Check back this fall for details on the 2020 festival. 

Keynote and Spotlight Speakers

Iain Campbell (Tropical Birding)

Iain ended his career as a geochemist in West Africa when it dawned on him that his life list was more valuable than gold. He packed up his G-pick, said goodbye to fufu, and headed to South America, which better suited his style, where he built Tandayapa Bird Lodge. He lived for many years in Ecuador, but now resides in the US. Besides being one of the original guides of Tropical Birding, Iain is near fanatical about getting more people into birding and wildlife photography, and works with many organizations trying to achieve this main goal. He used to be a fanatical lister, but now much prefers to photograph the world’s specialties. Iain uses Zeiss binoculars and scope, and shoots with Olympus camera gear.


Sam Fried (Flights of Fancy Adventures)

Sam is a widely-published author, photographer and lecturer.  He is the founder of Flights of Fancy Adventures, LLC, leading and guiding birding tours around the world since 1998.  He is known to occasionally chase birdies as well as birds and runs the Audubon International program at nearby Indian River Preserve Golf Course in Mims, FL.


Denver Holt (Owl Research Institute)

Denver has been a leader in owl research, education, and conservation for over 30 years. While much of today’s research is conducted remotely, or builds on existing data, Holt has been unwavering in his commitment to boots-on-the-ground data collection. A classic, hardcore field researcher, he has spent a lifetime in the field with wild owls – observing, recording, measuring, and enjoying the natural world. The resulting body of work, and its implications to conservation, is an incredible gift and legacy. He is responsible for some of the longest running studies of their kind in the world. Holt’s body of work documents populations trends, predator to prey relationships, environmental changes, and countless other research queries, utilizing owls as bio-indicators of environmental health on a scale much greater than their immediate habitat. These findings are shared with resource managers, scientists, and land owners to improve environmental decision making. His data assists with forest management plans, habitat conservation efforts, and the listing and de-listing of critical species. Holt’s Snowy Owl research based in the Alaskan Arctic was featured as the cover story of National Geographic and today, a new branch of this study, tackles the effects of a changing Arctic climate to Snowy Owls. In addition to publishing over scientific 100 papers, Holt’s work has been featured in countless magazines, films, and journals. Holt speaks around the world and enjoys guiding, meeting new people, and continuing to learn new things about wildlife and the natural world. But on most days, you’ll find him in the field – pencil and notebook in his hand, binos around his neck, and a backpack full of nets, bands, and tools – just as excited about an owl sighting as he was 32 years ago.


Kevin Karlson (Kevin T. Karlson Bird and Nature Photography)

Kevin is a birder, tour leader and wildlife photographer who has published many bird and nature related articles for magazines, books, and journals. He is a regular presence at nature festivals, where he gives keynote presentations and workshops on bird identification and appreciation, as well as photo instruction. Kevin has also authored five books on bird ID and photography. They include The Shorebird Guide, Birding by Impression, Birds of Prey, and the upcoming Gulls Simplified. Two photography books are The Birds of Cape May and Visions: Earth’s Elements in Bird and Nature Photography. Kevin produced six photographic laminated foldout guides on Raptors, Waterfowl, Warblers, Shorebirds and Owls and Nightjars.


Gina Kent (Avian Research and Conservation Institute)

Since 2000, Gina Kent has been working as a researcher with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, Whether conducting bird surveys from small planes, boating around the Florida Keys, or climbing up 100-foot tall trees, Gina has worked with many Florida specialty birds including Short-tailed Hawks, Snail Kites, Reddish Egrets, White-crowned Pigeons and others. She travels throughout the Southeast US and internationally to capture birds for banding and radio-tagging, follow migrating birds and gather data for making conservation decisions.


Kevin Loughlin (Wildside Nature Tours)

Kevin was raised to appreciate nature while exploring the woodlands of Pennsylvania as a child. During a family trip through the American West, Kevin became fascinated with photography as well seeing the new and different birds. Instilled with a love for travel and seeking new, exciting destinations he felt a desire to share his experiences with others and in 1993 Wildside Nature Tours was founded. Kevin’s photographs and articles have appeared in Nature Photographer, WildBird, Audubon, Living Bird and Philadelphia Magazines, as well as the National Geographic web site and many natural history books, including the recent Peterson Reference Guide to the Owls of North America and the Caribbean by Scott Weidensaul.


Dr. Richard Raid (University of Florida)

Rick has been employed by the University of Florida as a professor of plant pathology. In 1994, He initiated a program using barn owls for sustainable rodent control. The UF Barn Owl Program was quickly accepted by the agricultural industry, providing the Everglades Agricultural Area with some of the highest barn owl densities in North America. Raid has used the project as an educational outreach program and thousands of local students have learned the benefits of this spectacular raptor through his frequent lectures, workshops, and displays. Now, more widely recognized for barn owls than plant pathology, Raid and the UF Barn Owl Project have been featured on CNN, the National Geographic Society’s website, and PBS’s Nature series.


Mac Stone

Mac Stone is an acclaimed photographer, speaker and author from Gainesville, Florida. Growing up exploring the springs, swamps, and hammocks of North Central Florida, he developed a passion for photography at a young age. Over the years his camera has carried him to some of the most remote and imperiled areas this side of the globe. His images and stories have appeared in BBC, National Geographic, CNN, NPR, Audubon, WWF and many others. Through photography, Stone strives to start new conversations and expose the dynamic relationship between mankind and the natural world. After spending five years living and working in the Everglades watershed, he released a 304-page coffee table book about the heralded River of Grass. Everglades: America’s Wetland, has won a silver medal with the Florida Book Awards and is in its second printing. Stone delivered his first TED talk about this body of work, which has now been viewed over a million times. His next project and book will explore the remaining old growth swamps of the southern US providing a rare glimpse of how the country’s bottomlands once looked.


Clay Taylor (Swarovski Optik) 

Clay’s North American life list is over 700 bird species, most of which he has photographed either with slide film or digitally. He was hired by Swarovski Optik North America in 1999 to be their Naturalist Market Field Coordinator. He discovered that using a spotting scope for super telephoto photography was remarkably good. As the digital photography era dawned, the craft of ‘Digiscoping’ emerged. Clay not only adopted DSLR Digiscoping as his choice for nature photography, he also helped Swarovski Optik to develop their current line of spotting scopes and dedicated adapters for Digiscoping.


Dr. Linda Walters (University of Central Florida)

Linda is a Pegasus Professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida.  For the past 20 years, her research has focused on the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). In particular, she has helped us understand the ecology of oyster reefs as well as the importance of their restoration for ecosystem functioning.  Over two acres of oyster reef restoration has now been undertaken by Walters, colleagues and partners, in collaboration with over 48,000 volunteers. Additionally, her laboratory group has stabilized over 1000 meters of estuarine shorelines, seaward of numerous historic buildings and shell middens along the IRL.


Scott Weidensaul

Scott is the author of more than two dozen books on natural history, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Living on the Wind, about bird migration, Return to Wild AmericaThe First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery and Endurance in Early America, and his latest book, The Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean.  Weidensaul is a contributing editor for Audubon, a columnist for Bird Watcher’s Digest and regular contributor to Living Bird; he lives in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, and studies the migration of owls and hummingbirds.


David Akoubian (Bear Woods Photography) 

David resides in the mountains of North Georgia with his wife Evelyn. Early in his career David traveled with, learned from and taught beside some of the masters of nature photography including John Shaw, Art Wolfe, Galen Rowell, Bryan Peterson, Pat O’Hara, and Rod Planck. David has been teaching photography in the classroom and leading workshops around the United States since 1994. His photographs and articles have appeared in publications such as Nature Photographer, Audubon Magazine, Blue Ridge Country, Birder’s World, Outdoor Photographer, Backpacker Magazine, and many local publications. David is a Tamron Image Master as well as being designated as a Sirui Professional.


Chuck Fritsch (Focus Frog Store)

Chuck’s love of photography began in grammar school. Photography remained a hobby as he entered the world of work, which became a training ground for developing the craft that is the foundation of modern fine art photography. Degrees in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering provided the tools to design computer hardware and software. As digital sensors replaced film and computer programs replaced darkrooms the craft of photography underwent a drastic change. He became an expert in the technical aspects of the “New Photography” as a natural extension of the skills gained from earlier computer science work. His expertise in lighting, color management, and software has facilitated the production of award-winning fine art.


