part of the nature and birding festival circuit in Texas. He has presented talks on flora and fauna to thousands of people of all ages. He is a lead instructor for the National Hispanic Environmental Council’s Environmental Training Institute Scholarship programs and a presenter for the Changing the Face of American Birding diversity conferences. Rodriquez is involved in numerous regional birding and conservation endeavors. He is employed by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as Park Naturalist for Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park & World Birding Center in Mission, Texas.

Mark Scheuerman native Texan had identified over 100 species of birds by the age of eight. His interest in birds and the natural world has taken him birding throughout Texas, the US, and to fifteen other countries scattered over five continents. He is a regional editor for eBird and encourages others to contribute their birding records to the project to increase our knowledge and assist in bird conservation. Mark loves to share his passion for birds and the natural world with others and regularly leads field trips for various bird clubs, festivals, and privately. He has been leading field trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival since 2005.

Scott Schuette is the current Tour Director for St. Paul Island Tours. He grew up the in the outdoors in rural Missouri, the son of a naturalist at a local state park. His passion for birds and travel has been with him since childhood and has led him to six continents and many countries around the world as well as across most of the United States. A biologist by trade he worked as a guide on St. Paul Island during 2008 and 2009 and returned (in spring 2012) as the full-time director of the company. Sharing the unique experiences that await in Alaska are what he finds most appealing about his job, well

David Sarkozi David has been birding seriously for more than 20 years now. Professionally his has worked for the University of Houston for more than 30 years. He has been actively leading field trips in Texas, Belize, and Costa Rica for much of his birding career. He has serviced as President of the Texas Ornithological Society and the Friends of Anahuac Refuge; and the Chairman of the Houston Outdoor Nature Club –Ornithology Group

Willie Sekula has been birding for over 40 years. Growing up on a farm instilled an interest in birds. His interest in birds took off when he found a copy of Peterson’s Birds of Texas in his high school library. His passion for birds grew in college after he joined Travis Audubon. On a field trip to the U.T.C.(Upper Texas Coast) with Ed Kutac (his mentor) in the 1970’s a spectacular spring fallout occurred with a late spring cold front. The migrant traps at High Island were literally stuffed with migrants. It was an amazing experience and solidified a love of migrant songbirds. He goes to the Central Texas Coast every chance he gets to look for Neotropical migrants. This love for birds has taken Willie all over Texas, Mexico and South America. He also has been a sub-regional editor for South Texas and Texas coeditor for North American Birds for twenty years.

Byron Stone is a physician and naturalist with a love of the outdoors that started in early childhood. He has been an avid birder for four decades, and has traveled all parts of Texas to observe birds and wildlife. Byron has a special interest in sparrows, and has been teaching a sparrow identification class for Travis Audubon Society for twelve years. Byron was a co-founder of the perennially-popular SparrowFest, conducted each February for the past 8 years at Balcones Canyonlands NWR. For the past 9 years, Byron has conducted 4 or more breeding bird surveys in central Texas and in the trans-Pecos. He is an eBird regional reviewer, and is privileged to serve on the TOS Bird Records Committee, and is President-Elect of the TOS. Besides sparrows and breeding birds, Byron also has special interests in shorebirds, gulls, raptors and seasonal and regional bird distribution in Texas. He lives in Austin with his 16 year-old dachshund Kramer.

Bill Supulski moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 2011 and has been a contributing photographer for the Birding Festival for the past several years.

Clay Taylor is celebrating his 40th year of birding, having been infected with the allure of stalking birds with his 35mm camera while attending college in Rochester, NY, in 1975. Returning home to Connecticut, he became active in the local birding groups, lead tours, presented slide shows, and started banding migrating raptors in 1983. He founded the Rochester Hawk Banding Project in 1984 (which eventually became Braddock Bay Raptor Research), and in 1994 was a co-founder, and became first president of, the Connecticut Butterfly Association. In 1999 he joined Swarovski Optik North America, and currently is their Naturalist Market Manager, giving him the opportunity to travel to birding festivals and play with really nice toys.

