2017 Field Trip Leaders and Drivers
Click each photo to learn more about our amazing team of field trip leaders and drivers!
TYLER FICKER is a student at The Ohio State University studying Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife. His passion for birding began back in the 4th grade when his school taught a section on birding in the science class. Tyler was one of the founding members of the Miami Valley Christian Academy bird club started by Bill McGill back in 2009. He was an active member of the Southwest chapter of the Ohio Young Birders Club. Tyler has been birding Magee Marsh in Spring every year for 8 years and has been attending the festival for the past 4 years. He not only has a passion for birds but also for sharing them with other people, birders and non-birders alike. His passion for photography combined with that of birding allows him to share his bird photos in the hopes that someone will be inspired to go out and see for themselves the wide variety of bird species that are around us. Tyler has birded in a total of 5 counties and has developed a passion for Central American birds. After college, he hopes to do field research to promote conservation efforts of many of the warbler species seen right here in Ohio that winter in Central/South America.
PAUL RISS got started birding at a young age when his dad was looking for a little more of a connection with his son. He took Paul to a local conservation area with some bird seed. That day, a Black-capped Chickadee landed on Paul’s hand and he was instantly hooked on birds. He has continued to watch and paint birds since then. A lot has changed for Paul in his life. He has covered a lot of his body with tattoos, has a very successful career in advertising and has married a very talented Illustrator. Together they had boy-girl twins and moved from Toronto to the country where they spend time growing their own food and watching birds whenever they can in their gardens. A couple things that haven’t changed are Paul’s love for birds and punk music. These days, because of his appearance, Paul is always asked, “You’re a birdwatcher? You don’t look like one.” He never really understood that. After all, what does a birder look like? Then, he read Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway. In it, Kenn speaks of a similar question being posed to him in 1974. In 2010, Paul still gets the same question Kenn got nearly 40 years ago. So, he decided to try and break that stereotype, but how? Well, why not combine the things he loved most that nobody ever thought could go together: Punk music, birds and tattoos. Paul embarked on a big year and vowed to tattoo the Latin name of every species he saw in 2011 in Ontario, Canada. Along the way, he wondered if a younger generation might pay a little more attention to birding if they saw that someone like him was into it.
JEFF PONTIUS is returning to the Biggest Week as a Field Trip leader for year two but has been participating for five years. His first field trip experience was participating in a field trip led by Kim and Kimberly. Ever since that first trip, Jeff has been enamored by birds and the feats that they achieve on a daily basis. He is an active lister having compiled an Ohio list of 325 and a Franklin county list of 280. Jeff leads occasional field trips for the local Audubon and holds impromptu trips in Hilliard, Ohio. Other than birding, Jeff is passionate about the outdoors, hockey, golf, coffee, and of course education. Jeff teaches 8th grade Langue Arts and History of Rock and Roll at Memorial Middle School in Hilliard, Ohio where he, his wife, and their dog reside. One thing is certain when you bird with Jeff, you’ll have a great time!
ANDY AVRAM // A couple of years ago my mom pulled out a baby book of mine that I didn’t even know existed. It charted all my major accomplishments up until I was two or so when she gave up the project (having more kids will do that!). In it she noted my first couple words: “dad”, “mom”, “bird” and “duck”. I guess you can say from the beginning I had my priorities straight, and birds and wildlife have been my obsession ever since. Pursuing that passion for wildlife, I obtained a degree in Wildlife Management from The Ohio State University and for the past 13 years have worked as an interpretive naturalist for Lake Metroparks in northeast Ohio. In 2015, I went back to school part-time through Miami University to obtain my Master’s in Biology. When not working, or schooling, I try and travel locally and abroad to observe the amazing diversity of creatures on our planet. Oh, and one last thing… reptiles and amphibians are my true passion. Trip participants beware, if I see a snake I’m going to pick it up and tell you about it!
LARRY RICHARDSON // One of Ohio’s top birders, Larry not only knows every nook and cranny of northwest Ohio’s best birding spots, he’s also an accomplished world-birding tour leader. Formerly the Executive Director of the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center in Bay Village, Ohio, Larry is now retired and devotes more time to birding, leading local, domestic and international trips, and giving programs about his trips to local clubs. If you have visited northwest Ohio before, you’ve probably seen him; that big, white cowboy hat is unmistakable!