Hummingbirds of Costa Rica are the basis of an ongoing project with Cindy. Hummingbirds are like flying jewels. The camera records an instant in time that is not visible to the naked eye, revealing their otherwise invisible beauty. The goal of the collection is to affect an illusion of reality that transports the viewers to another location in such a way that they want to reach out and touch the image.


Ken Hubbard (Tamron USA, Inc)

Joining Tamron USA, Inc. in 2001, Ken works for Tamron as the Field Services manager. In addition to taking photographs for the company-for national and international use, he acts as a trainer for new products and technology, sets up and works on all aspects of Tamron field workshops, and as the title suggests- is a supervisor for all aspects of the industry trade shows. Both on the job and off, you can always find him looking for another unique image to fill his camera’s viewfinder. Beneath the contemplative solitude of his images lies a disciplined sense of composition and technique. It is a vision that Ken has developed through years of experience as a professional photographer.


Stephen Ingraham (Lightshedder)

Steve has been photographing nature for 60 years. This last decade he has used “superzoom” Point and Shoot cameras. Daily photo blog at Nature Photo info at He was the Birding Specialist for ZEISS Sports Optics for 12 years and is a familiar face around the birding community. His “For the love of landscape…” collection on Google+ has over 200,000 followers.


Lisa Langell (Langell Photography)

Originally from Michigan, Lisa lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has “done” a lot of things to make an enjoyable living — from managing a pizzeria, to working as a master floral designer, a licensed psychologist, an international speaker, professional trainer and consultant in K-12 education, Chief Business Development Officer for an education technology company, a researcher, a writer, an artist and even a recruiter! She began her photography business in 2010. Though photography was always a favorite activity for her, it wasn’t until she combined photography with teaching and tour guiding that it all came together: Creating one-of-a-kind, exciting, emotionally rewarding learning experiences for others! Lisa is passionate about providing creative, memorable and educational experiences that enrich, invigorate and expand minds emotionally and cognitively — all while having fun together!


Maressa Pryor-Luzier (Maresa Pryor-Luzier Photography)

Maresa is a life-long resident of Florida. She studied photography at Daytona State College. She specializes in wildlife behavior, and knows her subjects well.  As a long-time birder, her compassion shows in her work, winning numerous awards for her fine art photography. Her images have appeared in Audubon, Living Bird, Mother Earth News, National Geographic Kids & Book Series, National Wildlife, Outdoor Photographer, Ranger Rick, and other periodicals. Maresa is a founding member of the North American Nature Photographers Association, a former board member of the Sarasota Audubon Society, and the American Society of Media Photographers of Central Florida.


Clay Taylor (Swarovski Optik)

Clay’s North American life list is over 700 bird species, most of which he has photographed either with slide film or digitally. He was hired by Swarovski Optik North America in 1999 to be their Naturalist Market Field Coordinator. He discovered that using a spotting scope for super telephoto photography was remarkably good. As the digital photography era dawned, the craft of ‘Digiscoping’ emerged. Clay not only adopted DSLR Digiscoping as his choice for nature photography, he also helped Swarovski Optik to develop their current line of spotting scopes and dedicated adapters for Digiscoping.


Roy Thoman (Roy Thoman Photography)

Roy is a local Titusville photographer, the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival photographer for many years. You may have seen him following you around on field trips taking your picture! If not, you have definitely seen his photos in the festival booklet and website. An avid photographer for 35 years, his favorite subjects include landscapes and abstract fine art photography. Light is the key to any great photo. Roy likes to use unusual lighting to create beautiful images.


Shiv Verma (Panasonic)

Shive Verma, APSA, MNEC is a published author, photographer, educator and technologist. He is a member of the Panasonic Lumix Luminary Team, an X-Rite Coloratti and a Master at the Arcanum. Photographing for over 50 years, Shiv has evolved his photography to express his intense devotion to wildlife and nature. Over the years has earned numerous awards and recognition both nationally and internationally. Shiv’s book Time-Lapse Imagery was published in February 2014. He conducts photo tours and workshops worldwide.


Cindy Walpole (Focus Frog Store)

Cindy has a rare combination of talent as an award-winning fine art photographer, a master printmaker and a computer software expert. Growing up in Costa Rica’s tropical paradise, Cindy has been intimately connected to the natural world from an early age. After receiving a degree in mathematics from Hunter College in New York City, she temporarily put aside this love while managing a trading desk at a Wall Street brokerage firm. She resigned in 1987 and soon found herself in deepest Africa, camera in hand, capturing images of the wildlife that have always intrigued her. This blossomed into a passion that has taken her to the deserts of Namibia, the jungles of Costa Rica, the fragile ecosystems of Antarctica, as well as the awe-inspiring beauty of the Florida Everglades. Cindy has studied photography and printmaking with some of the greatest contemporary image makers.


Robert Wilson (KOWA)

Robert is a retired staff photographer of 30 years for Lockheed Martin. He is now the Kowa US Brand Ambassador who has developed an enthusiasm for Digiscoping. His passion for attaching a phone or camera to a spotting scope is obvious the moment you meet him. His workshops and presentations are fun, entertaining and educational. Learn simple tips that make Digiscoping easy. Ethics, conservation andrespect for the natural world are topics included in his workshops and presentations.


Brian Zwiebel (Sabrewing Nature Tours)

Brian began his journey with birds by enrolling in an Ornithology class at Hocking College in 1993. Six years later he began photographing the subjects he had come to know so well. Warblers are among Brian’s favorite subjects. He spends much of his free time in May photographing warblers at northern Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. His work has been prominently displayed in exhibits throughout Ohio and more than thirty of his songbird images were featured at the National Center for Nature Photography in Toledo, OH. Brian’s award-winning photography has been internationally published in books and magazines including Birder’s World, Bird Watching, Bird Watcher’s Digest and the American Birding Association’s magazine Birding.

Classroom Presenters

Ken Burgener (Carefree Birding)

Ken has worked with the National Audubon Society, as well as the Florida Audubon Society in their educational department. He served over 5 years as a board member of the Broward County Audubon Society. For over fifteen years, Ken has taught beginning birding to kids through seniors. He has taken thousands of people birding in the Florida Everglades. He calls himself an “entertaining environmental educator”. Ken and his wife Linda have run over 25 groups off cruise ships. Some of our groups include: ABA, Tampa Audubon, Tropical Audubon, Columbus Audubon and other groups.


Adrian Blanco (Pook’s Hill Lodge)

Adrian Blanco is a biologist, educator and nature lover. He serves as the general manager for Pook’s Hill Lodge in Belize, dedicated to the protection of 7,000 acres of primary rainforest. On regular days he ensures that guests get a real jungle experience; and oftentimes embarks along with them on birding, hiking, and caving expeditions. An educator by nature, he has a passion for reaching out to others and sharing the life-long satisfaction of being one with nature by running several environmental education campaigns throughout the year.


Paddy Cunningham (Birding Adventures)

Paddy has been a Florida Naturalist for 35 years. Her motto is You Learn the I.D., and her passion is helping birders gain advanced skills during birding festivals and classes. She is Coordinator of the Everglades Birding Festival and new Birding Festival of the Keys. In 2008, she was 1st in Florida and 27th in the ABA area during a Big Year. For Audubon, she is CBC compiler and Field Trip Coordinator.


Dr. Melinda Donnelly (University of Central Florida)

Melinda is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Instructor at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on mangroves and “living shoreline” stabilization along Florida’s east coast.  She has led successful community-based projects at Turtle Mound, Seminole Rest, Eldora House, and Field Manor (all within the Indian River Lagoon) as well as long-term monitoring at these locations.


Gunnar Engblom (Kolibri Expeditions)

Gunnar is a Swedish birder/biologist who has lived in Peru since 1998, where he operates birdwatching and nature tour outfitter Kolibri Expeditions. He is popular guide, both for hard-core birding groups, as well as for groups who combine photography, nature and/or culture. He is also a keen runner and ran in the Miami Marathon last year while visiting the Space Coast Birding Festival. Gunnar also sings and writes Swedish punk/eco-rock songs with humor and ironic twists for the band Guran Guran.


