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Introducing the Experts

The finest collection of guides providing world class instruction with the best guide-to-guest ratio on the festival circuit!
Take your time to get to know them.

Noah Strycker

Noah Strycker, is Associate Editor of “Birding” magazine,Noah Strycker the author of two well-regarded books about birds, and a regular contributor of photography and articles to all major bird magazines as well as other media; he blogs regularly for the American Birding Association. Strycker set a World Big Year record in 2015 and is writing a book about the experience, which will be released in fall 2017. Strycker has studied birds on six continents with field seasons in Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Australia, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, and the Farallon Islands. He also works as a naturalist guide on expedition cruises to Antarctica and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, literally spreading the inspiration of birds from pole to pole. His first book, “Among Penguins,” chronicles a field season working with Adelie Penguins in Antarctica (Oregon State University Press, 2011) and his second, “The Thing with Feathers,” celebrates the fascinating behaviors of birds and human parallels (Riverhead Books, 2014). Strycker is based in Oregon, where his backyard has hosted more than 100 species of birds.

Visit his website at www.noahstrycker.com


Julie Zickefoose

Julie started off as an illustrator of natural history subjects as a college freshman in 1976. A six-year stint as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy's Connecticut Chapter proved a strong motivator both to learn more about ecosystems and to go back to drawing. Along the way, she began to write her own essays, studded with observations of birds and animals, and writing slowly crept into the forefront of her interests. Marietta, Ohio-based Bird Watcher’s Digest has been the major print venue for her writing since 1986, and she’s painted 23 covers for the magazine. Julie had a five-year run as a commentator for National Public Radio's afternoon news show "All Things Considered," telling about bird-eating bullfrogs and hummingbirds who came home to their foster mother, among other subjects. Julie’s first book of illustrated essays, Letters from Eden, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. She started her natural history blog, Julie Zickefoose on Blogspot, in December 2005. The blog now entertains around 28,000 unique visits per month and continues to grow in popularity. Her current book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds, was Oprah’s Book of the Week in April 2012. It’s an amalgam of memoir, natural history and beautiful watercolor paintings and life sketches. Julie and her family (Bill Thompson III, Phoebe, Liam and Boston terrier Chet Baker) live in a ranch house topped by a 42 foot tall birdwatching tower. 186 species of birds and 78 butterfly species have graced the 80-acre sanctuary to date. With a dozen species of breeding warblers and more gardens than any one person should probably try to take care of, Indigo Hill has everything Julie needs to keep writing and drawing for a very long time.

Julie's Blog: juliezickefoose.blogspot.com
Julie Zickefoose, Nature Artist & Writer: juliezickefoose.com


Tom Stephenson

Tom StephensonTom has been birding since he was a kid under the tutelage of Dr. Arthur Allen of Cornell University. His articles and photographs are in museums and many publications including Birding, Birdwatcher’s Digest, Handbook of the Birds and Handbook of the Mammals of the World, and Guide to the Birds of SE Brazil.
He has lectured and guided many groups across the US as well as in Asia, where he trained guides for the government of Bhutan. He has donated many recordings of African and Eastern Himalayan rarities and other species to Cornell’s Macaulay Library of Natural sounds.
He was on Zeiss’s digiscoping team for the World Series of Birding and in 2011 his team won the World Series Cape Island Cup. Tom and team also hold the US record for a Photo Big Day, capturing 208 species on camera in a 24-hour period.
As a musician he played concerts and did studio work for many years, working with several Grammy and Academy Award winners as well as performing with members of the NY Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His clients included the Grateful Dead, Phil Collins and the FBI. He joined Roland Corporation in 1991, managed the recorder division, and retired recently as Director of Technology.
His latest book, The Warbler Guide, is published by Princeton University Press and recently won the National Outdoor Book Award. The Warbler Guide App won the 2015 Design Award for AAUP Book, Jacket and Journal Show. His new app, BirdGenie, a “shazam” for bird song is available since 2015.
Tom is endorsed by Zeiss Sports Optics.

Learn more at: thewarblerguide.com


Scott Whittle

Scott WhittleScott Whittle has 20 years of experience as a professional photographer and educator. His B.A. in Literature from Northwestern University and M.F.A. in Photography from the School of Visual Arts reflect his passions for writing and photography, and his love of learning and exploration has taken him to over 30 countries and all but four U.S. States.
He is a one-time Big Year record holder for New York State, his and Tom’s team holds the U.S. Photo Big Day record, and he co-authored The Warbler Guide and The Warbler Guide App with Tom Stephenson.
His work has been published in a wide variety of well-known newspapers, magazines and other media outlets.
After an extensive photography career in New York City, he now lives and works in Cape May, N.J.