ANGEL ABREU is a bilingual educator and naturalist, professional birding guide and mentor to young birders. He was raised in Miami, Florida, by Cuban parents who encouraged outdoor exploration. His love of nature came from the waters that surrounded Florida--the ocean provided a getaway from the busy metropolis of Miami, and it’s where he had his first experiences with birds and other wildlife. From oceans to the “River of Grass,” Angel developed a strong bond for the unique flora and fauna of the Florida Everglades while working on several Everglades Restoration and species monitoring projects. This fascination with wildlife led him to a career path that he cherishes; leading tours and teaching others about culture, birds and wildlife–immersed in nature, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Angel and his wife Mariel Abreu are now leading birding tours, specializing in helping you, find and learn the birds of Florida, Cuba and beyond through their guiding service Nature is Awesome Tours www.NatureisAwesomeTours.com. Angel is also a leader for Miami’s Tropical Audubon Society, he guides, presents and teaches workshops at birding and wildlife festivals, and is proud to be a part of the Leica Birding Team and Leica Store Miami Team. Check out our Facebook page www.facebook.com/NatureisAwesomeTours. . .
DR. ANDY JONES is a wee bit obsessed with birds; he is a professional ornithologist as well as a dedicated birder. He is the Curator of Ornithology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland. Ohio. He holds the William A. and Nancy R. Klamm Endowed Chair of Ornithology, and in 2011, he was also named Director of Science, overseeing all activities in the Collections & Research Division. As a curator, Dr. Jones is responsible for the Museum's collection of avian specimens, which consists of more than 30,000 study skins from around the world plus a frozen tissue collection, skeletons, and nests and eggs. His current research involves the evolutionary history of birds from the Appalachian mountains and the Philippines, as well as myriad other natural history topics, particularly the wildlife of Costa Rica. Dr. Jones was among 14 prominent American ornithologists to be named an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 2009, and he was elected as Secretary of that organization in 2015. He originally hails from east Tennessee, where his passion for natural history began at an early age (including field notes starting at age 5). He lives in Cleveland Heights with his wife Michelle Leighty-Jones.
MARIEL ABREU Mariel is a naturalist, educator, mentor, and professional birding guide. She was raised in Miami, proud of her Cuban heritage and speaks fluent English and Spanish. Mariel is passionate about engaging young naturalists & birders with her knowledge of south Florida’s birds and wildlife. Thanks in part to her mother who always encouraged her never-ending enthusiasm and desire to learn about nature. As a child she was captivated by nature; birds, reptiles and mammals, especially big cats which fueled her interest in the natural world. Growing up in close proximity to the Florida Everglades forged an urge to learn more about the flora and fauna of the amazing ecosystem. Today she is passing on her love of the Everglades to South Florida’s youth through educational and community outreach programs. You can find her guiding and teaching workshops at birding and wildlife festivals or leading tours of Florida, Cuba and beyond through her guiding service Nature is Awesome Tours www.NatureisAwesomeTours.com. She adds a woman’s touch to her tours; expect a guide that works hard for you, a guide that is attentive with enthusiasm, and a smile that is contagious. She loves to spread her passion for all things nature, and it’s no surprise that her favorite saying is “Nature is Awesome!” In addition, she is proud to be a part of the Leica Birding Team and Leica Store Miami Team.
BRIAN CUNNINGHAM has a love for the outdoors, nature and birds. His greatest passion is helping others experience nature and opening their eyes to the wonder and beauty of birds. As a young boy, he tried imitating the various birds calling in his backyard and he still tries speaking with the birds. That grew into an initial career in environmental education. For the past couple decades he has been with the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise office and is their Product and Hobby Education Manager. Brian has a vast knowledge of the backyard bird feeding hobby throughout North America. He incorporates that knowledge while leading bird walks and programs for local parks, youth and adult groups.
ERIK BRUHNKE has had a love for birds since he was a child. Graduating from Northland College with a Natural Resources degree back in 2008, Erik has experienced a broad spectrum of birds and ecosystems. His avian field experiences have taken him throughout many of the northern states; including conducting bird surveys throughout the expanses of the prairie potholes in North Dakota & South Dakota, cavity-nesting surveys in the mountains & coastal regions of western Oregon, and bushwhacking throughout northern Minnesota & northern Wisconsin with breeding bird surveys. For the past five fall seasons Erik has been the count interpreter (hawk pointer-outer guy) at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. He has taught field ornithology several times at Northland College. Erik is a board member of the Duluth Audubon Society, and offers weekly hikes for the public as well as monthly talks and bird identification workshops through the Duluth Audubon Society and the local nature center in Duluth. Erik’s passion to educate others about birds has led him to create his own business, Naturally Avian. His biggest aspiration with Naturally Avian is to inspire conservation and environmental awareness through his birding tours, wildlife photography and public presentations. As of 2013, Erik has guided birders from 26 states and four European countries. Erik finds his home in Duluth, MN, where he has shown birders up to 17 species of breeding warblers in single late-spring days, and bog-dwelling Great Gray Owls, Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees year-round. Although he loves all birds, he is a devoted gull and raptor nerd. His guiding website can be found at www.naturallyavian.com. Erik is thrilled to be returning back for his third year at the Biggest Week!