Keith Hackland (Texas Birding)

Keith Hackland was born and raised on a small farm In South Africa where he chased birds and other wildlife from the day he learned to crawl. In 1967 he was introduced to Texas as a high school exchange student in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. He loved Texas and moved to the Valley in 1997. Today he chairs Texas Birding, a non-profit organization that promotes Texas as one of the world’s top birding destinations, and he is a loyal member of Texas Ornithological Society. He runs his family business, serving birders in Texas, providing tours, guiding, accommodation, optics, books and birding gear. When he has time, he travels in Europe and U.S. speaking at birding events and representing Texas Birding.


Stephen Ingraham (Lightshedder) – See Photographers


Joao Jara (Birds & Nature Tours Portugal)

With more than 30 years of field experience, João has extensive knowledge about birding in Portugal. He was a member of the board of Birdlife Portugal, a voting member of the PRC (Portuguese Rarities Committee) from 2005–2011, and chairman of the PRC from 2007–2011. Author and co-author of articles about birds, João has led many field tours in Portugal and abroad, as well as bird identification courses for Birdlife Portugal and for his own birding tours company, Birds & Nature Tours Portugal, which he launched in 2008. Besides birds, he has an active special interest in amphibians, reptiles, and fishes. João is fluent in English, French, and Spanish.


James L. Kimball, II (Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge)

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Jim’s love of nature grew as his family explored the outdoors – camping or staying in “shacks”, along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Mexico, across the hill country and highland plains of Texas, and on to the Rocky Mountains.  After graduating from the University of Texas, he went to work for ten grueling years, as a sales and marketing specialist for a Houston based petrochemical company. In 1999, Jim packed it all up, and moved with his partners to the Wild Wild West of Panama to immerse himself in the rainforest and create Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge. He has spent the last 19 years onsite raising a family, operating the business alongside his team, wildlife guiding and twitching at anything that moves.


Miguel Lezama (Tanager Tours)

Miguel is a bird tour guide with lot of knowledge about Peruvian culture and nature. He has been studying birds since 2007. He began work in the Manu area, and now leads birdwatching tours all over Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Miguel enjoys exploring remote areas for the most exciting and mythical birds to create new birding routes, making him one of the top Peruvian birding guides. Miguel is an expert in history, culture and nature. Photography and recording are also part of his passion.

Christina Majdalani (Beaumont Convention and Visitor’s Bureau)

Christina is the Director of Tourism for the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau. She is focused on tourism development and programs centered around nature tourism, culinary tourism and seasonal promotions. Christina is charged with working to strengthen partnerships with hospitality partners and is a vital part of the CVB Marketing Team working to expand content marketing, communications and further the Beaumont Destination Training Program. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management from the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.


John Moran (John Moran Photography)

John Moran believes that as our waters go, so goes Florida. Although vital to Florida’s ecological and economic health, our waters increasingly are besieged by pollution, neglect and the groundwater demands of a thirsty state. Moran was for many years a nature photographer happy to work the bliss and beauty beat, peddling his pictures of pristine Florida to audiences around the state. But then he realized his pretty pictures of flawless Florida were feeding a false narrative. His evolving speaking programs now focus on the changes he’s seen, including photos from Florida’s 2018 Toxic Summer of Slime. Moran makes the case that there can be no long-term well-being in Florida unless we embrace a new way of thinking about water—mindful that tomorrow’s Florida is being shaped by the choices we make today.


Reinier Munguia (Holbrook Travel / Selva Verde Lodge)

Reinier is a commercial and nature photographer with a strong education and conservation vision. His work has appeared in several publications, including textbooks and magazines. His passion for nature has driven him to become an advocate for causes related to the protection of species – educating people has become his most important goal. He reaches thousands of people every year through his presentations at schools and nature events. Reinier has led photography and birding trips throughout the U.S., Costa Rica, Ecuador and Puerto Rico. He has spent the last twenty years documenting wildlife and their struggles with still photography. He recently added film making with action-packed natural history footage to his arsenal of educational material.


Joseph Mwangi (Nature’s Wonderland Safaris)

Joseph Mwangi is an ornithological safari guide born and brought up in central Kenya. He has a vast experience of 20 years of birding and guiding tours in Kenya and Tanzania as well making arrangements for birding tours and wildlife safaris in the two East Africa countries. He has been at the forefront in participating in the Annual Africa Waterfowl count in his country Kenya. He is the brain child behind Nature’s Wonderland Safaris which has been in operation since 2003 up to date. He has had the pleasure to host tourist from all over the world. His vast knowledge in this field of birding and wildlife experience is something that he will be willing to share and pass it on to you through his meticulously arranged safari holidays that he will be presenting to you!!


Giovani Ortiz (Icaro Birding Tours)

Giovani Ortiz is a Colombian outdoors enthusiast who fell in love with birding while living in the US. After joining the local bird club in New Orleans almost by accident, Giovani learned about the huge potential for ecotourism in his home country and started organizing tours for local birding friends. After successfully completing 5 birding tours to Colombia, the passion and determination to get Colombia into the spotlight for its unparalleled natural beauty are stronger than ever. Giovani holds a degree in Industrial Engineering and an MBA. He worked for three years in Michigan supporting the local startup community before founding Icaro Birding Tours in 2017.


David Roberts (The Learning Projector)

David Roberts and his wife Zhanna founded The Learning Projector after they discovered that their three-year-old daughter had fun with a toy projector and learned all the planets in a couple nights, but there was no more suitable content to be found. David met Zhanna while serving in the US Peace Corps in Kazakhstan and they have two daughters—Amelia and Aya Sofia.


Davis Rukundo (Bird Uganda Safaris)

Davis is a bird guide for Bird Uganda Safaris. Born Rukundo Davis to Mr. Byaruhanga Herbert and Miss Birungi Doreen, Davis is the first born in a family of four boys. He started his journey in birding at a tender age of five when he saved 3 Bronze Mannikins after they were left abandoned in a nest within the mango tree in the compound as eggs. After nurturing them to adulthood, his curiosity was sparked as to what else is out there. He was lucky to have a father like Herbert who became a mentor and trainer. Davis became the pioneer president of the young birder’s club and is now the current Chairperson of the Uganda Bird Guides Club, one of the oldest bird clubs in East Africa. He pursued and attained a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Makerere University.


Luke Safford (Tucson Audubon)

Luke grew up in Tacoma WA in a family that loved the outdoors. He quickly blossomed into a birder after his grandparents gave him his first bird book when he was seven. In his teenage years he tried to hide his birding disease from his future wife but was found out early on. Thankfully, she was able to bear the inevitable side trips to sewage treatment plants and the constant carrying of binoculars, and still married him in 2000. After moving to Yakima, WA, Luke became involved in the Yakima Valley Audubon Society and served on the board, as field trip coordinator, CBC compiler, and field trip leader. In 2009, Luke and his wife, Jolene, took a vacation to Tucson which sparked a desire to eventually move to the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Living in Tucson became a reality in December 2014 when they packed everything up and moved to Tucson with their two young kids to help start a new church. Quickly after the move Luke attended the Sweetwater Wetlands walk and began to help lead it on a weekly basis. Luke also helped to coordinate the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival and is involved with the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count. As the volunteer coordinator he is excited about the many opportunities he will have to motivate the people of Tucson to actively love their city, birds, and the surrounding environment by becoming involved with Tucson Audubon.


Megan Stolen (Hubbs Sea World Research Institute)

Megan began working for the Hubbs Sea World Research Institute in 1999 after graduating from the University of Central Florida with a Master’s in Biology. An expert in marine mammalogy, her position at HSWRI allows her to work as a biologist in the field as well as spend time at the bench in the HSWRI Life History Laboratory. Together with HSWRI biologists Wendy Noke Durden and Teresa Mazza, she has rescued and released dozens of injured or at-risk dolphins and determined the cause of death for hundreds of stranded cetaceans including baleen whales. She is recognized as an expert in her field and now teaches at workshops throughout the U.S.


