Ruth Hoyt is a full-time professional nature photographer, writer, public speaker, workshop leader, coach, and consultant with 30+ years’ experience. She writes for the Journal of Wildlife Photography and manages its monthly photo contest. A Certified Interpretive Guide and Certified Texas Master Naturalist, Ruth is best known for her Texas bird and wildlife photography and professional guiding services on private south Texas ranches, Costa Rica, and Columbia.
A Rio Grande Valley professional photographer and retired educator, Paul M. Denman is enthusiastic about the outdoors, especially wildlife, birding, and photography. He specializes in astrophotography and bird photography but excels in landscape and general nature photography as well. Over the past 25 years, he has won numerous awards for his nature and wildlife photography. Paul’s technical knowledge has aided him in many ways, from helping develop the Laguna Seca Ranch as a photography-ready ranch, to becoming a master in post-processing photographs and sharing his knowledge with aspiring photographers.
This indoor workshop held at the Harlingen Convention Center and sponsored by Swarovski Optik, will explain digiscoping – the process of attaching a digital camera or phone to a spotting scope. The workshop will be conducted by Clay Taylor, the Naturalist Market Manager with Swarovski Optik Ltd and a pioneer of digiscoping in the U.S. Clay will cover scope and camera equipment, attachment devices, and tips for success. This class can be taken in conjunction with Digiscoping from the Deck as a field experience or it can be a stand-alone class. Meet at the Harlingen Convention Center assigned breakout room
Graphic artist, designer and photographer from McAllen, Texas, Esperanza S. Chapa began her love affair with art during her childhood summers on her family’s ranch in Guanajuato, Mexico. She completed her Bachelor of Visual Arts degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in 1993 using the first version of Photoshop! Since then, her work has helped her clients earn national recognition and numerous, prestigious awards year after year. Esperanza has taken the Texas Master Naturalist training and served on the boards of various nature-related organizations in the Rio Grande Valley.
Retired endangered species biologist for the City of Austin, Melody Lytle has been photographing plants and animals for more than 20 years. She has been published in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, Cornell online ID shots, and other publications, the latest being Armadillos to Ziziphus, A Naturalist in the Texas Hill Country, by David M. Hillis. Melody uses a Canon R5 mirrorless camera body, along with a variety of lenses, and guides photographers for Trogon Nature Tours around the globe and Laguna Seca Ranch in Deep South Texas.
Allison Anholt is a conservation biologist specializing in coastal birds. In her day job, she works in Washington and Oregon conserving status-listed shorebirds and marine birds. When she’s not in the Pacific Northwest, she is a “Winter Texan” in Harlingen.
Kristy Baker was born and raised in small town rural Iowa. She spent her youth outdoors exploring everything she could and going as far away as her bike would take her! As an adult, Kristy lived in Tennessee for nearly twenty years. During that time, she became a Tennessee Naturalist. This pushed her back into nature with the same curiosity, passion and love she had for it as a child. Her interest in birding soon expanded outside her backyard, and she assisted with bird banding, festivals, bird counts and field trips. Butterflies and dragonflies captured her interest, as did native plant gardening. After visiting in the spring and fall for several years, Kristy and her husband moved to the Valley in 2020 – the perfect place to continue her hobbies and enjoy nature! Here, she has assisted with field trips for both the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and the Texas Butterfly Festival. Kristy certified as a Texas Master Naturalist this year. Don’t be surprised if you run into her on the weekends at one of the RGV’s many nature sites!
Kelsey Biles is an avian ecologist with a passion for conservation and raptor research. She is currently the Conservation Director at Houston Audubon, where she works towards conserving urban and coastal bird populations across southeast Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of North Texas, where she studied American Kestrel conservation. Kelsey is a native Texan and has lived in many towns, big and small, across the state. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington and her Master of Science in Biology from Baylor University.
Stephanie Bilodeau. I’m originally from the great state of Vermont, but migrated south with the birds! I’ve lived in the RGV for 8 years and have been guiding for the RGVBF ever since. I spent the first 7 years working as a bird biologist for a non-profit organization and now work for US Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife biologist for Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.