Follow Scott at: scottwhittle.com and thewarblerguide.com






Jim McCormac

Jim McCormacJim has spent most of his career, up until 2004, as a botanist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and currently works for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. He was inaugural president of the Ohio Ornithological Society, and served for seven years as secretary of the Ohio Bird Records Committee. Jim was the 2009 recipient of the Ludlow Griscom award, given annually by the American Birding Association to individuals who have made significant regional contributions to ornithology. He is author of Birds of Ohio (Lone Pine 2004); The Great Lakes Nature Guide (Lone Pine 2009); and Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage (Kent State University Press 2009). The latter won the 2010 Ohioana Book award. Jim writes a column, Nature, for the Columbus Dispatch, and has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific and
popular articles in a variety of publications. He is at
work on a book about wood-warblers.

Ohio Birds and Biodiversity: http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com


Bill Thompson, III

Bill is the editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher's Digest, the magazine founded by his parents more than 30 years ago, in 1978. He is the author of numerous books about birds and nature, including, most recently Feeding and Identifying Birds  and The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, both part of the Peterson Field Guide Series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. Bill has led birding trips all across North America and has spoken or performed at more than 100 birding and nature festivals worldwide. He has watched birds in more than 25 countries and on five continents.

Bill writes a daily web-log (blog) called “Bill of the Birds.” He also creates and hosts a podcast called “This Birding Life” which is available as a free download on the Bird Watcher’s Digest website and in the podcasts section of the iTunes store. The podcast receives more than 600,000 episode downloads per year.

In 2008 Bill was awarded a Service Citizen Award from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service for his contributions in making the National Wildlife Refuge system more bird and birder-friendly. He was also awarded the Robert Ridgley Award for Excellence in Ornithological Publications from the American Birding Association.

In 2009 he was nominated for a "Heart of Green" award by thedailygreen.com for his work in fighting Nature Deficit Disorder by helping introduce kids to bird watching.

Born in Pella, Iowa, Bill encountered his spark bird there at the age of 8, when a snowy owl flew into the Thompson family's front yard. His favorite bird is the red-headed woodpecker.

• Bird Watcher’s Digest: birdwatchersdigest.com or birdwatchersdigest-digital.com
• Bill of the Birds (blog): billofthebirds.blogspot.com
• This Birding Life (podcast): birdwatchersdigest.com/site/podcasts/index.aspx


Mark S. Garland

Mark is based in West Cape May, New Jersey, where he runs a small company that plans and conducts nature-oriented tours, lectures, workshops, and field trips for various organizations and private groups. He works with the Audubon Naturalist Society, New Jersey Audubon, Road Scholar, Smithsonian Journeys, American Birding Association, and others. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Maryland. Work experience includes 6 years as a Ranger/Naturalist with the National Park Service, 17 years with the Audubon Naturalist Society (based in the Washington, DC area), and 4 years with New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory. He has taught at the Audubon Camp at Hog Island. He has led over 200 tours around the US and to various parts of the world, including over 30 trips to Costa Rica.

He is the author of the book Watching Nature: A Mid-Atlantic Natural History, published by the Smithsonian Press in 1997, and of the chapter Canal Walk in the Anthology City Birding, published by Stackpole Books in 2003. He founded the Cape Charles Monarch butterfly research project of the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory and currently serves as Communications Director with the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May, New Jersey.

For fifteen years he regularly appeared on the weekly radio program Metro Connection, on Washington’s public radio station WAMU. He has written regular columns for the Cape May Star and Wave, for birdcapemay.org, and for the Audubon Naturalist News; one of the latter pieces was awarded the Excellence in Mass Media Award by the American Association of University Women in 1995. He is a frequent speaker at various events, ranging from nature and birding festivals to bird club monthly meetings.

Follow his activities at his website, mgnature.com.


Katie Fallon

Katie FallonKatie is the co-founder of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a nonprofit research, education, and rehabilitation center dedicated to conserving the region’s wild birds. A member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, she has glove-trained a variety of raptor species, including turkey vultures, hawks, owls, and falcons. She is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird (2017) and Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird (2011), and a book for children about bird migration, Look! See the Bird (2017).
She has taught writing at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University.
Her first word was “bird.”

Follow Katie on her website: katiefallon.com


Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.

Bill’s job allows him to do all day what he likes best, so his vocational activities are almost indistinguishable from his hobbies.

Among Hilton’s awards are: South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year, and SC’s Outstanding Biology Teacher; one of “50 Best Brains in Science”  in the December 2008 issue of Discover magazine; Carolinas Guardian of the Environment; the Outstanding Alumnus Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.Award and the Alumni Ring Award from Newberry College; the Luceo Mea Luce Award;  and the Prize for Excellence from Yamagata University in Japan in an international competition for projects involving “Nature and Human Symbiosis.”

