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SOUTHEAST ARIZONA BIRDING FESTIVAL

Field Trip Leaders

Jeff Babson
Jeff Babson got his start in birding when his grandfather gave him a copy of The Golden Guide to the Birds of North America when he was 6. That was the beginning of a wonderful obsession, not only for birds, but the entire natural world.  Jeff currently works for the Pima County Department of Natural Resources, Parks, and Recreation, as the county’s Wildlife Viewing Program Specialist.  He also owns Sky Island Tours, an environmental education and eco-tour company, offering programs and tours for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, among other things

Chris Benesh
After earning a degree in zoology from UC Santa Barbara in 1987, Chris moved to Austin to join the Field Guides staff. Chris takes an interest in nearly anything that flies, and you might catch him sneaking a peek at a passing aircraft or stopping to examine a butterfly or odonate.  Chris serves on the Arizona Bird Commitee, and additionally his passion for education has led to his ongoing work on a photoguide to North American flycatchers (can you say “glacial pace”?), as well as the occasional workshop or birding convention presentation.

Andy Bennett
Andy has been professionally involved with the study and protection of birds, plants, and other creatures for over fifteen years. He has extensive field biology experience, including the study of nesting success of northern goshawks in Colorado, grassland sparrows in Oregon, and yellow-eyed juncos on Mt. Lemmon, AZ. Andy has worked for Tucson Audubon since 2008 conducting ecological restoration, youth education, and survey work.

Gavin Bieber
Gavin developed an early interest in birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles and has steadily pursued these interests. Gavin graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in Biology and a minor in Environmental Studies. While still in university, he taught bird identification classes and lead birding field trips. Since graduating, Gavin has worked as a field assistant on a variety of ornithological research projects. Gavin now serves as a board member for Tucson Audubon.

Ken Blankenship
Ken has been birding across the southern tier of the United States for over a decade, from New Mexico to SoCal, south Texas around the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys. Like many North American birders, for years Ken has been fascinated by the unique birds and habitats of Southeastern Arizona. In 2015, he decided to pursue a dream of living full-time among the “Sky Island” mountains of Cochise, Santa Cruz, and Pima counties. Ken has spent countless hours in the field in all seasons, learning the ebb and flow of our special migrants, breeding birds, and wintering species of the deserts, high elevation canyons, grasslands, and riparian corridors. Ken’s other greatest area of expertise is the status and distribution of the birds of the Southeast – particularly Georgia, his native state – where he works for the Department of Natural Resources in early summer performing various types of breeding bird surveys. Ken is a self-admitted “ear-birding addict,” and has obsessively studied bird vocalizations for years, both in the field and using CDs; this includes anything from songs, to chips, to flight calls, to scolds, and every “seet ” and “tsip” in between.

Brian Gibbons
Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in his local creeks and parks. Birds are now his primary interest, but all things wild continue to captivate him. For many years, Brian’s field research has involved banding. His most amazing recoveries were a female Wilson’s Warbler that had been banded in Alaska and was captured by Brian in Colorado, and a Sooty Tern that perished after a hurricane on the Texas coast; it had plied the Gulf of Mexico and the oceans of the world for 24 years. Brian’s recreational birdseeking has taken him to Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall in China, and the Himalayas in Nepal. Brian leads tours for VENT in Mexico and the United States.

Matt Griffiths
Starting at Tucson Audubon in 2004 as a habitat restoration field tech, Matt is currently webmaster, coordinator of the Vermilion Flycatcher magazine, and social media manager. He also participates in many Arizona Important Bird Areas surveys all over southeastern Arizona, has two Tucson Bird Count routes, and tries out a new Christmas Bird Count every year. His interest in birds reached new levels during a season of surveying for Southwestern Willow Flycatchers in the Grand Canyon. Now he can imagine nothing better than listening to Whip-poor-will and Canyon Wren song in one of his favorite Sky Islands! He considers the Loggerhead Shrike to be the coolest local bird.

Laurens Halsey
Laurens Halsey has been passionate about (or maybe even obsessed with!) birds and birding for practically his entire life. His interest in birding was inspired by his parents, whom he delighted with his identification of an Indigo Bunting at the age of four (pronounced “Indian Bunny”). But birding has always meant more than just identifying the bird and moving on. Even as a young teenager, he sought a deeper connection with the birds. He wanted to get to know the birds, observe & study their plumages, behaviors, habits, and habitats. Once familiar with birds in his home state, he wanted to see more of the birds, and has birded throughout the United States from Washington to Florida, Maine to California, Texas, Alaska, and off three coasts. Laurens began visiting the premier birding destination of Southeast Arizona in the early eighties and became a resident of the area in 1999.  Though he is most captivated by birds, Laurens is also enthusiastic about all creatures in the wild, whether they are covered with feathers, fur, scales, or some sort of exoskeleton. Today Laurens is a birding guide and wildlife photographer.  He formed Desert Harrier Guiding Services in 2007 and conducts day guiding & private tours for individuals & small groups throughout southeast Arizona and beyond. Guiding and sharing his photographs is Laurens’ way of helping others connect with nature. Laurens is a voting member of the Arizona Bird Committee, volunteers for Tucson Audubon and the Friends of Madera Canyon, and is an avid eBirder and regional eBird reviewer. He lives just outside of Madera Canyon near Green Valley with his very tolerant wife and the most precious cat in the world.