Erik Bruhnke has loved birds since he was a child looking at chickadees. He graduated from Northland College in Wisconsin with a Natural Resources degree in 2008 and taught field ornithology at Northland College for three semesters. Throughout college and shortly after, he spent his summers conducting field research focused on breeding bird transects in Upper Michigan, point counts for a breeding bird atlas in Minnesota and Wisconsin’s Northwoods, vegetation and breeding bird surveys throughout wind farms in North Dakota’s prairie potholes, and cavity-nesting surveys in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. He educated visitors about raptor identification throughout six fall seasons at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN, where he caught the lifelong hawkwatching bug. Following Hawk Ridge, he counted migrating raptors at the Corpus Christi HawkWatch in Texas in 2015; and was the 2016, 2017, and 2018 hawk counter at the Cape May Hawkwatch in New Jersey, with two additional seasons of Cape May migration interpretation to follow. He is excited to be part of the Hawk Ridge crew this fall, volunteering his time educating visitors about the migration and assisting the hawk count. Erik’s wildlife photography has won national awards, and he’s written for the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Guide, BirdWatching magazine, and Bird Watcher’s Digest. Erik is a birding tour guide for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT). He enjoys hiking, kayaking, ice skating, and exploring all-round flora and fauna. In his free time he loves to cook and bake, often following the recipes of his Omas and Opas.
John Brush. I am a lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley and have been birding in the area for over 20 years. I work as the urban ecologist at Quinta Mazatlan, City of McAllen. I have my MSc in Biology from the University of Texas Rio Valley, where I studied suburban bird communities in the McAllen metro area for my thesis project. I was also a field technician for a project evaluating bird community response to thornforest habitat restoration in the region.
Tamie Bulow has been active in the birding community for many years – starting the Thursday Birders in Albuquerque, President of Central New Mexico Audubon, VP of Audubon New Mexico, Board/Hawk Watch International, Founding Board/Festival of the Cranes, President of Denver Field Ornithologists, Conventions & Tours Manager for the American Birding Association, Manager of SPI Birding & Nature Center, Nature Tourism Manager for Chambers County TX, Registrar with RGVBF, and Development Coordinator with Space Coast Birding Festival. I really like birds!
Hannah Buschert. Before Hannah found her way back to the Oregon Coast, she worked as a Park Ranger in Texas and Oregon and was briefly the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Coordinator. Now, Hannah uses her passion for tourism to work with local industry leaders to promote responsible ecotourism and is a third generation, woman hotelier. She also loves to explore the world with her husband, Erik, and shares their birdy travels and nuances in the birding community with the world, on a podcast: Hannah and Erik Go Birding. Hannah also advocates for women in the birding community with her own podcast: Women Birders (Happy Hour).
Alicia Cavazos. After retiring from ATT in 2011, I joined the Texas Master Naturalists where I have learned about our flora and fauna. I have volunteered at RGVBF since then at different capacities. I am a member of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society and have been doing interpretive tours on the tram at Resaca de la Palma. My favorite day is Sunday morning when I go help out with bird banding. I will be happy to show anyone our beautiful birds.”
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 and to the offshore waters of Oregon and Washington but also to neotropical destinations. He has led no less than 20 trips to various locations including Panama, Venezuela, Guyana, 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 20 years. He currently lives in Battle Ground, Washington where he lives a semi-retired life of birding, guiding, and volunteering.
Shawneen Finnegan found her 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. 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. She and husband Dave Irons are the statewide eBird Review Coordinators for Oregon, making their home in Beaverton.
Susan Foster is a retired teacher and spends most of her time in the pursuit of all things birds. She spent 30 years as a resident of Laredo, Texas, enjoying the unique avifauna of the Texas/Mexican border. In the past decade or two, she has led bird tours in and around South Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Laredo Birding Festival, Rockport HummerBird Festival, the Aransas Bird and Nature Club, the Audubon Outdoor Club, The Birdiest Festival, and the Texas Ornithological Society, as well as given presentations on eBird for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. She was a founding member of the Monte Mucho Audubon Society and is currently secretary of the Aransas Bird and Nature Club as well as a Regional Director and Secretary of the Texas Ornithological Society. Originally from Massachusetts, she spends her time birding in Colorado in the summer and all around Texas and beyond the remainder of the year. Susan currently lives on the coast in Rockport, Texas.