Hilton’s education consists of a BA in Philosophy from Newberry College, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Biology from Winthrop University, and an M.S. in Ecology & Behavioral Biology from the University of Minnesota.

Hilton has studied extensively and trained students, teachers, biologists, and “citizen scientists” in the U.S. and six other countries. Hilton continues his work as an educator through lectures and workshops; as a consultant in science curriculum design and implementation and in outdoor learning; and as a widely published author on nature and education.

In 1999 Hilton launched “Operation Ruby Throat: The Hummingbird Project,” a cross-disciplinary initiative that builds international collaboration among students and teachers. An active field researcher, Hilton is authorized to capture wild hummingbirds and has banded and released over 4,000 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at Hilton Pond Center. Since 2005, Hilton has led field expeditions into Central America to band and observe ruby-throats on their wintering grounds in the Neotropics.

Hilton also works with outdoor learning and nature centers to design trails, interpretive exhibits, and comprehensive education programs. In 2008, Hilton began exchange work as Consulting Director for New River Birding & Nature Center at Wolf Creek Park in Fayette County WV.

Hilton is based near York, SC at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, a non-profit research, education, and conservation organization.

Operation Ruby Throat: http://www.rubythroat.org
Hilton Pond Center: http://www.hiltonpond.org


Jim Rapp

Jim is a naturalist and tireless promoter of nature and heritage travel experiences on the peninsula that comprises the State of Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia (known regionally as "Delmarva"). He started birding in 1989 while attending Salisbury University, and became active in Delmarva's birding community after attending the Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding & Wildlife Festival in 1991.

Jim was employed as Executive Director of the Salisbury Zoological Park from 1994 through 2007. During his service as zoo director, Jim helped develop innovative wildlife education programs, and earned accreditation on three separate occasions from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. In addition to managing the daily operations for a living collection, buildings, and grounds that hosted 200,000+ annual visitors, Jim also found time to help found and manage the award-winning Delmarva Birding Weekend.

Now in it's 16th year, the Delmarva Birding Weekend celebrates the spring migration of thousands of warblers, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors. The Weekend combines boat trips, paddling treks, and expeditions by foot, and is held in conjunction with the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art's Word Championship Competition during late April/early May. A typical Weekend tally usually hovers around 200 species, and the event's 400 annual participants are responsible for $100,000 in direct spending with area hotels, restaurants, and outfitters.

For the past three years, Jim was employed as Executive Director of Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE). Under Jim’s direction, DLITE received tourism awards from the Maryland Office of Tourism and the Maryland Tourism Council for the innovative social media-marketing program Host Our Coast, and from the Delaware Office of Tourism for the Delmarva Birding Weekend. With much assistance from the DLITE Board of Directors and regional partners, Jim also led efforts to: create water trails for Smith Island, the Nanticoke River, and Maryland's coastal bays; develop interpretation training programs for Delmarva nature and history; and establish the Smith Island cake as Maryland's official state dessert.

Jim currently serves as director of the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center in Eden, MD. The 525-acre preserve is a resource for outdoor exploration by local youth organizations. Jim continues to consult with regional tourism partners to develop new and exciting ways to attract travelers interested in Delmarva's nature and history.

Please visit www.dliteonline.net to learn more about Jim and DLITE.


Ben Lizdas

Ben Lizdas Ben manages sales in advertising and marketing for Bird Watcher's Digest's print and digital assets. Prior to BWD, he was sales manager for Eagle Optics; through his years of experience there, Ben developed a familiarity with the principals of how optics work and what to consider when purchasing optics for the best birding experience.

As a former restoration ecologist, Ben first fell in love with birds and birding while involved with vegetation studies on the prairies and oak savannahs of Southern Wisconsin. He's been an avid birder for ten years and continues to pursue this interest through his travels to birding and nature festivals across the country. Having witnessed and appreciated much of the avian diversity of North America while on the road, he still maintains a fondness for those grassland birds that first piqued his interest 10 years ago.

• Bird Watcher’s Digest: birdwatchersdigest.com or birdwatchersdigest-digital.com


Ernesto M. Carman Jr.

Ernesto Carman Jr.Ernesto, a native-born Costa Rican (tico), speaks fluent English and Spanish and is one of his country's most outstanding young naturalists and bird guides. He conducts research on Cerulean Warbler migration, has tallied migrant raptors at Talmanca, and has studied orchid distribution. Ernesto is one of few scientists with extensive experience observing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds within Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize. He has been involved since 2004 with Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project, the only long-term banding study of RTHU on their Neotropical wintering grounds. Ernesto's family runs Finca Cristina, an environmentally friendly coffee farm near Paraiso that uses shade-grown organic techniques and recycles processing materials.