Simon Thompson (Ventures Birding Tours)

Originally from Suffolk, England, Simon has lived in North Carolina for the last 20 years. Prior to moving to the United States, he lived in Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen, and Ghana, where his interest in birds and natural history began. In addition to traveling extensively in the U.S., Simon spent six months in China studying the crane and birds of prey migration as a member of the British “China Crane Watch” expedition. He is on the board of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville, NC. As owner and operator of Ventures Birding Tours, Simon has led many birding trips all over the world.


Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch (    

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch was the sole environmentalist to serve on Florida’s 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission and together with Comr. Lisa Carlton brought Amendment 9 Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces to the ballot. Amendment 9 passed by 68.92%. Jacqui is the former mayor of the Town of Sewall’s Point and known for championing the first strong fertilizer ordinance on Florida’s east coast. Since 2013, in their signature yellow Cub, Jacqui and her husband Ed have documented by air the toxic algae outbreaks in the St Lucie River starting in Lake Okeechobee.


Raymond VanBuskirk (Birding Research and Nature Tours)

Ray 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, 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.


Dr. Linda Walters (University of Central Florida)

Linda is a Pegasus Professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida.  For the past 20 years, her research has focused on the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). In particular, she has helped us understand the ecology of oyster reefs as well as the importance of their restoration for ecosystem functioning.  Over two acres of oyster reef restoration has now been undertaken by Walters, colleagues and partners, in collaboration with over 48,000 volunteers. Additionally, her laboratory group has stabilized over 1000 meters of estuarine shorelines, seaward of numerous historic buildings and shell middens along the IRL.


Edith Widder, PhD (Ocean Research and Conservation Association)

Dr. Edie Widder is a MacArthur Fellow, a deep-sea explorer, and an ocean conservationist. A specialist in bioluminescence, she has been a leader in developing new ways to explore the deep sea. Her innovations have produced footage of rare sharks, squid, jellyfish, and crustaceans, as well as led to the first recordings of the giant squid, Architeuthis, in its natural habitat. In order to help save and protect the ocean she loves, in 2005 Edie helped found the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, also known as ORCA. ORCA is the world’s first technology focused, marine conservation, not-for-profit, which is using leading-edge science to find pollution and stop it at its source. ORCA’s tagline, which is Mapping Pollution, Finding Solutions, describes a results-driven approach to meeting some of the greatest challenges our ocean planet is currently facing.


BJ Worth (President Wings in Nature)

BJ was drawn to nature at an early age and was particularly captivated by birds’ ability to fly. He attended the University of Montana primarily to be close to Glacier National Park, but secondarily to learn how to skydive – to be at one with the birds. BJ received his BS in Zoology, under the guidance of the highly esteemed Dr. Philip Wright. He also excelled at jumping out of not-such-perfectly-good airplanes under the guidance of highly animated former smokejumpers. Distracted from a proper career in the biosciences, BJ followed his passion for this nascent air sport. 35 years later, after an accomplished career as an athlete, filmmaker, aerial stunt performer, innovator, and project director, and after serving on the boards of national and international air sports organizations in leadership roles, BJ came back to his bio-roots. Since 2000, BJ has pursued birding with utmost enthusiasm. He has enriched his hobby by recording bird behavior on video – tallying more than 900 species of birds doing what birds do. BJ has expanded his birding interests toward bird conservation, research, and promoting the enriching qualities of birding among the public. He has actively conducted surveys at the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch each season since its inception, for which he received Flathead Audubon Society’s highest conservation award in 2016. BJ is now combining his filmmaking skills with his birding interests to help WIN develop projects and provide audio-visual and volunteer support for other like-minded entities that are enriching birding, pursuing research efforts, and developing conservation projects.

Field Trip and Workshop Leaders

Bryan Ames (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Bryan is a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on two FWC lead properties; Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area (SLWMA) in Brevard County and Split Oak Forest Wildlife Environmental Area (SOFWEA) in Orange County. He has been employed by FWC since April 2002; working at SLWMA since 2004. His focus as a land manager is implementing prescribed fire, wildlife surveys and monitoring, exotic plant species control, physical/mechanical vegetation treatments, and managing passive recreation and public hunting opportunities.


George Armistead

George is chief network officer at Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures, which operates over 300 tours annually. George has guided trips to all seven continents and authored two books: Better Birding: Tips, Tools, and Concepts for the Field (2015, Princeton University Press), and The ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Pennsylvania (2016, Scott & Nix, Inc.). He has a Masters in environmental studies from University of Pennsylvania, and is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.


Amar Ayyash (Gull Expert, Blogger and Speaker)

Amar is both an expert on gull identification and an evangelist for ‘gull recreation’. He hosts several popular websites devoted to gulling, and he has published various technical articles on gull ID and range shifts. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Ornithological Society and coordinates the Annual Gull Frolic. Amar lives in Northern Illinois and does much of his gull-watching in the Lake Michigan region. Beside supplementing the need to ramble about this fascinating family of birds, the primary objective in maintaining this website ( is to advance gull recreation in North America.  Visit “North American Gulls” on Facebook. Contact:


Dr. David Breininger (NASA Kennedy Space Center Ecology Program)

Dave’s research interests focus on integrating science and conservation management emphasizing endangered wildlife populations, habitat and ecosystem dynamics. His oldest study (30 years) focuses on the Florida Scrub-Jay and his newest topics include modeling of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem and studies of rare and elusive species. Today, Dave sits on many conservation advisory boards, working with natural resource managers from federal, state, and local governments, nonprofits, and private organizations. A renowned published author and lecturer, Dave has earned many awards, including the Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Colleague Award, the JFK Award for Leadership. In addition, he recently received the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director’s Conservation Award.


Michael Brothers (Marine Science Center)

Michael has been the Director of the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, Florida for the past 11 years. He a member of the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee, which evaluates reports of birds recorded in the wild in Florida and is responsible for updating the scientific record of Florida’s bird life. Michael is also a regional editor of the journal “North American Birds.” He is currently conducting a banding project on Lesser Black-backed Gulls in Volusia County in hopes of determining the breeding location of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls in North America.


Chris Brown (Wildside Nature Tours)

After beginning his college career at the University of Montana, Chris took several years to gain experience through biological field work. This led him through jobs in 10 states and with multiple bird observatories, including breeding bird surveys in Montana, bird and habitat surveys in several other Rocky Mountain States, breeding bird atlas work in Ohio and counting migrating hawks and seabirds in Cape May and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. He continues to work towards degrees in Wildlife Biology and Plant Science.


Kevin Burke (Ventures Birding Tours)

Kevin was introduced to birding while taking an ornithology class in Ohio and has been birding every day since. He has a degree in Resource and Recreation Tourism from the University of Idaho. Kevin really started to hone his birding skills while living on the coast of North Carolina teaching environmental education. Birding has brought Kevin across the country and abroad. He has led expeditions in Washington’s San Juan Islands, Idaho’s back country and the southern Appalachian chain. Kevin has recently started to expand his birding outside of the United States with trips to Portugal and Colombia. Birding is becoming a life journey for Kevin and he loves to share his knowledge and help others grow their skills in bird identification. Originally from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Kevin Burke now lives with his wife and two young children in Hendersonville, North Carolina.


Jonathan Corcoran (Wildside Nature Tours)

Jon’s obsession with birds started at a young age. He lived in the rural Delaware Valley, surrounded by birds and nature through much of his growing years. Great Blue Herons fishing on the rivers near home were the first birds that really caught his attention. He quickly became more interested in all of the birds that occurred in the world around him. His particular interest in birding has become studying and logging local bird movements, particularly at local patches and on his wooded Pocono, PA property through eBird. Bird Photography has also become a particular obsession for him, and his photos have appeared in numerous conservation publications. Photography has been a great tool for teaching people and opening their eyes to the vast avian world around them. Most people are shocked to discover that over 100 species of birds have traveled through their yards at some point. He views photography as a great way to make people aware of the local avian-fauna.


