Tucson Audubon Society

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Tucson Audubon Field Trip Leaders

Learn a little more about the dynamic people that volunteer their valuable time to lead the varied field trips that Tucson Audubon has to offer.

See our current birding field trips led by these great leaders.


Gavin Bieber

Gavin Bieber was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He developed a very early interest in birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles and has steadily pursued these interests while growing up. One of his earliest birding memories occurred at age 8 when he spotted a male Painted Bunting from a speeding car while on a family vacation in Texas. Gavin graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in Biology and a minor in Environmental Studies. He studied for one year at the University of Southern Mississippi where he collaborated with their Migratory Bird Study Group. While still in university he taught waterfowl, shorebird and passerine identification workshops for the Victoria Natural History Society and led fieldtrips for the university's ornithology classes. Since graduating, Gavin has worked as a field assistant on a variety of ornithological research projects. In addition he conducted point counts for the National Park Service in Arizona and New Mexico and assisted in setting up a riparian bird survey for the University of Arizona. He also serves as the director and lead guide for St. Paul Island Tours (in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska) and has enjoyed working on that island from 2002-2007. Gavin enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm of the natural world with others, and welcomes the chance to meet new people and travel throughout the New World. Gavin is currently a senior leader for WINGS: http://wingsbirds.com/


Ken Blankenship

Ken has been birding throughout the United States (and parts of Canada and Mexico) for over a decade. His greatest area of expertise is the status and distribution of the birds of the Southeastern United States--particularly Georgia, his native state--where he is contracted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to perform various types of avian surveys and habitat monitoring during the breeding season. Between 2007 and 2015, Ken has published a combined total of over 30 General Notes, articles and Significant Sightings Compilations in several ornithological journals concerning the avifauna of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. You can view a list of all his publications at his LinkedIn account. 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. You can listen to some of his own recordings at his xeno-canto account (using headphones is best). 

Like many North American birders, for years Ken has been fascinated by the unique birds and habitats of southeast Arizona and the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He has made four week-long trips to the LRGV (two in spring, two in winter), and spent several weeks of winter 2014-2015 there. Along with two week-long trips to southeast Arizona, Ken has been based out of Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise Counties full-time since November 2015, and spends time in the field nearly ever day. He will be located in southeast Arizona through August 2016, with the express purpose of becoming intimately familiar with the bird species, their vocalizations, habitats, and the full spectrum of the changing seasons and migration to hone his expertise in this special place.


Matt Brooks

A life-long naturalist, Matt Brooks has managed to stay immersed in the outdoors throughout his career. Born in southern New Mexico, he grew up with a love of open spaces, low humidity, desert sunsets, and green chile. After meeting his first Elegant Trogon, this love quickly grew to encompass the bird life unique to this part of the world. After college, his need to explore led to several years in Alaska working in various bird-related capacities for the US Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Eventually, the call to return to his beloved open landscapes of the Southwest grew too strong. In 2006, he moved to Tucson, where he spent several great years working for the Tucson Audubon Society. Somehow, in the midst of all this, he found time to travel extensively and has visited over 40 countries, including virtually every country in mainland Central and South America. Much of his travel has been with his lovely and equally adventurous wife, Sarah. He loves nothing more than a rough, multi-day journey to some far-flung corner of Colombia or China to see a great bird. Matt joined  WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide as a Tour Manager in 2012, and is looking forward to many more birding adventures, both through work and on his own. And he’s willing to go anywhere for a good chile relleno!


Richard Carlson

Richard started birding as a child in Minnesota 60 years ago. After a brief interlude at Harvard, where he majored in caving, mountain climbing, winter mountaineering and economics, he began birding again in Washington DC with the Maryland Ornithological Society. He was one of Chan Robbin's volunteers in establishing the first Breeding Bird Surveys. Bribed by the Nixon administration to leave town with a fellowship to Stanford, he moved West in 1969. He worked at Stanford Research Institute, where he co-authored "Solar Energy in America's Future" and led field trips for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. He became President of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and expanded his birding to Latin America. He has birded throughout the Neotropics and in India, China and Europe. He hopes to ultimately see at least half the birds of the world. He and his wife Pat now migrate among homes in Tucson, Lake Tahoe and Seattle depending on where the birds are.


