Birding Festival: Tour Leaders

16th Annual


May 17 - May 21, 2023

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Tour Leader Bios

    Carolyn Gunn is a retired small animal veterinarian and also served as the Aquatic Veterinarian for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She has participated professionally and as a citizen scientist in Black Swift research since 2000.
    As a coauthor of “Birds of Western Colorado Plateau and Mesa Country” (2004), Coen Dexter knows his birds. Coen and his wife Brenda Wright have seen and recorded more of the birds in this area than just about anyone, being long-time teachers and residents of the Colorado Plateau. They have also birded most of North America and in more than 30 foreign countries.
    David P. Faulkner has a BS from BYU in botany with an emphasis in ecology and natural resources. He did Master’s work in Range Ecology from Oregon State University and research in applying remote sensing to natural resources. Most of his career has been as a natural resource consultant to such diverse organizations as NASA, EPA, United Nations FAO, BLM and USFS, BIA, Lakota Sioux, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribes and several energy companies and private land owners. He has lived in the Cortez area for 40 years and has served with several community organizations including county planning board and the Friends of Hawkins Board. He has also taught classes in plant identification for the Native Plant Master’s program under the Master Gardner and CSU Extension Service. He has conducted several threatened and endangered plant studies and range ecology surveys in the Four Corners area. Since retiring as a Natural Resource Biologist, he is pleased to be able to devote more time to birds and their habitats.
    Diane Cherbak has a background in food science and engineering, but has been birdwatching for more than 20 years. Her passion grew after moving to Mancos in 2010 and joining the Birding Festival planning committee. She has been chairman of the planning committee since 2012. She has been in involved with Cornell’s Project FeederWatch as a citizen scientist for more than ten years. She became part of the NestWatch network in 2016 and monitors nine nest boxes on her property during breeding season.
    Donna Thatcher is an education specialist with the Farmington Museum and the Director of the Museum’s Riverside Nature Center. A lifelong birder, she initiated and leads weekly bird walks in Farmington’s riverside parks, as well as other birding and outdoor education activities. Donna has been a leader for the Birding Festival since its beginnings.
    Erik Hendrickson s a retired National Park Service engineer, and is pleased to call Cortez and Montezuma County his home. His Park Service assignments included Crater Lake, Gateway (in New York and New Jersey), Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone and Denali. He has birded from Unalaska to the Everglades, from the Rachel Carson NWR in Maine to San Diego.  He enjoys searching for Black Swift at waterfalls in southwest Colorado and for Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the southeast United States.
    Eric Hynes has been fascinated by birds and passionate about birding since he first heard the ghostly wailing of a Common Loon at summer camp in Maine more than 30 years ago. Upon completion of his B.S. at the University of Vermont where he studied environmental studies and wildlife biology, Eric began a serious endeavor as a bird hobo that lasted more than a decade. His travels ranged across the U.S. with a number of trips to Central America as well. During this quest, Eric did everything from monitoring breeding raptors in the Snake River Canyon, to guiding for two summers in Alaska on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, to ground squirrel rustling in Montana, to owl banding and hawk counting in Pennsylvania. Getting married to Christine helped settle Eric into a fulltime position at Maine Audubon, but not until after a birding trip to Panama cleverly disguised as their honeymoon. As the staff naturalist and adult education coordinator, Eric taught numerous bird identification workshops and led field trips locally and abroad for Maine Audubon. His positive energy and infectious enthusiasm for all things wild has drawn many a convert to birding and conservation. Eric served several terms on the Maine Bird Records Committee. Eric and his family live near Telluride, Colorado where he recently launched a local bird guiding company called Box Canyon Birding.
    Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn and Arizona Field Optics located in beautiful Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid bird watcher for over 50 years and enjoys teaching classes on bird identification, leading bird walks to help individuals create a connection to nature and equipping individuals with birding gear including quality optics and field guides. Birding is more than a hobby, it is a passion, perhaps even an obsession!
    My naturalist father showed me a Snowy Owl when I was 3 years old. The next 56 years have been a blur of bird/wildlife observations for pleasure and work. I have been guiding at this birding festival since the early years and love to show people birds. After 35 years observing the birds of SW Colorado, I am still excited for every chance to see what has flown in! Walk out the door with your binoculars to see what is in your neighborhood; if you run out of daylight that is just an opportunity to go owling! Work, birding trips and climbing expeditions have taken me to 7 continents, most recently to New Guinea to observe Birds-of-Paradise. We live on a planet filled with amazing life forms; get outside to observe them every chance you get!
    Ilyse Gold worked for the BLM & Forest Service for about 30 years; with a great deal of time spent out in the field birding. She conducted numerous owl surveys with Marilyn Colyer plus inventories for Northern Goshawk and American Peregrine Falcon. Ilyse also completed US Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican spotted owl and southwestern willow flycatcher protocol trainings and conducted many habitat assessments for federally listed species as well as for federal agency sensitive species. Her master’s degree is on black-tailed prairie dogs, which gave her many close visits with burrowing owls!
    Jim Beatty is an active eBirder in SW Colorado and has served as the sub-regional editor for southwest Colorado for “North American Birds” published by the American Birding Association, and for “Colorado Birds” published by the Colorado Field Ornithologists, for their News from the Field articles.  Jim has traveled throughout the US and Canada, including three trips to remote Alaska.  His ABA area life-list is over 700 species.  He retired to Durango in 1998 from Cincinnati and now concentrates most of his birding in SW Colorado.  Jim is past President of the Colorado Field Ornithologists.
    Linda Martin, Retired Supervisory Park Ranger in the Division of Interpretation & Visitor Services, Mesa Verde National Park, has led tours for the bird fest since 2006. She and Marilyn Colyer worked on Park bird surveys for over 25 years, trying to keep the files updated and the information current and accurate. Birdwatching is an avocation for her, as it is for millions, but her 36 year association with the Park gives her a solid knowledge of the birds and habitats of Mesa Verde.
    Linda Raczek is a retired naturalist, children’s author and attorney. She trained as a raptor/bird rehabilitator with the National Audubon Society and obtained a wildlife rehabilitation permit when she moved to Cortez in 1988. She managed the Hawkins Preserve for the Cortez Cultural Center for several years and has been involved in the Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival since it began. The Festival is what makes living in Cortez great!
    Mark Franklin, an avid birder who is familiar with hotspots and species in the Durango area, served as the Colorado Director for the Old Spanish Trail Association.  Mark has led field activities related to the Old Spanish National Historic Trail and organized OSTA’s 2013 conference in Cortez.  He has scouted the historic route in SW Colorado and eastern Utah and is familiar not only with landmarks and trail traces but also with birds that frequent habitat along this early 19th C. trade route.
    Michael Piper has been an Interpretive Ranger at Mesa Verde National Park for 3 years and a former Ranger for Colorado Parks and Wildlife for 7 years. He is a lifelong resident of Colorado where he has lived, worked and played outdoors his entire life. He graduated from Colorado State University with a B.S. in Recreation Resource Management and Resource Interpretation. He has been an amateur birder since early childhood. Birding compelled him to move to Sanibel Island, FL for a year where J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to exotic bird species like Roseate Spoonbills and where he was an Osprey monitor for The International Osprey Foundation. “Birds are our first and most important indicator of the health and well-being of our planet. They are our daily muse and throughout history all cultures around the world have admired and revered birds as messengers of Spirit. But, most importantly, birding is just plain FUN!”
    Ryan Votta, originally from northwest New Jersey, became fascinated by birds at a very young age. On his seventh birthday he received his first pair of binoculars and his first bird book, Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. After this, he was hooked and has been passionate about birds ever since!  Career wise, Ryan started with New Jersey Fish & Wildlife working at the Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery. The hatchery was an amazing hot spot for birds, with diverse habitat and a series of over 100 freshwater ponds. Working with NJ Fish & Wildlife, he had the opportunity to assist with Golden-winged Warbler mist netting surveys, waterfowl surveys along the Jersey shore and an annual Canada Goose banding project. In April of 2015, he accepted a job offer from Colorado Parks & Wildlife to become the new Fisheries Technician at the Durango State Fish Hatchery. Since his move to Durango, he has recorded 242 bird species in La Plata County, with some of his favorites including; Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller’s Jay and American Dipper. His birding claim to fame is finding the first La Plata County record Pacific Wren!  He enjoys meeting folks that share his enthusiasm for birds and looks forward to the Christmas Bird Count each year. In his spare time, besides birding, he enjoys most outdoor activities including; fishing, camping, kayaking and hiking. Currently he is the Assistant Manager at the Durango Hatchery, where he is fortunate to live on site adjacent to the Animas River. The hatchery is a hot spot for birds and he is lucky to have had several rarities in his yard including; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Harris’s Sparrow. He loves living in Durango and loves the diversity of the avian friends it provides!
    Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, the award-winning flagship publication of the American Birding Association. He has written five bird books, including the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (HarperCollins, 2008) and How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). Ted is also the author of more than 200 popular articles, technical papers, and book chapters on birds and nature. He is especially interested in analyzing bird vocalizations, in interpreting birds and nature for children and beginners, and in applying new media and emerging technologies toward the appreciation of nature. A graduate of Princeton University (A.B., 1990) and Penn State University (Ph.D., 1995), Ted has taught biology, math, and statistics to everyone from second graders to advanced graduate students. He and his family live in Lafayette, Colorado.
    Terry McLaughlin has been in love with nature her whole life. Starting by dissecting Bladder Campion (silene vulgais) in a horse pasture as a child and moving on to design and implement 2 state-of-the-art naturalist training programs, she has spent her life and career outside. A self-declared penguinephile Terry’s newest passion is the adaptations of the birds inhabiting the Southern Ocean.

