2018 Trip Leaders
Dorian Anderson started birding in the greater Philadelphia area at age 7. In the intervening 30 years, his bird-motivated travels have to taken him throughout North America, England, Sweden, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, and New Zealand. During his 2014 “Biking for Birds” bicycle Big Year, the first of its kind, he bicycled 18,000 miles around the lower 48 states in search of birds. During that year-long, petroleum-free adventure, he tallied 619 species and raised nearly $50,000 for conservation purposes. He is an accomplished bird photographer, and his work can be viewed at www.dorianandersonphotography.com. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he works as a scientist at the University of Southern California.
Bob Behrstock lived in Texas for 22 years, first as a co-founder of Peregrine Tours, then as a senior birding tour leader for Wings, Inc. He participated in environmental studies in Houston, site assessments for five of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail maps, the World Birding Center, and birding trails in Virginia, Maryland, Kansas and West Texas. Bob co-authored Birds of Houston, Galveston, and the Upper Texas Coast, and the Upper Texas Coast volume of Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and wrote a guide to Southwestern dragonflies and damselflies. Additionally, he has authored/co-authored 60 popular and scientific papers on fishes, birds, dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers in the U.S. and Latin America. Bob has been a leader at the RGV Birding Festival since 2006. He now lives in Southeastern Arizona, continuing to lead a variety of natural history tours for Naturalist Journeys. Please visit: www.naturewideimages.com
Chris Benesh began his career as a bird guide for Field Guides in 1987. Since that time, he has been guiding groups in south Texas and many spots around the globe, and loves to share his passion for the natural world with others. He has lived much of his adult life in Tucson, Arizona.
David Benn begin birding in the 1970’s when a birder relative discovered a Yellow-green Vireo in his mother’s Brownsville yard (where later the first documented USA Golden-crowned Warbler was discovered) and he wondered what all the interest was. It turned out to be pretty compelling. As a Brownsville native his 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 he’s not thinking about going birding somewhere he’s probably thinking about going fishing.
Carlos Bethancourt was born in Panama City in 1978 and raised in the small rural village of Huile. Here he learned many lessons about 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 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 and workshops, and presented programs on Panama’s birds. Carlos is a very popular guide, a testament not only to his birding ability, but also to his sincere and friendly demeanor. When not guiding, Carlos is busy at the office working on marketing and other projects for the Canopy Tower & Canopy Lodge.
Stephanie Bilodeau is a Coastal Bird Conservation Biologist for Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program. Stephanie’s interest in birds was sparked in Vermont while receiving her bachelors of science in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont. She has since had various bird jobs, including conducting point counts in Maine, Piping Plover monitoring in New York, and habitat management and shorebird conservation in High Island. Stephanie currently lives in Harlingen and is eager to show everyone the unique birds the Rio Grande Valley has to offer.
Erik Breden began nature photography as a teenager. A frustrating attempt to photograph a Baltimore Oriole in a large willow tree in his backyard was the catalyst that ignited his passion for birds, and started him on a lifelong quest to photograph birds.
Since then he has photographed over 920 species of North American, Central/South American, European, and Asian birds (over 680 in North America alone). After moving to Texas in 1999, he has documented many rarities for the TBRC (Texas Bird Records Committee). Erik also provided slides to David Sibley for use in the preparation of the highly acclaimed “Sibley Guide to Birds”, and his photographs can be seen in the following photographic field guides: “The Sparrows of the United States and Canada – The Photographic Guide” – James D. Rising, 2001, “Shorebirds of North America – The Photographic Guide” – Dennis Paulson, 2005.
Jen Brumfield is a full time naturalist and outdoor educator for Cleveland Metroparks, author of several natural history field guides and a rep with Leica’s Birding Optics Prostaff team. Her natural history illustrations have appeared widely in journals, magazines, field guides, and beyond. Currently residing in Cleveland, Ohio, she spreads the joy of urban birding opportunities and runs thrilling boat trips on the open waters of Lake Erie seeking rarities left and right.
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.” Birding trips to Mexico (including an encounter with a Gray-collared Becard) cemented his interest in learning to identify, and eventually study, birds. John got his Master’s from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Fall 2016, where he studied the avian community of residential neighborhoods in McAllen and Edinburg, TX. He currently works as the Urban Ecologist at Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center and has helped guide for the Rio Grande Birding Festival for the past four years.