Clifford A. Cathers

Cliff grew up birding among the fields, farms and forests of southwest Ohio. He learned birding and census work while still a teenager under the watchful eye of Paul E. Knoop, Jr. director of the Aullwood Audubon Center. He graduated from college in 1985 with a B. S. Degree in Electrical Engineering from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. This degree landed him in the power industry and a job opportunity eventually led west to Tucson, Arizona in late 1992. Now in his 35th year of birding, half here and half in the east, Cliff enjoys leading Tucson Audubon field trips, playing with his young son and stalking rarities with a digital camera. Cliff hopes that you'll join him on a Tucson Audubon field trip soon!


Dave Dunford

Dave was born in New Jersey and grew up in Connecticut. For over 50 years he pointedly ignored the enthusiasm of the rest of his family for birds. Only after moving to Tucson following 29 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including posts in Ecuador, Finland, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman, did he discover that birding was great fun. It gets him out in the fresh air and allows him to focus on the detail of the natural world around him. He has been birding for about ten years and leading trips for Tucson Audubon since 2005. Teaching and consulting on Middle East issues takes him all over the United States and occasionally elsewhere in the world and he always packs his binoculars. His favorite place to bird, however, continues to be southeastern Arizona and one of his favorite things to do is to help someone see a bird like a Vermillion Flycatcher or a Rose-throated Becard for the first time.

leader_Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen Flynn

Mary Ellen belongs to the species “homo sapiens migratorious”. Since 2005, she has been lucky enough to divide her time between the Sonoran desert of Tucson and the rocky coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. After joining Tucson Audubon, she started volunteering at the University Ave. Nature Shop where you can still find her on many Wednesday afternoons from December to May. Having caught the birding bug about 15 years ago, she has suffered increasingly strong symptoms in recent years. She confesses to enjoying not only birds but birders of any species. She also leads birding programs for Catalina State Park and Pima County.

Born and raised north of Boston, Mary Ellen earned a B.A. from Cornell University and a J.D. from Boston University. She spent her legal career in San Francisco and Boston and is now retired. She is a member of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Brookline Bird Club. She volunteers at Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center and at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (aka “ Plum Island”), both located in Newburyport, Massachusetts.


Richard Fray

Richard grew up in Leicester, England, and encouraged by a father who ran the local youth birding club and an older brother who was twice named Britain's Young Ornithologist of the Year, he was birding as soon as he was big enough to lift a pair of binoculars. As well as birds, he is interested in all aspects of the natural world, especially butterflies, dragonflies and reptiles. He was the youngest ever member of the Leicestershire & Rutland Ornithological Society's committee and founded the Leicestershire & Rutland Dragonfly Group before moving to SE Arizona in 2002. He now can't imagine living anywhere else!

Richard's birding has taken him around Europe and Asia as well as North, Central and South America, and he started a new company, Fun Birding Tours (www.funbirdingtours.com) in 2010. He is a current member of the board of directors of Tucson Audubon Society, serving on the development and membership committees.


Michele Frisella

Michele started birding seriously in 2013 after moving to Tucson and attending Tucson Audubon bird walks. She started Dove Mountain Birders soon after, leading bird walks in her residential community. She put herself through college and graduate school working summers as a ranger in Yellowstone, Crater Lake and Mt. Rainier National Parks, as a fire lookout in the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, and as a crew leader at Berlin National Fish Hatchery in New Hampshire.


Jim Gessaman

Jim Gessaman, an ornithologist, ecologist, and physiologist at Utah State University from 1968-2003, has authored more than 50 publications on bird migration; energetics of flight; physiological adaptations of mammals and birds (with emphasis on hawks, eagles and owls) to inclement environments; and validations of new methodologies for studying animal energetics and metabolism. Since moving to Tucson in 2006, Jim has volunteered at Tucson Audubon for several years with leading bird walks at the Mason Center and now at Arthur Pack Regional Park during the winter months, and helping survey birds in several Important Bird Areas.


Homer Hansen

Homer is a native of Willcox 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 lead many birding tours in southeastern Arizona. For the past two years, he has also instructed the Moving to Mastery courses offered by the Tucson Audubon Society. He especially enjoys the challenges of complex identifications and loves to learn about the nature of birds. Homer is the former chairman of the annual Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature festival and also led the Sparrow Seeks for the event.


Jim Hays

Jim has been leading Tucson Audubon field trips for ten years and helped to coordinate the Tuesday trips for five years. The Huachuca Mountain area is a special favorite of his. He has also been a Board member of Tucson Audubon. A former professor of geology at Harvard University , Jim enjoys sharing his love of the outdoors with others.