Glenn Crawford (Wildside Nature Tours)

Glenn is a naturalist and teacher of outstanding abilities. His mastery of bird identification is excelled only by the acuity of his vision and hearing. Curious about birds as a child, Glenn began his “official” birding career as a young teenager in northern Belize. He was so excited about birds, he would spend days in the bush studying their field marks, habits and vocalizations long before he ever knew about field guides or binoculars. Glenn became an official Belizean licensed guide in 1986, and has since continued his nature studies throughout Central America. With Wildside for over 15 years, you can enjoy Glenn’s ever-present smile and energetic leadership on each of our Central America birding focused tours!


Richard Crossley (Richard Crossley Books)

Richard Crossley is an internationally acclaimed birder, photographer and award-winning author of ‘The Crossley ID Guide’ series. Crazy, wildly passionate, and driven are just a few of the words used to describe his love of birding and nature. Richards latest book, The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl, is self-published, and attempts to get all outdoor conservation groups to see each other as one. He co-founded the global birding initiative Pledge to Fledge (,) Race4Birds (,) and The Cape May Young Birders Club. He has contributed to most major birding publications, is frequently heard on radio, is a sought-after public speaker. He served on the board of directors at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.


Paddy Cunningham (Birding Adventures) – See Classroom Presenters


Jim Danzenbaker (Washington Ornithological Society)

A second-generation birder, Jim Danzenbaker picked up binoculars at 6 years old in southern New Jersey and has birded across the U.S. and many countries since then.  His enthusiasm for sharing information about different locations 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 locations including Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and has been a Naturalist on an annual Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica cruise for 13 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.


Dr. Melinda Donnelly (University of Central Florida)

Melinda is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Instructor at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on mangroves and “living shoreline” stabilization along Florida’s east coast.  She has led successful community-based projects at Turtle Mound, Seminole Rest, Eldora House, and Field Manor (all within the Indian River Lagoon) as well as long-term monitoring at these locations.


Tom Dunkerton

Tom is a Pro Staffer for Opticron North America, a sport and nature optics company, promoting their binoculars and spotting scopes throughout the U.S. at various birding events. Tom grew up fishing and crabbing off the shores of Staten Island, constantly wandering the available wooded areas. Turning over stones and logs to investigate what lies beneath led to an early interest in reptiles and amphibians. It wasn’t until 1985 that his eyes were opened to the wonderful world of bird watching when his girlfriend at the time (now his wife) gave Tom his first birding field guide. He’s been hooked ever since! After moving to Florida in 1995, Tom got a job as a field research technician studying Florida Scrub-jays on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  In 2003, after participating in shorebird surveys at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Tom was inspired to take up photography. Initially, it was simply to photograph birds to better study them. Spending every waking moment out in the field when not working afforded him some grand experiences and lessons in patience that led his photography to become just as much an obsession as birding itself. Tom and his family recently moved to Iowa, one of the best kept birding secrets in the U.S.


Jim Eager (Obsessive Compulsive Birding)

After a 35-year career with BellSouth, Jim realized his dream of doing field work after being selected as a raptor observer for the 2008 Florida Keys HawkWatch Project. As an avian field technician, Jim has studied Bachman’s Sparrows in North Carolina, shorebirds/seabirds in Florida and breeding songbirds in Virginia. He has spent many years birding at Merritt Island NWR. Jim is the Social Media Coordinator as well as a 10-year field trip leader for the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. He is a Florida Ornithological Society (FOS) board member recently become Associate Editor (for bird distribution) for the FOS “Florida Field Naturalist”. Jim owns Obsessive Compulsive Birding, specializing in guided trips in and around Central Florida.


Dave Goodwin (Florida Ornithological Society)

Dave has been birding Florida since the age of fifteen. A retired History Teacher, he now spends his time as an environmental instructor for nature camps at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg, and as a bird monitor for an environmental survey firm. He also helps lead tours to the Dry Tortugas and South Florida. He has seen more than 470 species of birds in Florida and is closing in on 700 species for the lower 48 states.


Jeff Gordon (American Birding Association)

Jeff is the president of the American Birding Association and a well-known writer, photographer and naturalist. There’s very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn’t find fascinating, though he’s especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds. The American Birding Association inspires all people to enjoy and protect wild birds and offers a wealth of resources for birders, as well as providing a suite of effective conservation and community programs that aim to build a brighter future for birds and for birders.


Liz Gordon (American Birding Association)

Liz Deluna Gordon has been birding for more than 30 years. She got her start in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where she first discovered Plain Chachalacas, the previously-unknown source of the ear-splitting noises that had awakened her on many a spring morning. A member of the team that founded the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, her passion for birds and their habitats, birding and the birding community drives her every day. Liz is the ABA Events Coordinator and truly enjoys keeping track of all the details of running a successful and fun event. Just like you, she’d rather be birding!


Dave Grant (Shark Research Institute)

Dave is the Deputy Director of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, NJ. He works in the best of both worlds — in the classroom and field. His interests in marine life have led him to the Arctic and Antarctic and some of the world’s most isolated places, such as Komodo, Easter and Pitcairn islands. He is fortunate to have been able to study sharks and seabirds in the distant waters of Panama, the Seychelles, Galapagos and Midway Islands; and closer to home in New Jersey, Florida, California and Cape Cod. Dave has written about a number of ocean-related topics and is published in Natural History, Underwater Naturalist, CURRENT, New Jersey Outdoors and Audubon. He has received a dozen accolades for his work in education and conservation, including EPA’s Environmental Quality Award. He has participated in research cruises on NOAA, commercial and university vessels. Other activities include projects with NASA, Teachers in Space and a dozen colleges and universities.


Madison B. Hall

Madison is a PhD candidate in Graham Worthy’s Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Lab at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. She received her MSc in Zoology at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa and her undergraduate Biology degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. Her dissertation work is focused on the Florida manatee including analysis of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), species distribution modelling for the manatee, description of the manatee microbiome, and manatee population seascape genetic analysis. Madison is originally from Florida, deeply loves the unique wildlife, coasts, and landscapes that this state possesses, and is passionate about FL wildlife conservation.


Mitchell Harris (Florida Ornithological Society)

Mitchell has been interested in Natural History and all things out-of-doors from his earliest memories as a small child growing up in Vero Beach Fl. He took up birding fifteen years ago, and is now an avid birder that is most interested in pelagic type birds but enjoys anything that flies. His spark bird might have been a white morph Gyrfalcon that he saw many years ago, just north of the Brooks Range on the North Slope of Alaska.


David Hartgrove (Halifax River Audubon)

Dave’s “spark bird” was a Loggerhead Shrike, in 1973. He was a backyard birder until 1986 when he was introduced to hard core birding through the first Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. In 1987 he became the Conservation Chair for Halifax River Audubon, in Daytona Beach. In 1996 he became compiler for the Daytona Beach CBC. He’s lead trips to the Dry Tortugas, Cuba and Panama. 2017 marks 13 years leading trips at the festival.


Matt Heyden (Space Coast Audubon)

Matt holds a Bachelor’s degree in biology, which helps him in his work as a long-term board member and Conservation Chair for Space Coast Audubon.  He has been leading birding and kayak trips for more than 15 years, and is an advocate for several conservation organizations primarily focusing on the role between native landscapes and bird populations.


Shayna Jacques (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

After earning her degree in marine biology from Florida Tech, Shayna took on a position with NOAA working on commercial fishing boats counting bycatch in the northeast. Her career with birds didn’t begin until 2015 when she began working at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve as the Park Biologist, mainly managing the land and conducting surveys for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Working with this elusive bird really sparked her interest and she is now an avid birder. She did a brief stint with the Brevard County EEL Program as an Assistant Land Manager where the focus is on acquiring and conserving natural habitats for passive recreation and environmental education. She now works for the FWC as the Area Lead Biologist for Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.


Joao Jara (Birds & Nature Tours Portugal) – See Classroom Presenters


Kevin Karlson (Kevin T. Karlson Bird & Nature Photography) – See Keynote and Spotlight Speakers


Adam Kent (Florida Ornithological Society)

Adam has worked on a variety of environmental and education projects including as a naturalist guide. A highlight was making recordings that led to the description of a new species of bird in Mexico, the Nava’s Wren. While working with the FWC, Adam developed the educational program Bird Detective, assessed sites for the Great Florida Birding Trail, and worked as the state’s first Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator. A County Coordinator for Florida’s second Breeding Bird Atlas, Adam leads trips to Alaska most summers, and he and Gina have lots of fun looking for evidence of breeding birds around the state too.