Hannah Buschert hasn’t spent her birding life as a private tour guide, author, or photographer, but as a government worker and part-time board member. She started birding after an ornithology course at Oregon State, which spurred her to search the Pacific Northwest for Wrentits and terns as a seasonal Park Naturalist with Oregon State Parks. This led to permanent positions with Texas State Parks (Rio Grande Valley and Houston) and most recently with Florida Fish and Wildlife as the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Coordinator. She and husband, Erik, travel to explore the world (25 countries and 29 states, so far) and build their life lists. They share their travels and other birding-related discussion with the world on a podcast: Hannah and Erik Go Birding. Currently, she lives in Cannon Beach, Oregon putting that Master’s in Tourism Management to use.
Bryan Calk started birding at Fort Clark Springs in south Texas when he was 10 and never stopped. His mentors and the friends he has met through birding continue to be the “best birds” of all. After graduating from Texas A&M in 2015, he worked as an avian biologist on several consulting projects across Texas and New Mexico. He now works as a guide for NatureScape Tours, currently guiding in Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and other destinations. He enjoys sharing birds with others, and has led field trips previously for the RGVBF, TOS, and other organizations. He continues to avidly explore wherever he can with his binoculars and camera. His spark bird was the Painted Bunting, and his favorite birds are the caprimulgids. In his free time, he enjoys photography, butterflies, learning odonata identification, and searching for herps.
Eric Carpenter grew up in Houston where he started his birding obsession at the age of 10 alongside his dad and brother, eventually moving to Austin in 1994. Eric has served on the Texas Bird Records Committee since 2004 (Secretary since 2011) and also volunteers his time as a co-author of the Texas section for North American Birds and as a reviewer of eBird records for the state. He was the first to see over 500 species (505) in a single year in Texas during his Texas Big Year in 2003. He has been involved with Texas pelagic trips since the early 1990s and has been helping co-lead or organize them for the past 10+ years. He is very fortunate to have a loving wife, Maggie, who is an avid birder herself. Eric and Maggie are retired and live in southwest Austin; when they aren’t there, they are almost certainly birding!
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.
Cameron Cox has been an avid birder since the age of 13. He spent his late teens and early twenties as a bird bum, traveling throughout North America to work on temporary bird related jobs. This allowed him to explore obscure locations like St Paul Island, Alaska, and an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast. He discovered a love of seawatching while in Cape May, NJ, and went on to be the Seawatch Counter at the Cape May Avalon Seawatch. Along with Ken Behrens he authored the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight. He now works as a birding and photography guide for Tropical Birding. He has been a guide for the Rio Grande Birding Festival for 14 years.
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 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, and has been a Naturalist on an annual Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica cruise for 13 years. He has been leading at the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival for over 15 years. He currently lives in Battle Ground, Washington, where he’s enjoying a semi-retired life which includes daylong pelagic trips and an active involvement in the Washington Ornithological Society.
Ian Davies works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as the Project Coordinator for eBird (ebird.org), a free global database of bird sightings that is used by birdwatchers, researchers, and conservationists worldwide. More than 335 million sightings of birds from every country on earth are available for free use by anyone, contributed by more than 315,000 birdwatchers like you. Ian got interested in birds at age 13 when he visited a banding station and released a Canada Warbler. He has been lost to the feathered world ever since. He enjoys traveling to find birds, making sure to collect information on the birds seen through eBird and sharing those resources with birding communities worldwide. He has visited more than 30 countries in the pursuit of birds so far, and looks forward to continuing to explore the amazing natural world that we live in.
Raul Delgado is an avid “birder with a camera” who arrived in the Laredo, Texas, area via Sydney, Australia. His firm belief is that good photography happens automatically when you “sense” that right moment to press the shutter, and that those who find beauty in nature will find strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
His passion for birding began when he migrated to live and work in Australia from 1980 to 1994. Since his return to Texas he has traveled and birded extensively within the lower 48, Canada, Alaska, most of all of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands). Raul is one of the founding members of the Monte Mucho Audubon Society in Laredo, Texas. He has been promoting birding and eco-tourism within Webb and Zapata Counties, and his close association with private ranch owners has provided a foundation for unique birding field trips for the Laredo Birding Festival.