Raul Garza Jr is a Rio Grande Valley native from Weslaco, Texas. He has worked with several conservation organizations throughout the RGV, to include the Valley Nature Center, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Over the years he has gained extensive knowledge of the native flora & fauna of deep South Texas. Raul has had a lifelong passion of connecting people with the outdoors to gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural resource. He has been birding for 15 years and assisting the RGV Birding Festival for 13 of those years.
Andrea Gibbons is a lifelong pursuer of avian interests with a background in ecology, genetics, and conservation. She obtained her B.S in Biology with a Zoology emphasis in 2015 and her M.S. in Biology from the University of North Texas. She conducted her graduate research across the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including Laguna Atascosa & Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges, focusing on cooperatively breeding Harris’s Hawks. Her work revealed some fascinating trends among the valley’s resident hawks. Many young hawks remain under the watchful eye of their natal groups for at least six months, well into the winter months when juvenile hawks from other species, like the Gray Hawk, have left their natal territory. She has also worked on the conservation of California Condors and vultures in Africa and India. Her current work as a Wildlife Biologist for a private consulting firm in California allows her the opportunity to survey for endangered California Gnatcatchers and Least Bell’s Vireos, along with Golden Eagles, Swainson’s Hawks, Burrowing Owls, and a variety of rare mammals like San Joaquin Kit Fox or San Bernardino Kangaroo rats. Her diverse experience across the avian spectrum gives her unique skills and perspectives on birding and avian biology. Sharing this experience with other bird lovers and hoping to inspire the next generation of avian scientists has grown into a deep passion for Andrea. The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival has become her favorite way to share that experience.
Javier Gonzalez is the Naturalist Educator at the South Padre Island Birding Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary. He grew up in the RGV and developed a special interest in the nature of the region, especially along the Lower Laguna Madre coastal area. He enjoys bringing awareness and education to the local community about the incredible nature in their backyards as well as introducing visiting birders to the amazing bird diversity the RGV has to offer. He also has a passion for creating and preserving habitats for migratory birds. As a birding guide, he mainly focuses on leading tours around the coastal area and nearby parks but is open to any type of exploration. He also loves to introduce a bit of the local history and culture to his tours for a full RGV experience.
Ernesto Herrera is a naturalist at the McAllen Nature Center and a TA for Ornithology at The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. He is a Valley native from Mission, TX, and has had an interest for as long as he can remember in the native flora and fauna. His interest started by observing small reptiles and amphibians, like the Texas Horned Lizards in his backyard. He then began taking regular trips to Bentsen State Park (down the street from his home), and now he has grown into a full-fledged naturalist in the Rio Grande Valley. He always enjoys taking people on birding trips as there is always a chance for him to enlighten them on the beauty of the LRGV’s inhabitants and their role in the ecosystem.
Dave Irons started birding at age six and became fully hooked by age 17, when he connected with other teenage birders. More than a half century later his curiosity about vagrancy, biogeography, the finer points of field ID and seeking opportunities to pass forward what he has learned continue to drive his passion. 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 ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Oregon was published in the Fall of 2018. In his home state Dave has organized classes and led field trips for numerous organizations and festivals, including the American Birding Association and the Oregon Birding Association, Lane County Audubon Society and the Audubon Society of Portland. He has been a leader at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival since 2011.
Zach Johnson is a life long birder, originally from the borough of Staten Island in NYC. He now resides in Mission, Texas where he is a biologist for The State of Texas. He is most interested in the birds of Starr County and also the plants, reptiles and amphibians valley wide.
Tiffany Kersten is a Wisconsin native, turned Texan. She holds a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Northland College, and has spent over a decade as an environmental educator, teaching about bird migration with the Cape May Bird Observatory, monitoring shorebirds on Cape Cod, banding Honeycreepers in Hawaii, and finally landing in South Texas where she worked at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuged and then managed the McAllen Nature Center. After completing her Lower 48 States Big Year in 2021, she founded her own company, Nature Ninja Birding Tours. She guides primarily in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, as well as internationally.