Gina Kent (Avian Research and Conservation Institute) – See Keynote and Spotlight Speakers


Kim King-Wrenn (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Merritt Island NWR)

Kim began her conservation career with the National Park Service, going from Everglades National Park to the Grand Canyon and then to Acadia National Park on Maine’s rocky coast. Along the way she learned how gateway communities can be valuable partners in achieving the shared goals of the Service and the local community. She transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997, working at Pea Island NWR on the NC coast. There Kim worked with local, state, federal and non-profit partners establishing the Wings Over Water Festival, which became a model for successful public-private partnerships in eco-tourism. As the Visitor Services Manager at MINWR, Kim works on permitting for eco-tour guides.


Selena Kiser (Wildlife Biologist)

Selena is an avid birder, naturalist, and wildlife writer/photographer, with a Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology. She has mostly worked with birds since moving to Florida in 2005, but had spent years prior to that protecting bats.  She enjoys educating people about wildlife and has led birding field trips for 13 years. She has participated in the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival every year since 2005, leading festival tours since 2008.


Mike Knight

Mike is the Program Manager for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL). Originally from Vermont, Mike received his Bachelor’s Degree from Lyndon State College in Outdoor Recreation and Education. Mike moved to Brevard County in 1997 and began working with the (EEL) Program in 1998 overseeing volunteer efforts and trail development. In 2004, he became the Program Manager, and oversees all aspects of the program including land acquisition, land management, passive recreation and environmental education. Mike is happiest when he’s alone either kayaking or hiking in a remote location far off the beaten path.


Vince Lamb (Preserve Brevard) 

Vince is a Florida Master Naturalist and Nature Photographer.  Vince was heavily involved as a volunteer during the translocation efforts led by Brevard Zoo to move multiple Florida Scrub Jays families from areas being developed to conservation lands.  For nine years, he has assisted with Audubon Jay Watch at ten locations.  He serves on an advisory committee for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered LandsProgram, which manages more than 22,000 acres on conservation lands.


Alex Lamoreaux (Wildside Nature Tours)

Alex attended Penn State University, studying wildlife biology. A freelance nature tour guide, field biologist, and wildlife photographer, Alex has traveled extensively throughout North America, Central America, and South Africa. Alex has worked on wildlife research projects ranging from Whimbrel migration along the coast of Virginia to Yellow-billed Cuckoo nesting in the desert southwest. As migration counter at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, he has documented the massive visible migration of raptors and songbirds along Lake Superior.


Sarah Linney (Space Coast Audubon)

Sarah got interested in watching birds as many people do: watching bird feeders while growing up. She graduated from Warren Wilson College with a BA in Environmental Studies in 1987. After moving to Florida in 1992, she joined Space Coast Audubon, became an officer on the board and started going on field trips and helping with CBCs. Sarah has led field trips for the SCBWF for 18 years. Sarah got a dream job (getting paid to watch birds) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station monitoring the population of threatened Florida Scrub-Jays that live on the “Cape.” Through associates with Space Coast Audubon and friends made at SCBWF, Sarah was able to participate in birding trips to the Dry Tortugas, Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize.


Lora Losi (Space Coast Audubon)

Lora holds a Master’s degree in bio-chemical research and has taught physics, chemistry and biology for more than 20 years.  A long-term board member for Space Coast Audubon, she has been leading birding and kayak trips for more than 15 years.  In addition, she is an advocate for 12 different conservation organizations.


Lorne Malo (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Lorne is a Regional Biologist for the Invasive Plant Management Section, FWC.  His duties there include managing vegetation in public waterbodies in west Orange County.  Prior to that, Lorne worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the St Johns River Water Management District. Lorne has also worked for DEP part-time for 16 years doing bird surveys on the Wekiva River/St. Johns River & Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserves.  In his spare time Lorne participates in monthly bird and butterfly surveys, and is a compiler for the Audubon Econlockhatchee CBC.  Lorne also leads birding tours each January for the SCBWF in Titusville, and is a tour guide contractor for the SJRWMD at the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area


Samantha McGee (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)

Sammy is the Park Environmental Specialist at St Sebastian River Preserve State Park. A native Floridian, she was born and raised in Melbourne Beach. Her first jobs were in the western U.S. working with various environmental agencies. Upon returning to the east, Sammy joined the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Aquatic Preserves Program. For 1 ½ years she spent most of her days in a wet suit researching sea grasses and shellfish in the Banana River and in the Mosquito and Indian River Lagoons. Sammy has been at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park since 2004. Her many projects there include prescribed fire management, hydrologic restoration, exotic invasive species eradication, public education and outreach, and protected species management and monitoring, including Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.


Greg Miller (Wildside Nature Tours)

Greg has birded in all 50 states and much of Canada during his 50 years of birding. In 1998 Greg zigzagged across the continent–traveling 130,000 miles–to try to see as many species of birds in one calendar year as possible. He passed the 700-species mark—an achievement many birders aspire to in a lifetime. But there was competition. Two other birders did “Big Years” the same year as Greg and also broke the 700- mark. Their competitive quests are documented in the 2004 non-fiction book, The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik. Twentieth Century Fox made a full feature motion picture inspired by the book. Greg serves on many bird-related boards and committees and was instrumental in decisions on listing and conservation.


Rosi Mulholland (St Johns River Water Management District)

Rosi has a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife Management and a Master’s Degree in Wildlife Ecology. She was hired by the Florida Park Service in 1984 as a park biologist for the Wekiva River Basin parks, and lead district biologist for two different state park service regions. She wrapped up her park service career in 2014 after serving as the statewide fire coordinator for the Florida Park Service. She began her second career in 2014 when the SJRWMD hired her as a Land Management Specialist for the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area. Rosi’s passion is habitat management and restoration of upland areas. She also enjoys the early dawn mornings of bird work and the challenges of learning new techniques. She is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and a Certified Burn Boss.


Rita Perini (Environmental Scientist Brevard County Solid Waste)

Rita is an Environmental Scientist with the Brevard County Solid Waste Management Department with over 32 years of experience in environmental safety and hazardous waste management. As Brevard County’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Program Manager since 1992, Rita has dedicated herself to providing quality service and education programs to the residents and small businesses throughout the county.  Her duties include procurement and administration of waste management contracts, staff recruitment and training, development of standard operating procedures and contingency programs, and permit compliance.  Protecting Florida’s fragile environment is at the forefront for developing and managing Brevard County’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection program.


Martha Pessaro (Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program)

Martha is the EEL Program Central Region Education Center Coordinator and is living her dream of working with the EEL Program after retirement from the Space Shuttle Program where she completed a 34-year career from the birth to the end of the program. Her staunch environmental volunteer efforts for the EEL program began prior to the beginning of program while working with the Friends of the Enchanted Forest in saving the land from development. After 25 years of volunteer work and leadership, Martha joined the EEL Workforce in 2012 as a Naturalist and became the Sanctuary Steward which has provided opportunities to engage in educational programs, preservation and conservation of environmental, historic and cultural resources, and daily interpretation and interface with the visiting public.


Jim Peterson (St Johns River Water Management District)  

Jim is the president of Oakland Nature Preserve on Lake Apopka and an environmental scientist for the   St. John’s River Water Management District where he is the Lake Apopka Field Station Supervisor. His areas of expertise are aquatic flora and fauna and birds.


Joel Reynolds (Wildlife Photographer and Landfill Liaison)

What a joy it is to be part of the Space Coast Birding Festival each year! I get to see birds and people I’ve never seen. I learn from everything and everyone I see. Our trip leaders are not just leaders, they are passionate about showing us birds and telling us unknown things about them. Would you think Gulls are interesting? At last year’s visit to our Brevard County Landfill, Amar Ayyash almost knocked us over running to see if that one was an Icelandic Gull, and it was. That allows me to try to get a picture of it; I did. That also lets me help others to get the best settings on whatever camera they’re using to get a great picture!  I love that! Joel worked at the Kennedy Space Center for 30 years and never knew what a wildlife-rich area Central Florida is until attending the SCBWF. Now photographing wildlife is his passion!