Jennie Duberstein is a wildlife biologist and conservation social scientist who has spent her professional career working to build partnerships for bird and habitat conservation; she currently coordinates the Sonoran Joint Venture, a binational partnership that strives to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico. Jennie has directed environmental education programs, developed community-based conservation projects, developed and taught courses and workshops on bird identification, ecotourism, and bird monitoring, and has studied species including Double-crested Cormorant and wading birds in Sonora and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in Arizona. She has worked with young birders for more than twenty years, directing summer camps, leading field courses, coordinating conferences, and generally helping to connect young birders with opportunities and each other. Jennie received her B.S. in Wildlife Biology from Virginia Tech and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Jon Dunn has spent much of his life birding in California, with an eight year sojourn to southwest Ohio in the 1990’s. Jon is a tour leader for Wings and has written (or co-authored) numerous articles and a handful of books on bird identification and distribution. These include Birds of Southern California, Status and Distribution (with Kimball Garrett), all seven editions of the National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America (the latest with Jonathan Alderfer), Warblers (with Kimball Garrett), Gulls of the Americas (with Steve Howell) and Birding Essentials (with Jonathan Alderfer). Jon served for many years as Chair and as a member on the ABA Checklist Committee, and has been a member of the California Bird Records Committee for nearly 30 years and the AOS’s Committee on Classification and Nomenclature since 2000. Jon is a board member for 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 an 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 birding tours for several Texas birding festivals, and works at Shield Ranch in the Texas Hill Country.
Shawneen Finnegan after growing up in California’s Bay Area, Shawneen Finnegan found her tribe and calling when she discovered birding in her early 20s. Already a talented artist, she began drawing and painting birds. Her illustrations have adorned bird festival t-shirts and her art, photos and writing have been featured in numerous identification articles, field guides and state and regional monographs. Driven to be recognized as a “top birder,” Shawneen’s ascent into birding’s upper echelon was rapid. She led and later managed tours for WINGS, was Birding magazine’s photo editor for several years, and has served on four state bird records committees. In addition to birding around the globe, Shawneen has lived in birding meccas, with long stints in Cape May and Tucson. In 2007 she moved to Portland, Oregon to be with her mom, who passed in 2012. She and husband Dave Irons are the statewide eBird Review Coordinators for Oregon, making their home in Beaverton.
Raul Garza Jr. is a Rio Grande Valley native from Weslaco, Texas. From an early age his father instilled in him a love of the outdoors, but it was later that he had an opportunity to serve under former Executive Director Martin Hagne at the Valley Nature Center. It was then and there that he found his passion as a naturalist and environmental educator. While at VNC, he was exposed to multi-agency partnerships that allowed for him to lead and co-lead birding tours. As a Park Technician he was able to gather broad knowledge of native flora & fauna. Raul is currently a Park Ranger at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge where he loves sharing his knowledge of habitats, reptiles, and most of all birds. He can also be found within the community teaching youth outdoor skills with archery, fishing, and birding. He also enjoys artwork and nature photography.
Corina Giron was raised in Baldwin Park, California. After graduating college she worked as an avian research assistant monitoring Black-capped Vireos and Golden-cheeked Warblers in Texas Hill Country, as well as conducting point counts for Grasshopper Sparrows in central Florida. She came to south Texas when she was hired as an avian/bat field technician for an environmental consulting firm. Her interest in birding was piqued when a co-worker took her along to a spring migration fallout on South Padre Island, where she experienced the beauty and diversity of North America’s avifauna. After living in the LRGV for two years she became a member of the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalist program and has spent her volunteer time doing Red-crowned Parrot surveys and guiding nature walks. Corina enjoys sharing her birding experience with her nieces and nephews, mentoring the next generation of birders.
Javier Gonzalez is a native of Tampico, Mexico and raised in McAllen, TX. He developed an interest in the outdoor world at an early age on fishing trips with his father. He took it a bit further and became passionate for birding while leading kayak trips down the Rio Grande River. Javi is the Naturalist Educator at South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center where he does a lot of birding and also birds on his days off at other local parks. Javi says “The Rio Grande Valley is such an exciting place to be a birder and it seems like there’s never a dull moment! I love showing the special birds and wildlife of the area to locals and out of town visitors alike. I also have an eye out for the unique butterflies of the region and you can usually find me with birding plus butterfly binoculars hanging from my neck.”