Before moving to Tucson he led birding trips for the Brookline Bird Club in Massachusetts and the Northern Virginia Bird Club and Fauquier Bird Club in Virginia . He has birded in most of the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, and South America, but especially enjoys the birds of Mexico and the American Southwest.


Jean and Mark Hengesbaugh

Jean and Mark live near Sabino Canyon and consider the creek their back yard. In addition to leading birding field trips in the recreation area for Tucson Audubon, they also survey three Important Bird Areas along lower Sabino Creek. They are Sabino Canyon Volunteer Naturalists for the U.S. Forest Service and volunteer at Saguaro National Park in the Weed Free Trails Program


John Higgins

John Higgins thinks wandering outside all morning looking at birds with some other sociable people is a great way to spend his time. He has been lucky enough to have birded from the Amazon to Alaska to Austria. He has been taking out field trips for Tucson Audubon for twenty years. John especilly likes easy-going trips with beginner birders looking for easy-to-see birds, such as driving around looking at thousands of big Sandhill Cranes or sitting on a shady bench looking at close-up humminbird feeders. John's trips almost always end with eating apple pie or ice cream.


Kendall Kroesen

Most of Kendall's field trips feature Tucson urban hotspots and places where Tucson Audubon is working to improve habitat. His interest in these issues arose growing up in Orange County, California, and observing vast losses of habitat as Southern California developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Kendall took up birding in earnest after helping with a sea turtle conservation project in Mexico. He gradually improved his skills during archaeological field projects in California, graduate school in San Diego, cultural anthropology field work in central Mexico, and post-doctoral work in Los Angeles. Kendall moved to Tucson in 1998 and has been birding southeast Arizona since then. He started volunteering for Tucson Audubon in 2000 and was on staff from 2002 to 2016. He has a BA in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego.


Larry Liese

Larry came by his love for the outdoors at an early age. Raised in Vermont, he spent much of this youth backpacking and hiking along the Appalachian, Long and other trails. After migrating to Arizona, Larry fell under the spell of birding and now makes regular forays into Mexico to discover birding hotspots there.

Retiring early from an engineering career in power electronics, for some time Larry was very active in the Tucson Audubon chapter, serving as a member of their Board and Chairman of both the Education and International Trips Committees. Besides leading close to one hundred of their field trips, Larry currently writes the What's In A Name column for the Vermilion Flycatcher. He also wrote a long-standing monthly column on the challenges of bird identification (Dastardly Duos), followed by another series on habitat. All of this led naturally to a second career leading birdwatching and natural history trips to Mexico and other Central American countries, which keeps him quite busy much of the year (though he still likes birding here in Southeast Arizona!).

Larry's excitement and enthusiasm are contagious. He loves sharing his passion for birds with people of all levels, and particularly likes how in birding there are always new avenues of interest to explore.


Vivian MacKinnon

Vivian was raised in the black water swamps of North Florida, graduated with a degree in Anthropology and Environmental Sciences from Florida State University and headed west the next day! While serving in AmeriCorps at Saguaro National Park she was required to attend a birding tour. One look at a Black-throated Sparrow through a cheap pair of binoculars was all it took to get her hooked. She promptly began studying the birds of southeast Arizona and began leading natural history and birding tours both professionally and as a volunteer for area environmental organizations. She has been guiding natural history and birding tours in southeast Arizona for the past twelve years and especially enjoys introducing beginning birders to the spectacular natural wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Anthony Mendoza

Anthony has been a birder and botanist for 50 years. He studied botany at the University of Washington and then computers at California State University at Long Beach. He presently works as a space craft designer but volunteers with Tucson Audubon as a field trip leader, with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network as a trapper and data recorder and as a contributor to the Seinet (a botanical site sponsored by a consortium of universities and by the National Science Foundation). Anthony has birded and botanized extensively in North America, Europe and in the Colombian Andes.


Pinau Merlin

Pinau is a naturalist and author of several books and numerous articles about the natural history of the Sonoran Desert region. Her works include The Field Guide to Desert Holes, A Guide to Southern Arizona Bird Nests and Eggs, Hummingbirds of the West, Raptors and Soaring Birds of the West, and she is a contributing author to The Natural History of the Sonoran Desert.