Rene Valdes is a Biologist/Ornithologist who lives in Monterrey, Mexico. He was born in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, and it was there where the birdwatching involved him since he was a teenager. He began his first sightings at an estuary in Mazatlan looking for the deciduous forest’s species. When he moved to Monterrey, he became a specialist on psittacines field research working with the endangered Thick-billed Parrots, and Maroon-fronted Parrots. He is also expert on pine-oak forest bird diversity, and has acquired the knowledge of hotspots location with presence of many other endangered and endemic bird species over the past 10 years in Mexico. Rene guides professional birding trips in Monterrey and adjacent areas in northeastern Mexico, and in the northwest especially in Mazatlan and the Durango hwy, one of the best birding locations in Mexico targeting the rarest Tufted Jay. Finally, the interest on capture the birding moment, has conducted him to be an amateur photographer, his material can be seen in the FaceBook page: RVBirdPhotography.

Raymond VanBuskirk, having lived in New Mexico his entire life it wasn’t difficult becoming captivated by birds and nature. Raymond became fascinated with birds at age seven. He soon became involved in bird banding projects and within a few years started the renowned Sandia Rosy-Finch Project. Other research and conservation projects in the southwest included breeding ecology studies of Gray Vireos and Grasshopper Sparrows. Raymond has spent two summers on an Arctic Ocean research vessel monitoring seabirds. He is the president of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, the youngest Audubon president in history, and is on the board of the Western Field Ornithologists. Over the years he developed a vision to start a tour company through which he could share his passion for birding, skills, and knowledge with other people. In 2012, alongside two partners, he started Birding Research And Nature Tours (BRANT), a responsible eco-tourism company specializing in international birding adventures.

Chris West is a lifelong birder who can’t remember not having a pair of binoculars in his hands. His love of birds and traveling has taken him to every corner of the US and Canada as well as to the American tropics. He led his first field trip when he was 14 and hasn’t looked back. Soon after, he started guiding birders on a regular basis in Arizona, Minnesota, and his native Wisconsin. He has since led tours around the US and in the American tropics; most recently a 3-month stint at Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon, and a successful tour to Trinidad & Tobago. Currently, he is a full-time tour leader for NatureScape Tours. Besides being a tour leader, Chris is also a blogger/writer and photographer on conservation. He particularly enjoys photo-documenting vagrants whenever and wherever they show up.

Sherry Wilson grew up on 65 wooded acres in central Vermont. Life was rustic and lived outdoors, close to nature. Most of her adult life has been spent in western states – Colorado, Nevada and Texas – where she and husband have shared a love of camping, birding and the natural world. June of 2005 began their RVing life as they headed north from Houston as fulltime RVers. In January of 2009 they arrived at Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX, and fell in love with this unique segment of the Rio Grande River Delta and its subtropical evergreen forest. Sherry is now a TX Master Naturalist, and always a birding and nature enthusiast.

Louise Zemaitis is an artist, naturalist, and leader for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours living in Cape May, New Jersey where she is a popular field trip leader teaching birding workshops as an Associate Naturalist with New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory. She also enjoys leading birding groups and lecturing at birding festivals and is known for her enthusiasm for all natural history subjects. Louise and her husband, Michael O’Brien, have been guiding young birders at birding events and conferences for many years. In addition to leading, Louise is coordinator of the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May and compiler of the Cape May Christmas Bird Count. An honors graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, she enjoys working as a freelance artist and her illustrations have been widely published. Her proudest accomplishment has been the raising of her two sons, Bradley, a biologist and artist, and Alec, a philosopher and musician.

Ric Zarwell has been a birder since an epiphany in March of 1966. He and his wife have birded 38 nations on 6 continents since his early retirement on the last day of 1999. Ric has bird sighting goals for 36 different geographic areas ranging from his yard (current total 189 species) to the world (4,031 species). Born and raised on the famous Mississippi Flyway where the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa meet, he has been very active in bird conservation at all levels since retirement from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. For the past four years Ric has been the North American Marketing Coordinator for Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures, ORYX Photographic Expeditions, and ORYX Wildlife Safaris. You are invited to stop at the Rockjumper booth to pick up a beautiful catalog of 2015 tours, have a conversation, and treat yourself to some candy.