Mary Gustafson is one of those lucky people where vocation and avocation overlap. Mary is a bird guide in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as well as a consultant for bird projects across Texas. She loves pelagic trips and can turn up on a boat anywhere, and leads for Shearwater Journeys in California whenever she can. Mary currently serves on the American Birding Association Checklist Committee, volunteers as an eBird editor for a few dozen counties in south Texas, runs the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert, and works as photo editor for the ABA Birder’s Guide as well as organizing leaders and field trips for the RGVBF. She remains very interested in increasing ecotourism and conservation action across the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Martin Hagne was born and raised on the Swedish west coast, where his grandfather instilled a love for nature at an early age. He moved to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in 1979 and turned his focus towards wildlife viewing and conservation concerns. Martin is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, TX; he previously served as the Executive Director of the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, TX, an environmental education facility, for 13 years. He then moved to Bandera, TX where he ran the Flying L Resort and Conference Center. He has also worked as a Field Biologist doing baseline studies for many years, including avian, herp, mammal, T&E, and habitat studies. He enjoys leading birding field trips in the US and Mexico and has served on several state, regional, and local environmental appointments, committees, and boards. Birding, nature viewing, native plants, conservation issues, and environmental education are his great passions.
Neil Hayward grew up near Oxford, England, where, at a young age, he became obsessed with birds. After a PhD in genetics at Cambridge University he moved to the US in 2005 to head up the biotechnology company Abcam. He left in 2011 to pursue a consulting career as owner of Cambridge Blue Consulting. Neil is the Vice President of the Brookline Bird Club, council member for the Nuttall Ornithological Club, and Bird Sightings Editor for the Massachusetts journal Bird Observer. Neil teaches classes in birding and is the author of Lost Among the Birds (Bloomsbury, June 2016), a memoir of his accidental big year. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Gerri, son Henry and two cats, Sally and Khiva.
Tony Henehan received his Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management from the State University of New York at Cobleskill. After graduating from SUNY Cobleskill, Tony worked in Missouri, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Florida with a variety of wildlife species from Brown-headed Nuthatches to Indigo Snakes. Tony then received his Master’s degree in Rangeland and Wildlife Management from Texas A&M University- Kingsville. Tony is currently a wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department covering Las Palomas WMA, private lands in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy Counties, and urban biology in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Tony enjoys birdwatching, butterfly watching, and walks with his dog Darwin.
Michael Hilchey. When Michael was ten years old his grandmother drove him from Albuquerque to Bosque del Apache NWR on a cold November morning. That day, as he became engulfed in the deafening soundscape of tens of thousands of geese and cranes against the backdrop of a blazing orange, red, and purple sunrise in the fog, Michael found his soul taking off into the sky with the birds. Since then he has immersed himself in nature in the form of guiding, research, conservation, among other areas. To him, the thrill of sharing the natural world with others is the most rewarding and addictive aspect of guiding. After a long stint of field jobs, birding, and research all over the world, Michael now owns and operates BRANT Nature Torus, an international birding and wildlife tour company. Michael currently lives in Imperial Beach, CA.
Ruth Hoyt is a full-time professional nature photographer, writer, public speaker and consultant with more than 25 years’ experience teaching photography. She is best known for her Texas bird photography and professional guiding services on private Texas ranches, but she also pursues landscape, flora, macro, night and more in locations across the United States. Ruth prefers her Canon 1DX Mark II DSLR for most of her work, but also uses an iPhone 6+ and DJI Phantom 4 drone for video and still work for selected subjects. Her work includes large canvas gallery-wrapped prints as well as mounted prints using archival, museum-quality paper. Her work can be seen in permanent public locations in various states as well as local hospitals, offices and visitors’ centers. Please visit her studio at the McAllen Creative Incubator, 601 N. Main Street, McAllen, Texas, and her website at ruthhoyt.com. Contact her at (956) 330-2900 or [email protected].
Dave Irons started birding at age six and became fully hooked by age 17, when he connected with other young birders. His curiosity about vagrancy, biogeography, and the finer points of field ID, along with finding opportunities to pass forward what he has learned, sustain his passion fifty-plus years later. Dave is a past member of Oregon’s Bird Records Committee (OBRC) and was a regional editor for North American Birds for more than a decade. His recently completed ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Oregon will be available in the Fall of 2018. Over the past two decades Dave has led field trips and taught birding classes for Lane Community College, Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Siskiyou Field Institute, Winter Wings Festival, American Birding Association, Oregon Birding Association, Lane County Audubon Society, the Audubon Society of Portland and of course the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.
João Jara was born in Lisbon and studied biology at the Faculdade de Ciências de Lisboa, from where he developed his professional career in the pharmaceutical industry. With more than 30 years of field experience, he knows Portuguese birding intimately and has birded in Africa, Asia and the Americas. João was a member of the board of Birdlife in Portugal and was a voting member of the Portuguese Rarities Committee from 2005 until 2011 and chairman of the committee from 2007 until 2011. Author and co-author of articles about birds, João has led many field tours (in Portugal and abroad), as well as bird identification courses. In 2008, he launched the first Portuguese company totally dedicated to organize birdwatching tours, Birds & Nature Tours Portugal, being responsible for management of the company. Besides birds, he has an active special interest in amphibians, reptiles and fishes.