Pinau speaks throughout the U.S., helping others re-connect to nature by teaching about ecology, birds, wildlife, plants, tracking, and outdoor awareness skills. She has presented natural history programs for Smithsonian, National Wildlife Federation and American Birding Association, among many others. Pinau leads birding and natural history "ed-venture" trips in the Southwest, Mexico and Central America. She is especially interested in the natural history, behavior and adaptive strategies of birds, as well as birding by ear and bird language.

Pinau has taught natural history at the University of Arizona and has also designed natural history centers, interpretive exhibits, nature trails and wildlife habitats. Pinau's insights and observations about the natural history of the Sonoran Desert have been featured on PBS' Arizona Illustrated, on National Public Radio and in Smithsonian and National Wildlife magazines, among others.


Robert Mesta

Robert recently retired as an ornithologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He spent his professional career working to protect, conserve, and recover threatened and endangered North American bird populations. His area of expertise is the recovery of endangered birds of prey. He directed national and international-level programs to recover the California Condor, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and the Masked Bobwhite quail. Robert coordinated the California Condor Recovery Program from 1990 to 2000. In 1992, he directed the first reintroduction of captive-bred condors back to the wild in southern California and in 1996 he led the successful reintroduction of condors into the Grant Canyon. In the 1980s Robert established the highly successful Arizona Bald Eagle Nest-watch Program and was a member o fthe National Bald Eagle Recovery Team that down-listed the Bald Eagle from endangered to threatened in 1995. As leader of the National Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team, he wrote the rule that removed the Peregrine Falcon from the Endangered Species List after its successful recovery. From 1999 to 2015 he coordinated the Sonoran Join Venture, a bi-national  bird conservation program between the United States and Mexico. As leader of the Masked Bobwhite quail recovery team, Robert worked to establish a captive breeding and release program in Mexico to re-establish this endangered sub-species to its historical range in Sonora, Mexico. 


Ken Murphy

Ken grew up on a farm in northern California near San Francisco, consequently he has had a passion for nature and wildlife all his life and started birding around 1990. An extensive birder of the lower 48, his birding interests later on expanded to include neotropical birds as well as photography. He was a prior Field Trip Coordinator with Tucson Audubon and volunteers on bird surveys with the Arizona IBA program. An Arizona resident since 2000, he has a Bachelor's Degree in Biology and is a scientist at a clinical toxicology laboratory near the Tucson Medical Center.


Scott Olmstead

A high school Spanish teacher during most of the year and part-time birding tour leader during the summer, Scott gets a real thrill out of sharing birding and nature experiences with others. In addition to leading field trips, he has volunteered with Tucson Audubon on IBA surveys and the Tucson Audubon Youth Birding Committee. Scott is completely obsessed with birding in Central and South America and he led the Tucson Audubon birding tour to Ecuador in 2012. His bird-related pursuits include sound recording and photography.


Sara Pike

Sara has been leading bird walks for Tucson Audubon for just over two years. She started out as a Volunteer Naturalist at the Mason Audubon Center and helped with the beginning bird walks there. Now, she's taking small groups out to other local areas. She enjoys working with beginning bird watchers because, according to her, "It's so exciting to see someone open up to a whole new world and get excited about it!" She has been birding for about 15 years. She picked up the interest from her cousin, who is one of those crazy "Eat, Sleep, Bird" types - but he forgets to eat and sleep. She thought it would be a great thing to do for the rest of her life. Her thoughts were that she can do it anywhere, and all she needs is a field guide and a pair of binoculars.

Sara currently manages the nature store for Tucson Audubon. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona in Communication with a focus on Marketing. But...for Sara, birds are much more fun to look at than a marketing analysis spreadsheet. Most of the time, she's a casual birder, and watches birds for fun. But, occasionally she'll get that crazy bug and go searching for a rarity. She keeps lists, and uses eBird on a regular basis to keep track of sightings. Why birding? Sara loves being outdoors. She loves being reminded and humbled that she's not the only thing on this earth. In her words, "Birds humble me - they remind me that there is more to this life than material things, and they remind me that we all need to care for something other than ourselves. They are a constant reminder of the importance of diversity and the greatness of being unique." One final thought from Sara, " Let me just say, when I see a kid getting excited about the red on a House Finch, it makes me as teary-eyed as it does when I'm watching someone see a life bird."