    Vern Gersh started his career as a bird watcher 25 years ago when a friend showed him a nesting Red-tailed Hawk. Once bitten by the birding bug, bird watching blossomed beyond a hobby into a passion for Vern. His passion has taken him all over the world, seeking out obscure species. He is proud to have misidentified birds on six continents!

songbird silhouetteBirding Festival General Information

  • The Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival is the major fundraiser for the Cortez Cultural Center. All proceeds benefit the Center.
  • All tours require pre-registration.
  • A registration fee is required for all tours except as noted. Full registration includes keynote banquet and all lectures. Daily registration includes that day's lectures. Full registration is required in order to qualify for the free early bird t-shirt.
  • Unless otherwise noted, tours will return to the Center at approximately 4:00 pm.
  • All tours will utilize carpooling with mileage paid to the driver, split between all occupants.
  • Tour size is generally 13 or less.
  • Cancellations considered on a case by case basis up to 21 days prior to start of Festival. All cancellations subject to a processing fee.
  • Availability of restrooms depends on the tour. Nearly all guides scout out restroom locations as well as bird species. Some tours are in parks or other facilities that have established restrooms. Some have outhouses. Others, the only option are bushes. Usually the leader will mention the restroom plan at the beginning of the tour.
  • All tours depart from and return to the Cortez Cultural Center.
  • Tour times listed are the DEPARTURE time. Please arrive 15 minutes prior.

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