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, http://antshrike.blogspot.com/ and http://rgvbutterflies.blogspot.com/
Laura Keene is an avid birder and photographer from Mason, Ohio. A clinical pharmacist by profession, her passion for birding was sparked during a high school summer field biology class when she saw an Indigo Bunting. In 2016, Laura followed her dream and did an ABA Big Year, in which she traveled to all corners of the continent to set a record of 741 photographed species. She was one of four birders that year to break the ABA record with 762 species. She is the former photo editor of The Ohio Cardinal, and her wildlife photography has been published in multiple outlets.
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.
Simon Kiacz grew up in mid-Michigan where he gained an appreciation for nature, but it wasn’t until college that he realized his potential as a birder. After working in Michigan on various herpetological projects, he escaped the cold and worked as a field technician in central Texas with Black-capped and White-eyed Vireos for two seasons. He has lived in south Texas for the last year and is currently a graduate student at Texas A&M University working on the Tejano Parrot Project which will determine the status and assess risks to the population of Red-crowned Parrots in the LRGV. Interested in all things outdoors (particularly birds and butterflies), Simon can usually be found exploring parks and shorelines trying to refine his identification abilities.
Tom Langschied is coordinator of the King Ranch Nature Tour program. 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 evaluated seasonal changes in bird communities 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 full time as a Research Associate for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute coordinating a South Texas wintering birds 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.
Ben Lizdas has been an avid bird watcher since the late 90’s, when he began attending birding events around the country to help birders evaluate and purchase binoculars and spotting scopes. He’s been a frequent visitor and vendor at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and is looking forward to returning. Currently he works for Bird Watcher’s Digest where he produces a podcast (Out There With the Birds) with publisher Bill Thompson III, writes about birding and optics, co-leads tours, and generally has a great time sharing the joys of birdwatching with fellow nature enthusiasts.
Justin Le Claire was born with a love for the outdoors and a passion for wildlife. He started as a diehard reptile lover thanks to The Crocodile Hunter, however Ornithology later captivated Justin while he was attaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Biology in his home state at the University of Vermont. Over the last half-decade since graduation, he has birded and worked as a field biologist across the country to follow this new passion in a diverse array of landscapes from the oak-pine forests of North Carolina, the coastal Northeast beaches of Long Island and Cape Cod, the Sonoran Desert in Southern California, and most recently, the unique and diverse ecosystem of South Texas. Justin is enthusiastic and ready for whatever comes next!
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 new venture as a birding guide. Michael and Donna initially moved to Cayman House in Rockport, then to the San Pedro River Inn and the Paton Birders’ Haven in S.E. 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. As well as local tours, Michael has led birding trips to Cuba, Belize, Panama and Costa Rica and is a guide with Naturalist Journeys.
Alberto Martinez is a professional birding guide, biologist, field ornithologist, and photographer. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Alberto developed a passion for birds at a young age. He began to bird seriously in 1996 while attending the University of Veracruz where he received his B.Sc. in Biology, and also started working for the Veracruz River of Raptors. He has collaborated with many international agencies such as HawkWatch International, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and SEO/Birdlife International. Alberto is a founder of Origenes Conservation de Especies y Espacios A.C. and Royal Flycatcher Birding Tours, and throughout his career he has specialized in leading birding tours, teaching census techniques, monitoring and capturing different groups of birds, and directed birding workshops in order to train local guides and monitors. Currently he lives in Chiapas and leads birding tours in southern Mexico and Central America, and also coordinates projects that teach local people about sustainable tourism.
Eric Antonio Martinez was born in Oaxaca Mexico; at the age of eight his passion for birds was born, which led him to travel throughout his entire country in search of endemic birds and regional specialties. In 2008 he spent two seasons at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada, monitoring bird migration; he also worked at the Navopatia field station in southern Sonora Mexico and was part of a bird banding team at the Pemex Bird Observatory in Veracruz Mexico. He now owns Mexico Birding Tours which is one of the few Mexican-owned birding companies, and leads tours in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, the Yucatan peninsula, Baja California, and central México. Each year he spends a few weeks birding in Cuba with his Cuban wife Jilly and their daughter Dacnis.