Vincent Pinto

Naturalist, Wildlife Biologist, Ethnobotanist, and Wilderness Survival Instructor Vincent Pinto has been teaching a myriad of people about the Natural World since 1987. As a passionate Conservationist, Vincent strives to educate and inspire within a framework of Environmental Stewardship and Earth Sustainability. He has led countless individuals and groups throughout the U.S. on a wide variety of Nature Adventures and Educational Programs on diverse and fascinating topics including: Birdwatching, Ethnobotany (human uses of native plants), Wildlife Tracking, Wilderness Survival Skills, Natural History, Astronomy, Wildlife Habitat Restoration, Sustainable Living Practices, and more! Vincent and his wife, Claudia, run RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS - dedicated to raising Environmental Awareness of Arizona's unique and diverse Sky Islands through fun, hands-on, experiential, and memorable Nature Adventures, Tours, and Programs. They hope to inspire you to embark upon your own Journeys of Nature exploration, discovery, and Conservation at one of their 2 Nature Sanctuaries, by Patagonia Lake, and the Chiricahua Mountains. For information visit: www.ravensnatureschool.org.


Luke Safford

Luke grew up in a family that loved the outdoors and quickly blossomed into a birder after his grandparents gave him his first bird book when he was seven. He was enamored with the idea of making bird species lists and keeping track of the day to day bird life in his suburban back yard near Tacoma, WA. 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 constant carrying of binoculars, and still married him. After moving to Yakima, WA, Luke became involved in Yakima Valley Audubon and served on the board, as field trip coordinator, CBC compiler, and field trip leader. His favoriate birding in Yakima was along the Yakima River on the Poppoff Trail, where he led a weekly bird walk for three years. He loves to bird specific patches and watch the comings and goings of bird life throughout the seasons. At the end of 2014 Luke and his family moved to Tucson and he quickly began attending the Sweetwater Wetlands bird walk. Sweetwater now has a special hold on him as he has visited the wetlands over 100 times already. Leading the walk at Sweetwater is one of Luke's favorite moments of the week as it is a time of catching up with the "Tucson regulars," meeting new people from all over the world, helping new birders learn basics and, of course, soaking in the bird life.


Janine Spencer

Janine has been a wildlife biologist and Arizona resident since 1985. She studied Northern Goshawks for her MS thesis. As part of her work, Janine has also studied SW Willow Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Yuma Clapper Rails, Peregrine Falcons, Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-owls, Mexican Spotted Owls, Burrowing Owls, and performs general bird surveys. She has lived in Prescott for 19 years and in Tucson for 7 years.

Rick Wright

When Rick Wright suggested to his wife, Alison, that they should move to Tucson, she replied, simply and astonishingly, "Yes." Thus began eight years of some of the best birding of their lives. During what they optimistically call their first Arizona residence, both served as popular Tucson Audubon field trip leaders; Rick also designed and taught Tucson Audubon's Lifetime Birding Series. He operated his own tour company, Aimophila Adventures, from 2004 to 2008, all the while writing, lecturing, and conducting workshops in Arizona and around the world. He continues to lead birding tours in North America and Europe, including an ever-expanding series of Birds and Art tours that take small groups into the cultural, historical and of course ornithological landscapes of Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and beyond. In addition to two scholarly books on the Latin animal literature of the Middle Ages, Rick is the author of The ABA Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey; forthcoming are his ABA Field Guide to Birds of Arizona and Peterson Reference Guide to American Sparrows. A prolific contributor to the birding periodicals, Rick also serves as book review editor at Birding and at our very own Vermilion Flycatcher. When they can't get away to southeast Arizona, Rick and Alison live in northern New Jersey with the world's best birding dog, their chololate lab, Gellert. Their time afield is obsessively documented at birdaz.com/blog


John Yerger

John graduated from Penn State with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science in 2005. He then promptly moved to Tucson to work in and enjoy the Sonoran Desert and its Sky Islands - and all of the birds they have to offer. While John enjoys every bird from the drabbest common resident to the most dazzingly plumaged rarity, he is equally engaged by many aspects of conservation and natural history. He has led trips from Ontario to Arizona, and has researched breeding birds throughout Pennsylvania, Arizona, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.

John currently serves as the Field Expedition Chair for the Arizona Field Ornithologists and is a Senior Guide for the Adventure Birding Company. As a volunteer Field Trip Leader for the Tucson Audubon Society, John has thoroughly enjoyed leading trips to the Chiricahua Mountains (where he has studied Painted Redstarts and currently lives), the Sulphur Springs Valley, and the lower Santa Cruz River.