Eric Ripma (Sabrewing Nature Tours)

Eric enjoys sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge, especially about identification, with birders of all ages and experience levels.  After beginning birding at the age of ten in Indianapolis, Indiana, he birded every chance he had throughout his childhood – from many spectacular migratory hotspots in the Great Lakes region to the Pacific coast and beyond.  Eric has also spent time birding in a number of tropical locations throughout Central and South America.  During college and after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Biology, Eric conducted bird surveys for multiple organizations throughout the western United States.  He has also spent a fall migration season banding migratory birds in Idaho and in 2017 was on a team of researchers monitoring a nesting colony of Caspian Terns over the summer on the Oregon Coast. Last year, Eric completed his fourth season as the fall waterbird counter at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is currently living in Louisiana doing shorebird surveys on the Gulf Coast and assisting on a Masters/PhD project on Brown Pelicans.


Dr. Paul Sacks (University of Central Florida)

Winter Springs High School teacher Paul Sacks, Ph.D. is married to Dr. Linda Walters. Together with Dr. Melinda Donnelly they oversee University of Central Florida’s Coastal & Estuarine Ecology Laboratory (CEELAB) in the Department of Biology. Graduate student and undergraduate researchers in CEELAB specialize in the ecology of coastal and estuarine ecosystems, conservation biology, and the science of restoration. Current project areas include understanding the decline of oysters in the Indian River Lagoon, community-based oyster reef restoration, practices and monitoring the long-term success of living shoreline stabilization of culturally important sites, wading bird ecology using citizen science, estuarine sediment dynamics, mangrove and saltmarsh plant biology, marine invasive species and aquarium dumping, marine microplastic impacts, participatory-GIS to understand “sense of place” in coastal areas (with UCF social scientists), and several others. Current projects are focused along both coastlines in Florida, with an emphasis on Mosquito Lagoon (northern Indian River Lagoon) within the boundaries of Canaveral National Seashore. CEELAB is extensively engaged in community outreach and education. Over the past decade, over 50,000 community volunteers have helped CEELAB and partner organizations restore 77 intertidal oyster reefs, and over 1800 meters of shoreline. Collectively the lab has produced 7 books on marine conservation for children. CEELAB students have also worked with many hundreds of K-12 students to practice their science communication skills while sharing their passion for our critical marine ecosystems with the goal to make everyone better stewards of the environment.


Betty Salter (Merritt Island Wildlife Association) 

Betty has been a volunteer with US Fish and Wildlife Service at MINWR for about 25 years. She has been a Refuge Rover and a Beginning Birding Field Trip Leader. She created and implemented educational programs for students of all ages and worked with the University of Florida to establish the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network at MINWR.  All of these activities are dear to her, but one in particular became very important… working with the fire management team at the refuge where she gained a greater understanding of prescribed fire… why and how it is used. Betty serves on the Great Outdoors Nature, RV & Golf Resort Firewise Committee and as Trail Master for their Nature Center. There are 8 nature trails through conservation areas at the Great Outdoors.


Dr. Paul A. Schmalzer (NASA Kennedy Space Center Ecology Program)

Paul is a plant ecologist with Integrated Mission Support Services at Kennedy Space Center. He has studied scrub vegetation, fire ecology, scrub restoration, and related topics since 1982. He is author or co-author of 50 peer-reviewed publications and numerous technical reports. He has served on the Selection and Management Committee for the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program since 1990. His current research interests include: effects of fire on vegetation and soils, restoration of scrub ecosystems, distribution of rare scrub plants, and composition and dynamics of barrier island plant communities.


David Simpson (Birding with David Simpson)

David was born and raised in Brevard County Florida. With mentors like Helen Cruickshank and Johnnie Johnson and over 36 years in the field, it’s no wonder that he has become one of Florida’s premier birders. David has been leading birding tours in Florida for over 25 years, starting as a teenager leading field trips for his local Audubon chapter. Employment with the Florida Park Service, two Florida Big Years and countless Big Days, extensive county listing, and several environmental consulting jobs have led to an extensive knowledge of Florida’s amazing biodiversity. He was a Florida eBird reviewer and is currently a regional coordinator for the ongoing Florida Breeding Bird Atlas II Project. Check out his


Kelly Smith (American Birding Association)

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 raptor and songbird banding projects in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. For the past decade Kelly 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 Texas Master Naturalists, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, Texas Pelagics, and the Texas Ornithological Society.  An all-around nature lover, Kelly spends her time hiking, kayaking, scuba-diving, biking, and looking for herps.


Jim Stahl (Merritt Island Wildlife Association and Friends of Enchanted Forest)

Jim Stahl is a native of Ohio where he worked his entire career at a regional natural area park system of 20,000 acres as chief naturalist and natural resource manager. Among his duties were biotic surveys, prairie and wetland restorations, managing natural areas, and making presentations about nature. He also taught life sciences at both Capital and Otterbein Universities as an adjunct professor. After retiring he and his wife moved to the Titusville area where he has been an active volunteer for the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Enchanted Forest, and is a long-time board member of the Space Coast Audubon Society. Jim has led field trips and presented talks for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival for about 16 years.


Aaron Steed (Ventures Birding Tours)

Aaron has birded all over the southeastern U.S. as well as New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. He has worked with Audubon North Carolina searching for Piping Plover nesting sites and with Texas A&M University performing territory mapping and monitoring of Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos on Fort Hood in the Hill Country of Texas. Aaron has also spent several seasons working for the Southern Appalachian Raptor Research (SARR) learning the art of passerine and raptor banding and hawk-watching at Big Bald Banding Station in Mars Hill, NC. Though he loves traveling and birding new places, he will always be drawn back to the Ashville area for the splendid biodiversity of the Southern Appalachians.


Edie Stiner

Edie is a retired medical technologist. She began birding in the early 1970’s when husband John did his research on migrating warblers. Together they have birded many national parks and famous birding spots during his 33 years in the National Park Service.


John Stiner (Retired National Park Service – Canaveral National Seashore)

Born in Pennsylvania Dutch country John grew up on scrapple, apple dumplings and shoofly pie. He spent 33 years in the National Park Service working at both historic and natural parks including Gettysburg, Fort Sumter, Great Smoky Mountains and Canaveral National Seashore. While at Canaveral he managed the sea turtle protection program which grew from 3000 to 8000 nests annually. Other duties involved research and protection of hundreds of archeological sites, the information which he loves to share.


Stephen Stipkovits (Florida Forest Service)

Steve is a Forester with the Florida Forest Service at the Little Big Econ and Charles H. Bronson State Forests. He received his B.S. in forest science from the Pennsylvania State University in 2005, where he is originally from. He has been with the Florida Forest Service for eleven years where he manages the forest for endangered species, wildlife, forest ecosystems, hydrology, exotic plant control, fire management and recreation.

Joan Tague (Halifax River Audubon)

Looking for a volunteer opportunity, Joan Tague walked into the Pittsburgh (now National) Aviary in 1987 and changed her life. Along with meeting her future husband, bIrds, birding and education became her focus from that point on. Chuck and Joan published a monthly newsletter for 12 years highlighting the natural history of Western Pennsylvania while encouraging adults and children to experience nature through their classroom and outdoor programs and field trips. They migrated to central Florida in 2005 and almost immediately were “discovered” here. Joan now leads field trips for adults and children, presents programs on Birds and Butterflies, and volunteers for wildlife surveys.


Laurilee Thompson (Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival)

Laurilee is a fifth-generation Floridian with an unshakable commitment to the state’s natural resources, including the Indian River Lagoon. She is the co-owner of Dixie Crossroads, a southern seafood restaurant in Titusville, FL with international name recognition and a menu that features locally caught seafood. Laurilee is an avid naturalist with a pragmatic eye to the sustainable use of natural resources and an important advocate for the promotion, protection, and responsible use of our natural resources. She is the founder of the highly successful Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival and servers on numerous boards related to tourism, the environment and fishing.