LIZ McQUAID has been birding the greater Cleveland area most of her life, but got serious in 1992. Liz is part of the survey team at Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. This is a 5 year project to prove the preserve an Important Bird Area. She is also co-advisor for the NE Chapter of the Ohio Young Birder's Club, volunteers leading bird walks with the WesternCuyahoga Audubon Society, and had been on the Publicity Committee for the Kirtland Bird Club. All this while still working full time at Glenn Research Center. This will be Liz's 7th year volunteering for The Biggest Week in American Birding.
DOUG GRAY was introduced to birding by his grandfather while growing up on the family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee. He currently resides in Franklin, Indiana and is a Senior Engineering Specialist in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company…but he admits he’d “…rather be birding”. (Doug suffers from BCD: Birding Compulsive Disorder). Doug is a Black Swamp Bird Observatory Board member, a former board member of Indiana’s largest Audubon Society Chapter (Amos W. Butler Audubon Society), and is currently the contributing writer of the “Bird of the Month” for the Indiana Audubon Society. Doug has lead bird hikes in many states, and is known for introducing people of color to the world of birding. He also speaks about the ever growing need for “Diversity in Birding” at bird related conferences around the country. However, Doug’s favorite birding events are with children as he loves engaging with the next generation of birdwatchers.
When JOHN SCHAUST was young, he tried to figure out how he could catch a bird in a cardboard box trap. He had so many questions. Was the robin in his backyard the same one that nested there last year? Could he figure out how old it was? What made it fly? Today, John is still trying to answer his questions about birds as a licensed master bird bander, and as Chief Naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited nature stores, headquartered in Indianapolis. As Chief Naturalist, John supports over 275 WBU stores in encouraging their customers to be active backyard bird watchers and knowledgeable stewards of the environment. His duties include conducting and reviewing scientific research on the natural history of birds and bird feeding, along with the development of bird and nature education materials for franchise stores located throughout the U.S. and Canada. Prior to joining Wild Birds Unlimited in 2004, John spent 26 years as a professional naturalist with federal, state and local park agencies located throughout the Great Lakes region.
ALYSSIA CHURCH was born and raised in Pennsylvania where she spent many hours exploring every inch of her yard with various field guides in hand. She later followed her passion for the natural sciences by earning both a B.S. and M.S. degree in Geography from The Pennsylvania State University. Her Master’s project sent her to the Schoodic region of coastal Maine where she conducted wildlife surveys and habitat assessments for a wildlife corridor placement project. After graduate school Alyssia took a position with the Cape May Bird Observatory as an Interpretive Naturalist on the Cape May Hawk Watch. This was the defining moment in her career path. The next few years became a blur as Alyssia worked on various avian research projects in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and returned to Cape May for 2 more consecutive fall seasons as a hawk banding intern with the Cape May Raptor Banding Project and later as the George Myers Field Naturalist. Alyssia also worked as the Spatial Database Manager for the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit for several years which gave her many opportunities to expand her knowledge into game species and other facets of conservation principles.In her spare time, Alyssia volunteers for bird surveys and banding projects, is the Vice President of Programs for the State College Bird Club, and enjoys organizing and leading birding trips for various groups. She has recently relocated to San Antonio, Texas where she is now a field trip leader for San Antonio Audubon Society, hosts her own birding group, and volunteers for Warbler Woods Bird Sanctuary. When she is not talking about birds, reading about birds, traveling to see birds, working, or out birding, Alyssia thoroughly enjoys rock climbing and competitive ballroom dancing.
GABRIEL MAPEL is a home-schooled teenager who began birding five years ago, at the age of 11, while looking for wildlife with his mom in a tree-stand near his home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. While waiting patiently for hours in the hopes of spotting a Black Bear, Gabriel began to notice the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and other bird activity in the surrounding woods. He was hooked! That fall he became a regular visitor at the nearby Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, and with great commitment and many hours of work at age 13 he became the youngest-ever officially qualified Hawk Counter by HMANA. He now volunteers hundreds of hours each fall at the Hawk Watch. In 2011 Gabriel undertook a pre-teen version of a Big Year, travelling the ABA area during his "Junior Big Year" quest to reach his goal of seeing 400 birds. In 2012 he became the founder and was elected President of the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club. He also serves on the local avian records committee and is the Field Trip Coordinator for the Monticello Bird Club in Charlottesville, VA. Gabriel has deep love for and connection with all animals, especially birds and bears, and he is the published author of a children's book about Black Bears, Oh No, Gertrude!, which is sold in National Parks around the country.