Simon Kiacz started birding in 2012 when he was an undergraduate studying wildlife biology in Michigan. After witnessing the diversity of northbound birds during spring migration, he caught the fever and decided to become an ornithologist. He finished his PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2023 after attending Texas A&M University while studying parrots in Texas and Latin America. He considers himself one of the lucky few whose vocation and avocation line up nicely – a day in the field studying parrots isn’t too different from a day in the field bird watching. His favorite habitat to bird is lowland tropical forest, but any day birding is a good day, regardless of location.
Justin LeClaire has been an avid outdoorsman all his life and a birder since his first ornithology class at the University of Vermont in 2010. After college, he worked on various bird research and monitoring projects in at least seven different states and has lived in South Texas since 2016. Justin is currently an Avian Conservation Biologist with the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, responsible for conducting various surveys, research, and habitat management on waterbird and shorebird populations throughout the Texas coast. He also performs part time environmental consulting work, is a private birding guide in the Rio Grande Valley, and dedicates hundreds of volunteer hours each year to helping local organizations, performing wildlife rescues, and is one of several eBird reviewers for the RGV.
Michael Marsden. I have been an avid birder since childhood in England but decided, for reasons that now elude me, on a career in law. Meeting Donna Knox at a birding festival on Grand Cayman, however, changed all that and in 1996 I gave up my post as Solicitor General to the Cayman Islands Government to start a sort of second career as a birding guide. We moved initially to Cayman House in Rockport, then to the San Pedro River Inn and Paton Center for Hummingbirds in SE Arizona, and are now happily back in Texas: this time in San Benito near Harlingen, an ideal base for my interest in the wildlife and history of the Rio Grande Valley and Texas Coastal Bend. As well as offering customized birding tours for individuals and groups, I am a guide for Naturalist Journeys and have led tours to Scotland, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Cuba.
Isidro Montemayor Jr is a Valley native from La Paloma, TX who has enjoyed nature his entire life. Throughout his adult career Isidro has been a Park Ranger and Educator in Texas, Oregon, and Alaska teaching students about the area’s native flora and fauna. His interest in birds steadily grew from his travels, and now Isidro spends his time birding throughout the Valley.
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 Larkwire, 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 has led numerous “Birds & Butterflies” tours with his wife, Louise Zemaitis.
Glenn Olsen leads birding and nature tours to explore special ecosystems like Big Bend, the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, and tropical ecosystems of Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, and Costa Rica among others. Glenn enjoys plants and has served as president of the Houston Chapter and the State organization of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT). His habitat consulting services provides property owners with key concepts, design services, proper plant selections and installation to create habitat for birds and butterflies. Glenn also provides bird surveys of property for individuals and organizations that need such for wildlife enhancement or documentation. He teaches classes on Natural History, bird identification, landscaping for birds and butterflies, and other nature related classes through Rice University’s Continuing Studies Department, Houston Audubon, and the Texas Master Naturalist program. Glenn is currently serving a second term on the Houston Audubon Board. He has led field trips or presented programs for the Texas Ornithological Society, Houston Audubon, Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Galveston Featherfest, Laredo Birding Festival, the Native Plant Society and other organizations. His wide ranging interests include birds, insects, plants, good food, chocolate, good coffee, history, woodworking, and photography.
Erik Ostrander started birding in the Pacific Northwest, where he and his wife, Hannah, spent weekends exploring the national wildlife refuges, state parks, and ocean shores. He followed Hannah’s career bringing them to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas then Florida and now back to Cannon Beach, OR, where they spend their time looking for puffins, guillemots, and more while hosting their podcast: Hannah and Erik Go Birding. Through their podcast, they share their birding adventures and work to expand birding and wildlife viewing around the world. They travel as much as possible and Erik obsessively eBirds along the way. Erik is passionate about inspiring new birders.