Brad McKinnney works as a high school administrator at South Texas Academy for Medical Professions in Olmito, TX. He has lived in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for most of his life and enjoys birding, surfing, and nature photography. His favorite birding spots are right here in the Valley, especially along the Lower Texas Coast. Brad is co-author of a Birder’s Guide to the Rio Grande Valley (2008, American Birding Association). He lives in Rancho Viejo with his wife Janette and their son Will.
Jake Mohlmann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Parks and Recreation Management from The Pennsylvania State University, where he was instrumental in forming the university’s first official Student Bird Club. Organizing birding trips for students was so rewarding that Jake moved to Arizona where he co-founded the local guiding outfit Adventure Birding Company, now in its 12th year of service. Guiding is often interspersed with field research projects that have included Burrowing Owls at the Salton Sea, Chimpanzees in Uganda, and most recently Desert Tortoises in the Mojave Desert. When Jake was a biologist based on South Padre Island he fell in love with the allure of the Lower Rio Grande Valley where he continues to lead trips to this unique region for WINGS.
Jorge Montejo born in Yucatan, Mexico, developed a passion for nature at a young age exploring around his hometown of Merida. He began to bird seriously while attending the University of Veracruz where he received his B.Sc. in Biology. It was also during his time in university that Jorge and several friends “discovered” the world-renowned River of Raptors in central Veracruz. Since the ´90s he has led birding tours in different parts of Mexico. His birding pursuits focus on conservation, research, guiding, and enjoying nature. Currently, he guides tours to El Triunfo and other Biosphere reserves in Mexico, or anywhere else his friends would like to go! As a personal challenge and just for fun, last year he and his partner, Amy, broke the Mexico big year record with 928 species. Helping others and learning from them is also one of his favorite activities.
Derek Muschalek grew up in suburban Houston where he spent his early years observing Neotropical migrants at High Island. Three decades ago he moved to the family farm in Yorktown, Texas where he developed a keen interest in butterflies and botany while tending the large herds of cattle. He began leading professional bird tours that led him to Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Southeast Arizona, Northeast Mexico, and the Florida Everglades. Derek is an avid runner with other interests in sports, especially pro football. He also enjoys trying different health foods and studying ancient cultures.
Ann Nightingale Ann Nightingale lives in Victoria, BC, just a few miles from the famous Eurasian Skylark sites. A relative late-bloomer, she started birding about 20 years ago, but jumped in with both feet. Ann is a past-president of Rocky Point Bird Observatory and the Victoria Natural History Society. She is the Victoria Christmas Bird Count Coordinator and has led field trips for the Washington Ornithological Society, BC Field Ornithologists, and the Creston Valley Bird Festival, as well as for several local organizations. In 2015, she completed a Vancouver Island Big Year, finding BC’s third record, and getting BC’s first photographs of a Blue Grosbeak. Ann is a licensed hummingbird, passerine, and raptor bander, with projects in BC and Oregon. In 2016, she received the ABA’s Betty Peterson Award for Conservation and Community, and the Governor General’s Caring Canadian award for volunteerism.
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.
Erik Ostrander began birding in his late teens in the Pacific Northwest. He spent the weekends exploring the national wildlife refuges and ocean shores for birds and wildlife in general. His journey took him to Mission, Texas, when his wife, Hannah Buschert, started work at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. In the four years that Erik has been in Texas he became a Texas Master Naturalist, sat on the board of the Native Plant Project, and explored the Valley, Gulf Coast, and Hill Country for new birds. He enjoys traveling to look for birds, his favorite trip so far being Borneo. Erik currently works for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at The San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
Laura Paulson was introduced to the wonders of birds while living in the bird mecca of Monterey Bay, but it took Texas birds, and Texas birding mentors, for it to develop into a full-blown obsession. Studying birds and sharing them with others so that they too can learn to love and protect them is her passion. To that end, she and her husband and dogs travel full-time. Laura is fond of saying that she doesn’t have a house but she has great back yards. One of those yards is the Rio Grande Valley.
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 is the Lead Naturalist/site Coordinator for the University of Texas Marine Science Center’s Road Scholar Birding Program. He has worked as a naturalist for the Frontera Audubon Society and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in South Texas.