Learn more about Ernesto's family coffee farm at Café-Cristina



Dawn Hewitt

Dawn HewittDawn is managing editor for Bird Watcher’s Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She was bitten by the birding bug in 1978, during an ornithology class at West Virginia University. Consequently, many of the first birds on her life list were found in West Virginia. While working as a copy editor or reporter for The Herald-Times, in Bloomington, Indiana, she was also the newspaper’s weekly birding columnist. She is a past president of Sassafras Audubon Society, and a founding friend of Friends of Goose Pond, based in Linton, Indiana. She has been to all 50 states, and birded in most of them. When not birding, she enjoys Old Time Southern Appalachian string band music, and is tinkers around with both fiddle and clawhammer banjo.






Connie Toops

Happily Retired...

Connie is an accomplished nature writer and photographer with more than thirty years of experience documenting natural history subjects. She is the author/principal photographer of nine nature books, including Hummingbirds: Jewels in Flight, Bluebirds Forever, Great Smoky Mountains, and Florida Everglades. One of Connie’s essays appears in the popular Houghton Mifflin book, Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders, and she is currently co-authoring a Houghton Mifflin field guide to Attracting Backyard Hummingbirds and Butterflies with Bill Thompson III.Connie Toops

Since 1978 Connie’s articles and photos have appeared in dozens of conservation-oriented magazines. Her photography has graced trade and textbooks, advertising, annual reports, calendars, cards, and museum exhibits. Connie is a former contributing editor for Birder’s World magazine, occasionally writes for Bird Watcher’s Digest, and travels the country speaking on birding, wildlife gardening, and nature photography subjects. She guided at the New River Birding & Nature Festival since 2004 and considered the week an annual highlight on her spring calendar.

Connie is also a skilled naturalist. Before beginning her career in photojournalism, she worked at Colonial, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, Everglades, and Crater Lake National Parks. Her husband Pat was a career park ranger for 28 years. Connie and Pat landscaped several former suburban yards to attract “backyard” wildlife so Connie could photograph birds, butterflies, and other wild creatures in natural settings. In 2002 the Toops moved to Lost Cove, a 128-acre mountainside farm in the Big Pine area of western North Carolina, where they now live among numerous songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife they have invited into their yard.

Connie’s popular book, Bluebirds Forever, won the Midwest Independent Publishers Association Award for Best Environmental/Nature Book and the Mid-America Publishers Association Award for Best Photographic Book. Connie received the first Outstanding Service Award from the North American Nature Photography Association and was a semi-finalist for the 1998 Humanitarian Photographer of the Year Award.

Connie Toops, Photojournalist: agpix.com/toops
Lost Cove Farm: www.LasAves.biz


Dr. Scott Shalaway

Happily Retired...

Scott is a certified wildlife biologist who makes his living as a nature writer and broadcaster.  He has been a part of the New River Birding and Nature Festival since its inception.

Scott received his Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, and M.S. in biology from Northern Arizona University, and B.S. in entomology from the University of Delaware.   Since 1986 he has written a weekly nature column that reaches more than one million readers in newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Charleston Gazette, and the Wheeling News-Register.

Scott has written feature stories for a variety of magazines, including Wonderful West Virginia and Birding Business; he has written eight books, including Building a Backyard Bird Habitat (2000, Stackpole), and he contributed an essay to Good Birder’s Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders (2007, Houghton Mifflin).

He hosted nature-themed radio shows in WV and PA. And contributes essays on nature for Inside Appalachia on West Virginia Public Radio and various newspapers.

Scott also led nature tours to places such as the Galapagos Islands, the cloud forests of Ecuador, Hawk Mountain, Maine, and the Everglades.

Early in his career, Scott was on the zoology faculty at Oklahoma State University and taught ”Ornithology” for eight summers at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station at Lake Texoma.  He has also taught “Ornithology for Teachers” at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab in Lake Erie and at the Audubon Society’s camp at Hog Island, Maine.

Throughout the year Scott speaks to dozens of groups on a variety of natural history topics.  He lives on a wooded ridge top in Marshall County, WV with his wife, Linda, and their dog Pip.

Keep in touch with Dr. Scott Shalaway by listening to his radio show, “Birds & Nature” every Sunday afternoon from 3 to 4 p.m. on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh www.khbradio.com and on his website www.drshalaway.com


Local Trip Leaders

Local talent tossed into the mix of experts on each field trip enhances the flavor of cultural and natural history shared with our guests. Their good humor, knowledge and love for the West Virginia mountains they call home are sincere, and sincerely appreciated.

Geoff Heeter
Keith Richardson
Rachel Davis
Paul Shaw
Alma Lowry
Al Waldron
Mindy Waldron