Nathan Pieplow is the author of the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds, published in two volumes, one for Eastern and one for Western North America. An avid bird sound recordist, he is the author of the bird sound blog Earbirding.com, a board member of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, an author of the Colorado Birding Trail, and former editor of the journal Colorado Birds. He teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Randy Pinkston is a Texas native who came of age as a birder on the UTC. His passion for birds began with his father and waterfowl hunting as far back as he can remember, and later a larger passion for birding when he received a Peterson Texas guide as a Christmas gift in 1971. A proud Aggie, he received a bachelor’s in wildlife science in 1978 and a medical degree in 1989. Randy and his wife of 40 years—Patricia—have four grown sons and have lived off-and-on in Bell County since 1987 where Randy practices as an ENT surgeon. They also enjoy frequent visits to their second home in the beautiful Davis mtns of west Texas. Randy is a TOS life member and remembers meeting Edgar Kincaid and Ted Parker at a TOS meeting in n-c. Texas in the late 1970s. He served as chairman of the TOS Bird Records Committee for 17 years, retiring in 2019.
Ryan Rodriguez is a birder based in McAllen, Texas and has been interested in birds and nature since toddlerhood. He is homeschooled allowing for him to be out in the field a lot. Ryan also enjoys looking for butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, and much more!
Bill Sain has birded all over the US as well as Central and South America over the last 25 years. Bill has served as a director and/or officer of a number of birding- and conservation-related organizations including Bexar Audubon Society (the National Audubon Chapter in the San Antonio area) where he served as Outings Chair, Treasurer, and President. He helped found the Texas Audubon Society and the Master Naturalist program and served 6 years on the board of the American Birding Association. In addition to leading field trips for Bexar Audubon, Bill has led birding trips for the Davis Mountain Hummingbird Celebration, Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, and Birding the Border Festival as well as kayak trips for the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust.
Willie Sekula. I am a LONG TIME Texas birder. I’ve been observing birds for over 50 years. I currently serve on the Texas Bird Records Committee and have served as Editor in some capacity (Texas, South Texas, Central Texas) for North American Birds. I’ve traveled extensively in Mexico, South America, Texas, and have made birding trips to South Africa, Taiwan, India, and Thailand. I have a particular interest in shorebirds, gulls, and neotropical passerines.
Raymond VanBuskirk’s love for the natural world was born in the pine forests of the Land of Enchantment. He is 33 years young and a native New Mexican. He’s spent much of his professional life following his dreams of creating a career based around birding. Raymond is a senior leader for WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide where he leads engaging birding tours all across this beautiful planet. Additionally he co-owns and operates BRANT Nature Tours, a New-Mexico-based nature travel company with a strong commitment to both environmental and social justice.His career experience includes multiple ornithological field research positions, including two summers as a seabird research technician on the Arctic Ocean, head Rosy-Finch researcher with Rio Grande Bird Research Inc., past president of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, board member of Western Field Ornithologists, ABA young birding camp instructor, and birding specialist for Leica Sport Optics. Raymond is a proud member of QBNA, the continent’s informal club for LGBTQIA+ members of the birding community.
Ron Weeks lives in Lake Jackson, TX with his wife of 34 years, Irenna Garapetian. Ron is a past president of the Texas Ornithological Society, a former member of the Texas Bird Records Committee, and a current board member of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. He has been a sub-regional editor for North American Birds, a 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. And his most recent obsession has been studying the migration by recording nocturnal migrants flying over his yard. Ron recently retired from the Dow Chemical Company in Freeport, TX to spend more time birding, working out, and supporting local ministry work.
Bert Wessling is a Rio Grande Valley native who started birding in the 1980s. He is very active in the Native Plant Project, so if you want to know something about native plants, Bert is your guy.
Louise Zemaitisis an artist and naturalist living in West Cape May, NJ. 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. As a tour leader for VENT, Louise has traveled throughout the US and to such exciting destinations as Belize, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Argentina, and Antarctica. But Louise’s favorite destination, without hesitation, is Cape May – where water meets land, and where migration can be witnessed practically year-round. There she works as an associate naturalist with NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, and has coordinated the Monarch Monitoring Project for more than twenty years. Louise is known for her enthusiasm for all natural history subjects, a theme incorporated into her artwork. Her proudest accomplishment has been the raising of her two sons, Bradley, a biologist and artist, and Alec, a philosopher and musician.