Barbara Rapstein began birding 20+ years ago while living on Galveston Bay. Birds in trouble frequently crossed her path, which lead to a great deal of time volunteering with the local wildlife rehabber. After participating in her first Galveston CBC, she became hooked on birds after locating Groove-billed Anis on the shoreline of Virginia Point. From there she quickly took on as many volunteer opportunities as she could manage, including participating in bird counts, surveys, rookery monitoring, HawkWatch, and FeatherFest. She also led field trips, and was a founding member of Galveston Audubon, as well as an all-around promoter of birding and conservation through educational booths. In 2010, a move south to Baffin Bay lead to new volunteer opportunities and nature tour guiding for King Ranch. Ever a believer in the adage, “We will save only what we love,” Barbara’s wish is to grow that love of nature in others.
Michael Retter is the editor of the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Guide magazine, a tour leader for BRANT Nature Tours, and the author of the ABA Field Guide to Birds of Illinois. During college, Michael began to take regular trips into Mexico and has been tour-leading there ever since. He is currently putting his knowledge of the area’s birds on paper by writing the upcoming Princeton identification guide to the birds of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Michael runs QBNA, the continent’s email list and informal club for LGBTQ birders. This will be Michael’s 16th year leading at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and he hopes to continue for many years to come. Regular festival-goers may know him as “the parrot trip guy”. He currently lives and gardens in Fort Worth, Texas.
Becky Reyes enjoys birding and exploring the flora and fauna of the Rio Grande Valley. She works as a Naturalist Educator at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center; she is also an instructor for the National Hispanic Environmental Council Institute.
Roy J. Rodriquez is a natural resource interpreter, consultant, and environmental educator involved in numerous regional conservation endeavors. A self-taught birder, Roy’s thorough knowledge and passion for teaching have transformed him into one of the Valley’s most sought-after birdwatching guides and an outspoken advocate of fostering diversity among birders. His experience as a professional guide has taken him across North America and from the Arctic Circle to the shores of the Yellow Sea. He is a charter member of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists and lead instructor for the ational Hispanic Environmental Council’s Environmental Training Institute Scholarship courses. Roy is a lifelong Texan, hunter, and angler working for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as a Master Interpreter & Park Naturalist out of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park & World Birding Center in Mission, Texas. This is his 16th year guiding for the RGV Birding Festival.
Bill Sain, a Harlingen native, has been birding for over 20 years. He has previously led local bird club and birding festival field trips and is on the Board of Directors of the American Birding Association. He lives in Alpine TX, just north of Big Bend National Park.
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.
Bill Schmoker, in addition to his 24 years of teaching middle school science in Boulder, Bill is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team and is an instructor for the American Birding Association, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and Boulder County Nature Association. He has served terms as Colorado Field Ornithologists president, Colorado Bird Records Committee member, and regional eBird Reviewer. His work with young birders includes many stints at ABA Camps Colorado and Avocet and judging the photo module of the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest. Bill has embarked on two Arctic Ocean research expeditions as a PolarTREC Teacher (including a 2015 North Pole transect) and explored Greenland as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. A widely published bird/wildlife photographer, author, and public speaker, Bill finds adventure and seeks new knowledge wherever he finds himself!
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.
Kelly Smith as the newest member of the American Birding Association team, Kelly works in Delaware as the Headquarters Operations Manager. A transplant birder from Texas, Kelly has assisted with raptor and songbird banding projects in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas. For the past decade, she has volunteered or served on the board of many nature organizations including the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and Balcones Songbird Festival, the South Texas Border Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, Texas Pelagics, and the Texas Ornithological Society. Each spring she can be found leading trips for the Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio. An all-around nature lover, Kelly spends her time birding, hiking, kayaking, scuba-diving, biking, and looking for herps.
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 over four decades, and has traveled all parts of Texas to observe birds and wildlife. Byron has many birding interests, and taught classes on raptors and on hummingbirds this year, but he has a special interest in sparrows, and has taught a sparrow identification class for Travis Audubon Society for 15 years. Byron is a co-founder of SparrowFest, conducted each February for the past 12 years at Balcones Canyonlands NWR. Byron conducts breeding bird surveys in central Texas and in the trans-Pecos, and is an eBird regional reviewer, a past member of the Texas Bird Records Committee, and a past-President of the Texas Ornithological Society. He resides in Austin, Texas.
Mary Beth Stowe’s fascination with birds began with Peterson’s Field Guide to Bird Songs when only eight years old, where immersing herself in the weird and wonderful world of bird sounds snowballed into a passion that has led her all over the world, photographing and recording birds and even composing music based on their vocalizations. She has displayed artwork at American Birding Association Conventions, and has led field trips for ABA conferences near San Diego, CA. She has also guided birders visiting southern California and has participated in post-fire surveys for the San Diego Natural History Museum, as well as collected data for the monumental San Diego Bird Atlas. She also maintains a website (www.miriameaglemon.com) showcasing original music, artwork, travelogues, and interactive bird-finding pages for San Diego (CA) and Hidalgo (TX) Counties, and now resides in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where she works as a guide for Alamo Inn B&B.