Simon Thompson (Ventures Birding Tours) – See Classroom Presenters


Emilie Travis

Emilie Travis was first “taken by” birds while attending The University of Vermont, when a Double-Crested Cormorant fought back against being fit for a radio transmitter and “kissed” her lips. Over the past 16 years, Emilie’s assisted on bird banding projects in the northeast, midwest and southeast, gaining experience handling and identifying neotropical migrants and residential birds. She acquired her Master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison studying the impact of communication towers to migratory birds. Emilie’s been guiding for Ventures Birding Tours since 2013 and now resides in Delray Beach to enjoy year-round birding opportunities.


David Trently (Partnership for International Birding)

David has enjoyed natural history his entire life, and he has seriously studied birds and butterflies for over twenty years. For nearly two decades he has led trips for local bird clubs and Audubon groups, first starting with the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS). That soon led to organizing trips further afield and he now guides 8-12 trips a year for the Partnership for International Birding. David has led trips all around the US and to other countries, including Panama, Ecuador, Mexico and Belize. In addition to birding, David spends a lot of time documenting species for county lists and photographing butterflies and dragonflies. He is involved in annual bio-blitzes and bird counts, and his advice on the distribution of certain species is sought out in both Tennessee and Pennsylvania. He has been in active leadership roles in TOS and other birding and conservation efforts. He recently moved back to his home state of Pennsylvania, and he now works full time for the Partnership for International Birding. As a Partner in the PIB, he is more than happy to guide anywhere in the US and/or host a birding trip in most any country.


David Turner (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)


Emilie Travis

Emilie Travis was first “taken by” birds while attending The University of Vermont, when a Double-Crested Cormorant fought back against being fit for a radio transmitter and “kissed” her lips. Over the past 16 years, Emilie’s assisted on bird banding projects in the northeast, midwest and southeast, gaining experience handling and identifying neotropical migrants and residential birds. She acquired her Master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison studying the impact of communication towers to migratory birds. Emilie’s been guiding for Ventures Birding Tours since 2013 and now resides in Delray Beach to enjoy year-round birding opportunities.

Dave is the Lead Area Biologist for the 5,045-acre Salt Lake Wildlife Management Area in Brevard County, and the 1,700-acre Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area in Orange and Osceola Counties. His main work duties include: habitat maintenance and restoration thru the use of prescribed fire, protection and preservation of listed, rare and focal flora and fauna, resource protection of natural communities thru treatment of invasive exotic flora and fauna, maintenance of infrastructure (roads, buildings, equipment, trails, kiosks, observation platforms, etc.), management of outdoor based recreational opportunities (public hunts, hiking, biking, equestrian riding, paddling, natural study, wildlife viewing, etc.), and the protection and preservation of historical resources.


Jeronie Tut (Birding in Belize with Paradise Birding)
Jeronie is the oldest son of the Tut family. The family lived on a 90-acre parcel of land near the village of Cristo Rey in Western Belize. The Tut Family were known for growing watermelons in the early 1970’s. Our parents Victor and Teresa Tut would carefully weigh them and transport them to Belize city to sell. The children would help care for the fields in the early mornings prior to going to school and in the late evenings after school. As we grew older our family moved closer to the village to a 21-acre parcel of land which was handed to us from other relatives. That made it closer for us to attend school and we could walk home for lunch. We still carried the tradition of farming watermelon and vegetables. In the 1980s some Americans were looking for a house for rent. We rented the house we use to live in and we started a smaller house for us. My dad left farming as many other locals got involved in doing the same thing. It was around the same time that Chaa Creek Lodge came to existence and my dad helped with building the thatch roofs. While he did that, we added a couple more rooms to our property. In 1992 we opened Crystal Paradise Resort and we got into tourism. When I got older, I worked at Duplooy’s Jungle Lodge on the weekends and summers while I attended high school. I got an interest in birding as I saw that tourists seemed to enjoy our local birds. We always had a love for nature as we grew up surrounded by it. Some guests at Duplooy’s realized I had an interest in birds and left me an old pair of Bushnell binoculars as a tip when they checked out. The binoculars came in very handy as I would birdwatch on my way home from high school and 4-mile walk then didn’t seem that far. In the 1980s courses in tourism were offered by very few people. I took the courses and later got a tour guide license. My brothers, Andy Tut Fernando and Eric Tut, also got into birding. So now we all have a passion for birding and we have made if our livelihood in this growing tourism Industry


Raymond VanBuskirk (Birding Research and Nature Tours) – See Classroom Presenters


Charlie Venuto (Space Coast Audubon)

Charlie is the Director for Environmental Health and Safety for Delaware North Corporation at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Prior to that he was the Environmental Manager for the contractor responsible for assembling, maintaining and launching the Space Shuttle. Charlie is a part time Environmental Science Professor at the American Public University. He was awarded research grants from APUS to study the creation of the Merritt Island NWR and the lives of Allan and Helen Cruickshank. He is a Past President of the Space Coast Audubon Society and sits on the boards of the Merritt Island Wildlife Association, Brevard Nature Alliance and Friends of the Kissimmee Prairie. He is the Science Alternate for the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Citizen’s Oversight Committee.


Dr. Linda Walters (University of Central Florida)

Linda is a Pegasus Professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida.  For the past 20 years, her research has focused on the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). In particular, she has helped us understand the ecology of oyster reefs as well as the importance of their restoration for ecosystem functioning.  Over two acres of oyster reef restoration has now been undertaken by Walters, colleagues and partners, in collaboration with over 48,000 volunteers. Additionally, her laboratory group has stabilized over 1000 meters of estuarine shorelines, seaward of numerous historic buildings and shell middens along the IRL.


Jessy Wayles (Marine Discovery Center)

Jessy is a graduate from University of Central Florida with a B.S. Environmental Science. She brings over twelve years of professional and volunteer experience to the Marine Discovery Center. Jessy expanded her interest in environmental science through a variety of volunteer projects, including relocating sea turtle nests, tagging and measuring sea turtles, and assisting with data collection on fresh water turtles in Florida’s springs. Her love of nature compelled her to complete all three Florida Master Naturalist Programs, earning the title of Florida Master Naturalist. A member of the Indian River Lagoon national Estuary Program’s Citizen’s Action Committee, she is continually involved in finding ways to secure the health of the Indian River Lagoon and its habitats. When she is not working to make the IRL healthier, you can find Jessy at the skating rink playing roller derby under the name “Spikey Wayles” or getting lost in one of Florida’s beautiful and unique ecosystems.




Anna Wittmer (Wildside Nature Tours)

Anna is a birder and all-around nature enthusiast from Ohio. She has been fascinated by most types of living creatures since childhood and grew up exploring the wilderness surrounding her home. This grew into a life-long passion for wildlife, and during college, Anna discovered birding through her classwork. She started her birding career on the shores and islands of Lake Erie while studying Ecology and Conservation Biology. Anna is a definite “lister” and focuses much of her time on building her life list in addition to her ABA, state and county lists. She has traveled expansively across the North American continent and greatly looks forward to expanding her travels globally. When not birding, Anna has worked at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary, Rock Point Banding Station and Prairie Winds Nature Farm. She has also enjoyed volunteering with organizations such as Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Columbus Audubon, South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society and the Greater Mohican Audubon Society. She holds the position of Field Trip Committee Chair for Columbus Audubon.


Maria Zondervan (St Johns River Water Management District)

Maria graduated from the University of Florida in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. In 2011, she received her Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Management through the University of Lund in Sweden. Maria worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for 3 years as a Biological Scientist before joining the St. Johns River Water Management District.  She has been there for 18 years, managing all the wildlife programs within the Bureau of Land Resources and serving as Land Manager for the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area. Current favorite projects include red-cockaded woodpecker translocation, scrub-jay habitat restoration and longleaf pine reforestation. Maria also works with barn owls, rodent studies, eagles, burrowing owls and alligators. She is a certified burn boss and an instructor for aerial ignition. Maria is also a Certified Wildlife Biologist and has been an active member of the Wildlife Society since 1996.


Brian Zwiebel (Sabrewing Nature Tours) – See Photographers


321 268 5224

Eastern Florida State College, Titusville, Florida

Adjacent to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
and near the Canaveral National Seashore and Kennedy Space Center

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