NATE KOSZYCKI started birding in Toledo, Ohio at the age of six, where his love for birds started when he noticed those bright, little red birds called Cardinals flitting amongst the shrubs of the local Toledo Area Metroparks. A few years back, he was interviewed by Birds and Blooms Magazine, and continues to work hard on extending his knowledge in bird identification with help from his birding mentor, Kenn Kaufman. Since then, he has been leading numerous walks for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the Biggest Week in American Birding, Ohio Young Birders Club, Toledo Naturalists' Association, and Woodlawn Cemetery. During the 2016 Biggest Week in American Birding, Nate was the youngest tour leader, and readily assisted others on the Magee Boardwalk for help on bird identification, while also helping with the Biggest Week Twitter page. In November of 2016, Nate presented at 10th annual Ohio Young Birders Club Conference and wrote an article about his personal experiences as a young birder in today's day and age surrounded by non-birding friends, and gave examples and tips to those who may struggle with being a confident and successful birder among others who don't appreciate our treasured avifauna. He strives to someday write and present on bird identification, conservation, and other aspects of birding. Nate is currently a junior and Varsity hockey player for St. John's Jesuit High School.
TOM HISSONG has followed an exciting career path working as an interpretive naturalist and environmental educator in the Dayton, Ohio area for nearly 35 years. He is currently employed by the National Audubon Society as the Education Coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm north of Dayton. Prior to his position at Aullwood, Tom served as an interpretive naturalist for 2 years with the Five Rivers MetroParks which followed 16 years in the position of Curator of Education with the Dayton Museum of Natural History. Tom graduated from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio with a B.S. degree in Environmental Education in 1976. He is well known throughout the Dayton area for his expertise as an avid ornithology instructor and bird watcher and for his enthusiasm in teaching many children and adult classes on natural history topics each year.
TIM JASINSKI's love for birds and nature began when he was very young, at about age 6. As a child, he often received bird feeders and seeds for holiday and birthday presents. Although he had no idea what a life list was yet, he already had one, in the form of check marks in his field guides next to birds he observed. His love of birds has only continued to grow. His experience with raising exotic birds led to his interest in wildlife rehabilitation. His career began in 2006 when he found an injured Hairy Woodpecker that had struck a window and he brought it to Lake Erie Nature & Science Center for treatment. Shortly after, he began volunteering at the Center and in 2013 he reached his goal of becoming the Wildlife Rehabilitation Specialist. Each year the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center cares for about 1400 young, sick, and injured wildlife, including 120 species, most of which are birds. Tim’s favorite birds to seek out each year are gulls, waterfowl, and warblers. Tim leads hikes for the Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society and also the Spring Bird Hikes with the Cleveland Metroparks. He also presents at the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitators Association's annual conference, providing education on caring for sensitive species in a rehabilitation setting.
DR. DREW LANHAM is a lifelong birder who has been practicing his craft since the second grade! He is currently a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University where he teaches courses in field ornithology, wildlife management and conservation ethics. He is also an active researcher who studies the impacts of forest management on songbirds and other species. A native South Carolinian, Drew has birded internationally in South Africa and the Peruvian Amazon. He is an active professional with memberships in The Wildlife Society and the Association of Southeastern Biologists. He is also a dedicated conservationist and a member of Ducks Unlimited, and serves on the advisory board of South Carolina Audubon, is a member of the state’s Important Bird Area Technical Committee and an expert ornithological consultant to South Carolina’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, which prioritizes species and habitats for management. He is a member of the Executive Board of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, where he has served as the organization’s Affiliate Representative for the last five years. Drew leads birding groups regularly in his home state and is a perennial field guide for The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, one of the nation’s largest and most successful efforts to emphasize the ecological, aesthetic and economic value of the region’s birdlife. Among his other conservation-related activities, Drew is a widely published non-fiction nature writer and “struggling” poet. His favorite birds are wood warblers, accipiters and owls.
HALLIE MASON's lifelong interest in birds began at an early age when her mom gave her a plastic model of Rose-breasted Grosbeak for her birthday. Catching glimpses of her “spark” bird thrills Hallie to this day, and she proudly hosts several pairs at her busy feeders when the colorful birds return each spring, along with many other migrants, to nest in the vicinity of her cozy log cabin in rural Tuscarawas County. Hallie was a regional coordinator for the Ohio Bird Breeding Atlas II. She regularly participates in several Christmas Bird Counts in Tuscarawas, Summit, and Harrison Counties. When she’s not supporting her magnificent obsession by working as a Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at Summa Health System in Akron, Hallie often can be found driving the back roads of Amish Country in search of Rough-legged Hawks, Bobolinks, Prairie Warblers, and dozens of other local denizens.
JAMES MULLER, 28, grew up in Cleveland, OH and now lives in Columbus with his girlfriend Taylor. He graduated from Ohio Dominican University in 2012 as a double-major in Philosophy and Criminology, and now works in IT Support for Safelite AutoGlass. James has been visiting Magee Marsh for fifteen years starting when he was 13 years old. James tries to go birding most weekends, traveling all around Ohio and when he's lucky, beyond. In addition to birding he enjoys backpacking, camping, and cheering on Cleveland sports teams. James’s favorite bird is the American Kestrel.