Homer Hansen
Homer is a native of Willcox, AZ and while growing up, had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Sandhill Cranes in winter and the Cassin’s Sparrow in summer. Homer earned his B.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and now works as an environmental scientist with Aplomado Environmental assessing contaminants in soil and groundwater. Homer has presented many workshops on sparrows, raptors, flycatchers, and bird ecology over the past 13 years and has led many birding tours in southeastern Arizona. He especially enjoys the challenges of complex identifications and loves to learn about the nature of birds.

Tim Helentjaris
As a Midwestern transplant to the West ~40 years ago for graduate study, I was stunned by the scenery out here, never having been west of Ohio before then.  Since that awakening, I have spent much of my free time out-of-doors intrigued by questions of natural history.  It also spurred my interest in birding, where I focus primarily on bird behavior and biology.  Now retired, I get my science kick by volunteering with the IBA program and by contributing to eBird as often as I am out in the field.  Having spent a career creating and contributing to databases, I get the purpose of these programs and enjoy being a part of them, thinking about questions as to bird distribution.  It’s been amazing to see the changes here in Arizona since the 80’s!  I also regularly volunteer in the shop, enjoying my interaction with visitors and helping them to find the birds here they came out to look for.  I try to lead a few field trips per year, usually to under-birded areas, as well as help with special projects, lately installing the streaming webcam at the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds.

Rich Hoyer
Rich Hoyer’s first guiding and teaching experience came when he was a senior in high school when he was asked to teach a birdwatching class to a group of 3rd and 4th graders. Five years later, after showing friends from Germany the amazing natural history of his home state of Oregon and after birding for three months all around Ecuador (on about $6 a day), he came to realize what he wanted to do for a living. After graduating with bachelors degrees in Zoology and German and working several seasonal jobs for bird studies in southeastern Arizona, California, Oregon, and Russia, he became a local guide during two summers on Saint Paul Island in Alaska’s Pribilofs, the perfect stepping stone for guiding birders further abroad. Rich has been a full-time leader for WINGS since September 1997 and lives in Tucson, Arizona where he maintains 16 hummingbird feeders in his urban yard.

Karen Krebbs
Karen worked at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for more than 26 years and has extensive knowledge of birds and mammals.  Her passion for hummingbirds has resulted in a book, book chapters, scientific papers, and also a husbandry manual for captive hummingbirds for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Her research on hummingbirds includes migration, nesting biology, behavior, song development, and longevity.  Karen regularly advises zoological institutions and aviaries on the proper care and husbandry of captive hummingbirds.  She has conducted educational workshops and seminars on birds for various organizations, schools, yearly bird festivals, and local bird groups.  Karen has also studied bats for more than 30 years and carries out lectures and workshops for bats.  Her long-term monitoring and inventory research project for bats in the Chiricahua Mountains is in its 16th year.  She also trains government employees on the proper protocol and handling techniques for studying bats.  She has led and co-led natural history trips in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico, Baja, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Galapagos, and Africa.  Karen has a B.Sc. in Wildlife & Fisheries Science from the University of Arizona.

Kendall Kroesen
Kendall grew up in Southern California and graduated from Canyon High School in Anaheim. His mother identified common yard birds but he didn’t take up birding until after earning a BA in anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. After participating in a sea turtle conservation project in northeast Mexico, he bought a bird book and binoculars and was off. He practiced birding when he could during three years as a salvage archaeologist and then in graduate school at the University of California, San Diego. In graduate school Kendall studied psychological and medical anthropology. He gathered material for his dissertation during a twenty-month stay in central Mexico, earning a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. After moving to Tucson and volunteering for Tucson Audubon for a few years, Kendall joined the staff in February 2002. During his first four years he worked with the habitat restoration program and helped improve communications, especially via the website and newsletter. In the fall of 2006 Kendall became Habitat Restoration Program Manager. Kendall is now the Urban Program Manager. In this capacity he raises awareness of birds in Tucson, teaches how to make landscapes friendly to birds and works on issues of urban resources sustainability. Kendall is bringing Tucson Audubon’s expertise in birds, habitat restoration and environmental education into the urban area where it can reach a larger population.