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.
Luke Tiller originally from London, England, Luke transplanted to the United States in 2003. As a professional hawkwatcher he has traveled the world to witness raptor migration and has gained experience counting raptors in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. He has written about birds and birding for publications here in the US and in Europe including Audubon Magazine, Birdwatch Magazine, and ABA’s Birding Magazine. Since 2012 Luke has sat on the board of the Hawk Migration Association of North America and chairs their Tours Committee. Luke is currently based in Altadena, California, and is employed as a professional tour guide. You will find him at most birding festivals working on the ZEISS Sports Optics booth.
Eamonn Thurmond started birding at the age of twelve after he saw a Prothonotary Warbler in the swamps of east Texas. Ever since then Eamonn has dedicated his life to the pursuit of birds. He is currently studying Forest Wildlife Management at Stephen F. Austin State University. He has led several birding trips for his local Audubon chapters, the Texas Ornithological Society, and recently for Mother Neff State Park. Eamonn is constantly engaging in outreach programs to educate adults and children the importance of birds. Being an avid traveler, he has been birding from Alaska to Scotland. The best trips he claims to have ever been on were the young birder trips to Colorado and Delaware in 2013 and 2014. This will be Eamonn’s first time in the Valley and he is looking forward to it.
Rene Valdes is a Mexican birder and field ornithologist specializing in endangered species conservation and research. He is based in Monterrey and performs wildlife surveys, leads birding tours, and is a wildlife photographer. Rene guides custom birding trips in Monterrey and adjacent areas, and in west Mexico leads tours in Mazatlan-Durango and in the San Blas area, one of the best birding sites in Mexico. When not birding (rarely happens), Rene reviews eBird records and hotspots for many states in Mexico, organizes the eBird-Mexico and Mexico Rare Bird Alert Facebook groups, compiles rare records from north Mexico for North American Birds, and coordinates the Breeding Bird Survey program for the northeastern states of Mexico. He is recently working as Citizen Science Project Manager for BirdsEye Birding apps (www.birdseyebirding.com), assisting with text and image editing, as well as collaborating with their many partners on new and improved citizen science projects.
Raymond VanBuskirk, is a passionate birder, environmentalist, and vegan whose love for feathered creatures (dinosaurs included) was born in the mountains of the Land of Enchantment. His career experience includes serving as president of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, owner and lead guide of BRANT Nature Tours (www.BrantTours.com), a researcher in field and lab ornithology, an ABA youth camp instructor, and Birding Specialist for Leica Sport Optics. Since age seven Raymond’s travels have taken him to ten countries (he’s only 27) where he has had the great privilege of deepening his connection to the natural world through multi-cultural outdoor exploration. His international travel experiences have not only deepened his admiration for the natural world but have further fueled his desire to protect it and share it with all generations of humans.
Ron Weeks lives in Lake Jackson, TX with his wife of 28 years, Irenna Garapetian. He has been an editor for North American Birds, an NAS Christmas Bird Count compiler, and an eBird reviewer for many years. Ron has co-authored two books about Texas birds, A Birder’s Guide to the Texas Coast and Birdlife of Houston, Galveston and the Upper Texas Coast. He also enjoys planning Big Days having organized teams that set the national record of 258 species in 2001 and the fossil fuel free (bike and foot only) national record of 193 species in 2015. Ron works in plastics R&D for the Dow Chemical Company in Freeport, TX and his other hobbies include triathlons and ministry work.
Sherry Wilson grew up on 65 wooded acres in central Vermont. Life was lived outdoors, close to nature. Most of her adult life has been spent in western states – Colorado, Nevada, and Texas – where she and her 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. In January of 2009 they arrived at Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX, where they fell in love with this unique segment of the Rio Grande River Delta and its subtropical evergreen forest.
John Yochum hails from Hicksville, Ohio, but got to Texas as soon as he could (Thanksgiving 2006)! He has since been employed by Texas Parks & Wildlife as a Park Ranger, first at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park in Mission, and then at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco. When not exploring the great birds, butterflies, dragonflies, plants, herps, mammals, etc., of South Texas, he spends time with his spouse of 30 years, a dog, three parrots (an African Grey, a Red-crown, and a Blue-and-gold Macaw) and his wild jungle of a yard.