Jennie MacFarland
Jennie has lived in Tucson for most of her life and loves SE Arizona and its birds! In 2010 she graduated from the University of Arizona with a BS in Wildlife Conservation and Management from the School of Natural Resources. That same month she was hired by Tucson Audubon Society to work in the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program and has a fantastic time at work! When not watching birds, Jennie enjoys many other “geek chic” activities!

Jake Mohlmann
Raised in rural northeast Pennsylvania, Jake is a lifelong birdwatcher and conservationist. He has worked for New York City’s Museum of Natural History and for Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Science and made significant contributions to the field work for the most recent edition of the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas. Since then he has worked on projects involving Burrowing Owls at the Salton Sea and counted secretive marsh birds in the lower Colorado River basin. He also spent a summer leading tours on St. Paul Island and has worked on the identification and monitoring of endangered species in South Texas and various areas in the Mojave Desert of southern California. It was on St. Paul that Jake lived a birder’s dream, with the first Western Hemisphere record of Brown Hawk Owl, subject of a subsequent cover photo and article in North American Birds in 2007. Jake is always excited to return to sunny southeastern Arizona to live and bird as a co-owner of The Adventure Birding Company. He is also an associate leader for WINGS bird tours leading trips to Utah, Arizona and Mexico.

Scott Olmstead
Scott Olmstead is a lifelong naturalist who is crazy about birding and passionate about sharing the excitement of bird observation with others. During most of the year he is a high school Spanish teacher in Tucson, but when not at school he may be found stalking trogons and Red-faced Warblers in the border ranges, promoting local youth birding, or traveling to the tropics. Formerly a birding tour leader by trade, Scott continues to lead trips to Costa Rica, Brazil, and Ecuador on a part-time basis for Tropical Birding. His bird-related hobbies include digiscoping and sound recording. Empire Gulch and Mount Lemmon are among his favorite local spots in SE Arizona.

Vincent Pinto
Naturalist, Wildlife Biologist, and Outdoor Instructor Vince Pinto has been teaching people of all ages,interest, and backgrounds about the natural world since 1987. He has led individuals and groups throughout the country on trips of discovery on a myriad of topics: birdwatching, ethnobotany, tracking, Stone-age skills, wilderness survival skills, astronomy, wildlife habitat restoration, sustainable living practices, and more. Vincent and his wife, Claudia, run Ravens-Way Wild Journeys and own two Nature Sanctuaries — 42 acres at Raven’s Nest near Lake Patagonia and 50+ acres at Raven’s Mountain in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains.

Rick Taylor
Hiking up to 500 miles each summer for eight years while conducting research on the Elegant Trogon, Rick Taylor developed an intimate knowledge of the birds and habitats of Southeastern Arizona. During the course of his research he reported the first Eared Quetzal ever seen in the United States! Rick is the founder Borderland Tours, and the author of location checklists for finding birds in Arizona’s Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains, as well as Trogons of the Arizona Borderlands, and ABA’s A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona. His most recent book, Birds of Southeastern Arizona, a regional photo field guide covering all of the regularly-occurring birds in this area, as well as all of the Mexican specialties, was published in 2010.

Deb Vath
Deb Vath has been an elementary and middle-school teacher/librarian for most of her professional career. Noting that children rarely engage in outdoor activities, Deb has made it her mission to mentor students and provide opportunities for them to enjoy and appreciate Southeastern Arizona’s great outdoors. With the support of Tucson Audubon, she has developed the Trekking Rattlers, a local middle school student group that offers monthly nature outings to underprivileged youth. Deb offers birding opportunities to various youth groups in the Tucson Valley.

John Yerger
John humorously describes himself as a “recovering ornithologist.”  In reality, his enthusiasm for bird behavior is contagious.  John first fell in love with Arizona while at the Southwestern Research Station working with Painted Redstarts.  In 2006, to learn the finer details of Arizona bird distribution and seasonal occurrence, John joined a team of local birders that broke 11 of the 12 monthly Arizona “Big Day” records.  (He later became the main instigator for the Sky Islands Birding Cup!)  John has served on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Field Ornithologists, the Arizona Bird Committee, and is one of the editors for Tucson Audubon’s “Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona.”  He is now lucky enough to live in Portal, AZ with his wife, infant son, and their loyal dog, where he works as the Assistant Director of Borderland Tours and as co-owner of the Adventure Birding Company.

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Mason Center 3835 W Hardy Rd. Tucson, AZ 85742 Paton Center for Hummingbirds 477 Pennsylvania Ave. Patagonia, AZ 85624 520 415-6447